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It’s back to 1983, and Corbyn will follow Michael Foot to glorious defeat

It’s back to 1983, and Corbyn will follow Michael Foot to glorious defeat

🕔14.Sep 2015

Far be it for me to brag, but I told you six weeks ago that Jeremy Corbyn would be the next Labour leader, and for once I got a political prediction spot on.

On July 29, when Chamberlain Files ran a piece under the headline Corbyn’s appeal to young and old Labour will push him past the winning post’, the general view among most commentators was that although the veteran left-winger would perform well, he would come up short of 50 per cent on the first ballot and lose out on second preference votes to Andy Burnham.

But I was always convinced that the Labour party had got itself into such a state having been crushed in the 2015 General Election by the Conservatives after being out of power since 2010 that it would in desperation reach for the nostalgic comfort blanket of the hard-left. Because that’s what Labour always does when it loses badly.

Corbyn’s chances were boosted by the lukewarm performance of his three opponents, who gave their rival a golden card by hesitating over whether to vote against the Government’s welfare reform programme. And if you are Labour and you aren’t sure about publicly opposing Iain Duncan Smith, then what is your purpose in life?

He also fortuitously managed to ride a rising tide of anti-Blairism in Labour’s ranks – a savage backlash against Labour’s most successful election winner. Corbyn certainly could not be tainted by any of the modernisation policies pursued by Mr Blair, or the Iraq war, since he has spent most of his time in Parliament voting week in week out against his party.

The number of young people gathering around Jeremy Corbyn is not surprising. Here is someone who has an easily understandable agenda – it may be madness, but you know what you are going to get if you vote for Corbyn – and on paper appears to give hope to a generation that knows nothing other than the minimum wage, faces an uncertain future, and has hitherto been disengaged from mainstream politics.

Let the Corbynistas have their day in the sun. They have succeeded in rocking Labour to its very foundations, certainly shaking it out of its Tory-lite complacency. It remains unclear, though, whether the party can continue without a seismic split with the social democrats departing.

And whatever the Conservatives say about the inevitability of a Corbyn-led Labour party losing the next election by a mile, Tory strategists would be guilty of hubris on a grand scale if they were not just a teeny bit concerned by Corbynmania.

There has already been a huge take up in Labour party membership, and with Tom Watson as deputy leader, who is highly regarded for his campaigning skills, my bet is a million members by Christmas, easily. There is nothing that the British love more than an anti-establishment bandwagon to jump on, until of course the excitement grows stale.

Corbyn will involve rank and file party members in policy making in a way that they have not been involved for decades. If we assume that the new joiners, mostly younger people, are as far to the left as Mr Corbyn, then Labour’s policy agenda will change very quickly – at a national and local level.

Labour may even find itself in the unexpected position of catching the Conservatives in opinion polls, or even overtaking the Tories while the appeal of Mr Corbyn is at its height.

And yet, and yet, the possibility of Corbyn-led Labour winning the next General Election, which is five long years away, rests on everything we thought we knew about Britain being turned on its head.

A majority of voters in 2020 will have to be convinced that the UK doesn’t need nuclear weapons at a time when Europe is in a precarious spot, from the sabre-rattling Mr Putin in Russia to North Korea, Isil and rogue states all desperately trying to lay their hands on weapons of mass destruction.

Voters will have to be persuaded to adopt all manner of questionable policies that have failed in the past, including higher taxation, printing money to escape austerity, removing immigration controls, a return to widespread public ownership, returning to trade unions the powers they once had, getting out of the EU, and taking a more relaxed attitude to Syria and the Middle East.

A Corbyn General Election victory would prove that the likes of Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown simply weren’t left wing enough and that a dose of unadulterated socialism is all Labour requires.

Were Corbyn to win in 2020 it would be the first Labour victory in modern times achieved by not appealing to the centre ground, to the aspirational working classes who quite like the idea of being able to afford better houses, better cars, better holidays and resent being told by a bossy government how they should behave.

Mr Corbyn is Tony Benn without the tie. He wants us to believe that Bennism so clearly rejected by the electorate in the 1980s can be successfully remodelled for the 2020s.

But I don’t buy this at all. It will suit the Tories to have a far-left, highly principled, Labour party, doomed always to put up a good fight but never actually to win. And that, history tells us, is exactly what will happen if Mr Corbyn’s agenda is not watered down.

Those of us that were around in 1983 recall a groundswell of support around Michael Foot, who until Mr Corbyn emerged was regarded as the most left wing Labour leader in living memory. Foot, by the way, was another politician of mature years whose ideas appealed to younger people.

Crowds flocked to hear Foot speak in the General Election campaign of that year. Meetings were sold out and he was mobbed wherever he went, which was no mean feat in an era when the instant communication of the internet and social media did not exist.

I reported his speech at Oxford town hall, to a rapturous crowd, where he accused Tory grandee Quinton Hogg of having “licked Hitler’s jackboots” in 1938 by supporting appeasement.

I followed him around Banbury market in a chaotic walkabout where he pledged to scrap prescription charges, the imposition of which led to Labour’s Bevanite split in the 1950s.

Foot was a man of high principle, as is Mr Corbyn. He was heavily defeated at the 1983 General Election because his hard-left agenda did not strike a chord with modern Britain.

Mr Corbyn will go the same way in 2020 when voters get the stubby pencil in their hands in the privacy of the polling booth, if he is still Labour leader by then.

Paradoxically, it will suit many of Mr Corbyn’s supporters not to win because they know deep down that the only chance of overturning the Conservative majority in 2020 is to dump Benn-modernism, and they would regard it as a betrayal to do so. They would rather go down to glorious defeat rather than trim to the centre ground to get across the finishing line.

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