Over the last few weeks I have been enjoying observing the political earthquake that has unfolded during the Labour Leadership election campaign and the subsequent victory of Jeremy Corbyn. I say ‘enjoy’ in the sense of watching something close up and being able to comment from an insiders perspective. I am grateful for all the comments and positive feedback about how useful this has been!
I aim to wrap up the thoughts here and then watch quietly as events unfold – either in the way I predicted or as I have said before if I am wrong about the electoral Psephology for the first time since 1987 then I will be the first to hold up my hands in 2020 and say so. I know there is great interest and excitement inside the party (well the new 600,000 strong party) and a little bemusement outside from my non political friends.
This week I did attend the Labour Party conference and posted a few thoughts on my conversations on the first couple of days. Dream or nightmare.
As well as the genral observations I did make my way into the main hall to watch the Corbyn speech live as well as to observe the support inside the hall for what he was saying. Watching live is always different to observing these things through the lens of a TV Broadcast.
The speech was very different to the ‘normal’ conference speech. It did have the feel of a report to a Labour Party event, and certainly made little attempt to make any pitch outside the conference hall to the wider electorate,and that made it feel strange. I guess I have become too keen as a politicla observer to look for messages. There were none. I did think however, that overall the lack of gimmicks and rhetoric did allow the genuine Jeremy Corbyn to shine though, and that does remain his personal strength.
The New Statesman summary was what summed up for me the fundamenta problem that Corbyn and Labour now face. “Swing voters on Corbyn speech – authentic (good); authentically preoccupied with the wrong things (less good)” Rafael Behr
I don’t think I need to keep repeating this line of argument. I am genuinely delighted that Corbyn managed to excite a proportion of the left to get engaged once again in the Party and to join in large numbers. I am genuinely delighted that many who left the party have now rejoined. I hope they pay their full membership, and get involved beyond clicking to vote and posting on twitter! I have many sensible friends who have either rejoined or are genuinely excited by what is happening. It’s great they are back. I actually share a whole series of the hopes that Corbyn espouses. I would love a kinder more generous politics. I apologise in advance that I am too focussed on winning elections and not just feeling good about policy statements and campaigns. Indeed the Leaders speech did sound as though we were looking forward to being a principled opposition. I know many colleagues around Corbyn are very comfortable with opposing things ad setting out a vision. It is genuinely lovely stuff. I wish him and the Party well. I don’t think it is a winning formula as I have explained from a general view of the electorate. A winning formula does require us to attract votes from a wider range of voters than are attracted by the Corbyn worldview. I still fear we might pile up labour votes in Labour seats and make no progress in the marginal seast we need to form a government in 2020. I have said it often enough now so I will step back and watch carefully as the policy process gets underway. I will offer my views and help suggest what I know the wider electorate would support. I am guessing that even though I was never a Blairite, anybody these days who doesn’t quite support the new direction is labelled as one! For those of us on the soft rather than hard left and certainly not ‘the right or Tories ‘ we clearly need to articulate the vision and passion of what Corbyn has started but produce a manifesto that can reach the general electorate. It doesn’t have to be boring – but it does need to be sensible. So I will disappear behind closed doors to put over my thoughts and allow the new Labour Party its run at the London, Scottish, welsh and local election in 2016. It needs the people to speak and give Corbyn their verdict now.
Having left the comfort of the Party conference I spent a day with a great group of compassionate people who as some explained ‘wanted to feel comfortable voting Labour’ but who have been genuine swing voters over the years. ie the people who decide the outcomes of elections. My conclusion from those discussions was similar to the Behr comment above. They like the lack of spin, he looks genuine. But he doesn’t look like a Prime Minister and we don’t really like much that he is saying. We need a lot more detail.
So there may be some short observations on twitter as big events unfold and the direction of some of the big decisions become clear. There are some big battles ahead about policy and the difference between the membership and the PLP. It will be a difficult time and It is best I get involved in a constructive way. But I still want to hear that the debate is open and transparent.