AS LABOUR prepares to unwrap its new leader, don’t be surprised to hear a lyric by The Who rattling around your head… “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss…”
Hopefully the title of the song is not an ill omen – Won’t Get Fooled Again, in case you are wondering.
Writing about Jeremy Corbyn can be tricky for this laptop-tapper because he is such a divisive leader of the opposition: while his fans are ardent in their enthusiasm, the unconverted just don’t really get him at all.
I remain a Corbyn sceptic. I can see where he’s coming from (that bumpy old track to the left of the main road), but can’t see where his Robin Hood-style procession is heading.
To be positive for a moment, Jeremy Corbyn has been remarkably successful at stirring up support among his followers – both those new to politics and those won back to Labour. But it is still hard to avoid concluding that what he is creating is a social movement rather than a political party, leading a sort of sect within the party rather than leading the whole party (you know, all those inconvenient MPs at Westminster who lack faith in him).
And I end up thinking: what’s in it for me? Now this isn’t egocentrism gone mad so much as a question from an interested but wary bystander. Because however successful Mr Corbyn’s social movement becomes, the Labour Party as a whole has to appeal to voters who aren’t party members; it has to offer something to those who instinctively dislike the Tories, but who don’t wish to join the Labour Party, or any party.
It is fair to say that membership of political parties is a limited sport. Members of all parties can shape the landscape, but they don’t decide the results of elections. That is down to the ordinary voter, who almost certainly isn’t obsessed with politics, and who casts their vote for various reasons.
According to an opinion poll in the Guardian this morning, many of those ordinary voters feel that Theresa May is a safer pair of hands in dealing with the problems of post-Brexit Britain.
The poll for Britain Thinks asked what politicians’ priorities should be, and the main three choices were safeguarding the NHS, significantly reducing immigration and striking new trade deals for Britain.
Mrs May was more trusted on all three issues. Now a kiss is just a kiss and an opinion poll is just an opinion poll, but this is not encouraging for Jeremy Corbyn. Some of the lead for Mrs May will be wrapped up in her being prime minister, and a new premier at that. But it is depressing to see that more people believe the Tories will safeguard the NHS. Have those people polled not encountered Jeremy Hunt, the appalling health secretary?
On reducing immigration, Mrs May bested Mr Corbyn by 46 per cent to 12 per cent. I would say those people are fools for having such a negative view of immigration, but that is not necessarily a common view right now.
Anyway on Saturday in Liverpool, the Labour Party will unwrap its new leader only to discover the same present they got last time. Mr Corbyn will then have a twofold job on his hands: attempting to heal rifts in his own party, and trying to appeal to all those voters who walk by on the other side of the street, wrapped up in their autumn shrug.
If Mr Corbyn beats Owen Smith, as widely predicted, nothing will have changed among the converts and the unconverted. But a large proportion of voters will, if they care at all, surely think that it is time for the Labour Party to stop the bloody civil war and all the bitter in-fighting, and start being an opposition.