Lyndon Johnson had to ask an old colleague to draft him a speech on the subject of economics. He approved enthusiastically: “It’s exactly what I want to say. I’m not going to change a word. It’s great”. Then he added “But I can tell you something. Nobody else will think so”. And then came the legendary dose of scatology. “Did y’ever think … that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else”. The Johnson metaphor is still relevant today.
It speaks to the problems faced by the Labour Party right now, and would go some way to showing why having half a million members will not necessarily propel The Red Team into power - if those who have invested their faith in Jeremy Corbyn would listen.
Here on Zelo Street, we give those gratuitously attacking politicians and public figures for no good reason short shrift. As a result, many who have pursued the Corbyn leadership for nothing more than self-promotion and the satisfaction of proprietorial or editorial diktat have found adverse comment passed upon them. But that does not mean Corbyn’s shortcomings should be given a free pass, and they have not been.
There are many deficiencies in Corbyn’s leadership, but we need only consider one of them today: his ability to look Prime Ministerial enough to persuade swing voters to back him in a General Election. It is little use having half a million people who think that leadership seems hot to them, when it is a number millions larger that has to be swung behind his banner. He does not look electable to the voters he needs to persuade.
And to underscore this lack of electability has come the latest poll from ICM, which shows General Election voting intention percentages at 43% for the Tories, and 27% for Labour. A Tory lead of 16%. This would translate into the Tories gaining 45 seats, and Labour losing 44. That means ending up with fewer seats than Michael Foot won in 1983, generally accepted as the recent nadir in Labour electoral fortunes.
But, those protesting will tell, look at the internal strife caused by those dissenting from the Corbyn leadership, and the rotten press coverage. Well, yes, but Ed Miliband was frequently mired in talk of challenges and plots - and his treatment by the right-wing press verged on the vicious. At this stage in the electoral cycle, Labour under Miliband had an 8% lead over the Tories. His worst opinion poll return was a 6% Tory lead.
Every polling measure shows Labour under Corbyn way off the pace, typical being “Best team to run the economy”, which has Theresa May and Philip Hammond on 53%, with Corbyn and John McDonnell on 15%. So many have said it, but I will say it again: there is no path to securing change without securing power. And the most effective way of securing power is to win elections. Right now, Corbyn is on course not to win, but be routed.
All those followers enthusiastically pissing down their legs will not change that. Just because it feels hot to you does not mean those who matter are listening. That is all.