I hate to have to quote J K Galbraith’s definition of leadership once more, but for today’s Labour leader and his loyal followers, these things sometimes need saying more than once. “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership”.
Principled and inoffensive is not cutting through with voters
And to that I’ll add another Galbraith observation on leadership, which is particularly relevant to Britain right now: “A leader can compromise, get the best deal he can. Politics is the art of the possible. But he cannot be thought to evade”.
Yet Theresa May evades, and she gets away with it. Consistently. She evaded when visiting the Copland constituency during the recent by-election campaign, and on an issue on which she should not have - the NHS. The local paper was all over it. The Labour campaign milked the evasion for all it was worth. They still lost.
Why Ms May gets away with flouting this cardinal rule of leadership is not hard to explain: she has no credible opposition. Labour does not get its talking points out, rebuttals take hours, and where the leadership stands on issues is to many voters a mystery.
How different Labour looks now compared to the formidable campaigning machine that swept John Major from power and followed by crushing William ‘Ague four years later. Yes, I know, that was Tony Blair. Did I mention Blair? I should go and stand at the back.
But the point stands: Blair and his team won power. The decade following their triumph, up to the financial crash, was a happier and more harmonious time than we have now. And, being in power, Labour could take action to improve the lot of all those who we now class as “just managing”, plus the disabled, the sick, the young, the marginalised.
And yes, I know that those devoted to Jeremy Corbyn will dismiss all of this: it’s all the press’ fault, the polls are wrong, and look at all those policies. But presenting voters with a list of policies, telling them a great grassroots movement is being built, and that they should come and join in - that only causes a glazing over of the eyes.
What about the major anxiety of the people? Where is the leadership on Brexit? Labour loyalists will protest long and loud that it is there and always has been, but that is not how it looks to an increasing number of voters - even, whisper it quietly - in London.
When Sadiq Khan won the Mayoral election, some Corbyn followers were resentful over his apparently distancing himself from Jezza: Khan had, it was argued, won with Corbyn’s help, not his hindrance. Today’s results from the latest Queen Mary University of London and YouGov poll shows that idea to have been utterly delusional.
For Labour, these numbers are beyond bad
The ratings for five party leaders range from Caroline Lucas of the Greens, who manages +13%, through Theresa May on +9% and Tim Farron of the Lib Dems on -8%, to Paul Nuttall of UKIP on a deserved -34%. But way down there at the foot of the table, and on his own patch, is Jeremy Corbyn on an utterly miserable -44%. Sadiq Khan, by the way, had his approval rating polled too. HE SCORED +35%. The defence rests.
These numbers give the lie to one of the Corbyn fans’ most quoted excuses - that it’s all about the press. The Greens get a shitty press, a mixture of patronising, ridicule and dismissiveness. Yet their co-leader is most popular with Londoners. Yes, there may be other factors at work - Ms Lucas and her party are hot on environmental issues, and Londoners are receptive to their view right now. But what about Farron?
The Lib Dems are treated with scorn and contempt by the press, especially the Mail, which takes every opportunity given to it to lay into Nick Clegg - still an MP - especially over Europe. Yet Fallon still manages a reasonable rating, even after the 2015 losses.
Jeremy Corbyn does agreeable, accomplished and inoffensive interviews. He is a deeply principled man. But he is not cutting through with voters. And all the while his party is sinking into oblivion. He and his inner circle - John McDonnell, Seumas Milne and Karie Murphy - must know the game is up with the electorate. But still they sit there, convinced that the fightback will begin soon, and all will be well. But it won’t.
And yes, I can hear the excuses and cat-calling: “you’ve lost all credibility with this post”, “I used to like this blog BUT”, “we won a parish council seat last Thursday”, “why don’t you join us”, “it’s a Blairite/ Brownite/Otherite plot”, “it’s still the press’ fault”. None of that will wash. If Corbyn is so unpopular on his home turf, he’s dead in the water.
Stop blaming the press. Stop blaming previous Labour leaders. Stop blaming those who are pointing out the bleeding obvious. The Corbyn experiment is over. It’s dead. Morte.
Labour needs a leader who is once again willing to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of the people - as opposed to what gives the ideologically inclined a nice warm feeling. It should not need a General Election that puts the party in a worse position than 1935 to bring that reality home. The tragedy is that it probably will.
Here I go then, one of those Corbynistas...
Tim, we've all been round this before; until you - or anybody else in the blogosphere, press, TV or in the street - can suggest anybody who can come up with a credible set of policies - presumably, ones that are different to Corbyn, as his evidently aren't popular - then Corbyn isn't going anywhere. He will, once the rules are changed and another left candidate can be elected. Cos if they ain't changed, and he leaves, it'll be Umunna/Cooper/Kendall or someone equally asinine - and as Scotland showed, these days an asinine Labour gets wiped out anyways.
This change will, very sadly, take years I'm afraid - and the country is going to suffer in that time under the Tories - cos there is no quick fix; Labour were, are, and will be in a hole for a long while.
I'm not one of the 'great blog BUT' people; you have a great blog, period - I often RT you. But characterising people like me as just in it for a 'nice warm feeling' is the sort of patronising comment that's a bit beneath you.
Me, I'm that deluded that I don't take too much notice of polls; I don't claim they're fixed, or 'wrong', but I don't trust them for a simple reason - they don't explain anything. Example; Corbyn and Labour have apparently gone down in polls since the NiC u-turn. The question is why is that? Do people like the u-turn? Did May come out well? The polls say that she must have. But I take them with a pinch of salt, cos I actually don't believe that people are that stupid. I don't believe that people saw that and thought 'OK, that's Corbyn's fault, I trust him even less than before'.
So something's not right. Just not sure what.
And yet, Labour still cannot or more likely are frightened to, pitch a CREDIBLE alternative to Corbyn. That tells you much about the calibre of the sniping, backstabbing lickspittles that form the current PLP
It's not even that Corbyn's policies are unpopular in and of themselves. Many of them, when presented on their own merit have proven to have a broad base of support, but Corbyn is seen as unwilling or incapable of putting them into practice.
I know lifelong Labour supporters of my parents' generation who despise him with a passion normally reserved for Thatcher. I know ex-Lib Dem voters who after the betrayal on Tuition Fees of the coalition years voted for Miliband's Labour at the last GE, now swinging back to the Liberal Democrats out of frustration.
(To Rivo) He might be incapable, but he's certainly not unwilling - he never stops going on about them. As I say though - however much Tim gives him an over-rhetorical occasional both barrels - until anybody addresses a) who could replace him with roughly the same policies, and probably more importantly b)how that person could get on the ballot, then it's all just froth.
He's an ideological Brexiteer & cant lead . Great MP terrible leader. Michael Foot kept Thatcher in power Corbyn keeps May in power. As the Tories go hard Right a soft Left Leader could provide an alternative. Corbyn /McDonnells baggage especially IRA sinks them with the electorate. Move over Rover
Yes, he's doing rubbish in the polls. Given the huge rise in membership, Corbyn has obviously struck some sort of chord with the populace. One wonders if this is more representative of his general support than an online poll run by a right-wing company, where the pollees were registered to go on such panels? Doesn't seem a very good way of going about getting a representative group. There really is only one proper test, and that's a general election, and yet I worry that so many Labour 'supporters' will do their utmost to see that their party doesn't win, biting off their own noses to prove their prophecies correct.
To John Riches
'I actually don't believe that people are that stupid'. Really? After Brexit? After Trump? Have you heard people's statements as to why they supported either of these?
The issue which will take up all the parliamentary time and the headlines for the next 2 years is Brexit. As a lawyer, Keir Starmer should be able to take the Tories to pieces on the legislation. It might once more be possible to see a Labour front bench politician consistently besting the Tories rather than a shuffling incompetent repeating pre-worked out responses without any ability to improvise.
Honestly, what is your time-scale for completion and ultimate triumph of Corbyn's social movement? Labour is becoming a permanently tarnished 'brand' and reviving it in time for 2035 will be like trying to convince the voters of 2015 that there's a lot to be said for Lib Dem integrity on tuition fees.
To John Riches
You seem to be under the illusion that the party leader is irrelevant to the future prospects of a political party. That it is the policies only that sells.
I am here to say that the 'front' man or woman is the top sales person.
Liberal Party of Canada
Virtually identical policies but a nice, new shiny leader who looks Prime Ministerial material and is the son of a former Canadian Prime Minister.
Liberal Party Seats in 2011: 34
Justin Trudeau becomes leader: April 2013
Liberal Party Seats in 2015: 184
Now imagine that Labour had a Justin Trudeau type leader?
Never, ever forget that voters do not care about a whole raft of policies - they care about themselves and their families and look for a party and leader who espouses their values.
A leader who is, ideally, youngish, charismatic, good-looking with personality who 'speaks' to voters in language they understand.
Who fights for them by holding the government to account.
Sorry Corbyn is a wet dishcloth in the House of Commons.
If Corbyn is Labour leader at the next General Election I confidently predict Labour will net lose seats.
Colin The Bat
Paul Waugh is not very happy with part of Corbyn's team either.
Paul WaughVerified account @paulwaugh 3h3 hours ago
For proof of how utterly unprofessional, time-wasting + downright shite some of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet really are, read on. (1/19)
As leader the organisational skills seem to be somewhat lacking. Perhaps the new type of politics some crave are not all they they might be?
I am not a Corbyn supporter but I think that we tend to misinterpret the past.
It would be hard to find a more self-serving government than that of John Major's.
Labour were already benefiting from this, and there was a lot of good will towards John Smith's leadership of the Labour party.
Blair was never popular with the same sort of demographic that has voted for Brexit - I honestly believe that this country would be a far better place if John Smith had lived.
A more honourable man would have stood against ramming an EU constitution down the throats of the UK population, and I doubt that Smith would have been as eager to join George Bush's war posse.
Millions of voters had already withdrawn their support for Labour before Corby.
Colin the Bat
I agree with just about everything you say. The problem is identifying that person, and then getting them on the ballot.
I'm merely a voter (with my own doorstep) and therefore somewhere irrelevant to all this important talk about Corbyn. However in my ignorance I think he'd be a great PM and I like his policies, and I don't believe he'd abstain on implementing them if in power. I don't feel the same about any "moderate" MP who might replace him. Silly old me.
I don't believe that there's anywhere in London - including Bexley and Barking and Dagenham - where Paul Nuttall would beat Corbyn in an election, which is why I'm not too sure about the efficacy of this poll.
Tim, I think I remember you predicting the imminent fall of Corbyn nearly 2 years ago and frequently since. You say that Corbyn supporters will blame the press and the polls and Corbyn’s arguments and policies make ones eyes glaze over. Then you pick out a poll, ignore the press bias and don't suggest an alternative leader.
The polling companies such as Nadhim Zahawi’s Youguv have been proved to be unreliable over the past few years to say the least. Whether it is the polling companies methodology or bias or the changing unpredicable public mood to blame for that is irrelevant, they are almost always wrong. Remember the 2015 council by elections where Laura Keunsberg and the BBC were caught with their pants down as they were so confident that Corbyn’s Labour were going to get wiped out based on the polls, that when it didn't happen, their narrative and pre-scripted pieces started to look ridiculous and desperate. Similar on a smaller scale at what happened at the Stoke by election with the reported rise of UKIP and fall of Corbyn. Is it possible that the polls could be used more as a tool for influencing voters rather than measuring them?
I prefer to put my faith in democracy. I didn't vote for the Tories or Brexit but that is what the majority decided and we have to accept it. Corbyn has won 2 landslide leadership elections and whether you like it or not, you have to accept it. If there is another leadership election against Corbyn by MPs such as Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umhuna, Liz Kendall or any other liberal left MP, then Corbyn will win again by a larger margin. The democratic decision that Labour party members made is that they dont want another centre right liberal Blairite party which lost them millions of voters and also Scotland, they want a radical socialist alternative that Corbyn represents. The problem is when the “establishment” dont accept that, which brings me to your main arguement against Corbyn that “he just isnt cutting through”.
I'll try to define the “establishment” as the the money men, senior civil servants, judiciary, quangos, the CEOs of the corporation's, hedge funds, the media and the security services often described as the deep state. This isnt conspiricy theory, all these people exist and whether justified or not, they see that a true socialist government that cannot be corrupted, bought or lobbied to bend to their will is a threat to their power and status quo. I think we can agree on that. I suppose where you stand on Corbyn politics depends on whether you are happy with our ruling elites or not. Me personally, I am not and I suspect that as inflation rises and real incomes fall and the crippling of the NHS through austerity politics starts to voters and their families and friends then public opinion could change.
The undisputable right wing bias of the printed press, 78% of which is controlled by a hand full of foreign billionaires was epitomised by the appointment of Gideon as editor of the London Standard. The printed press naturally set the daily agenda and narrative for the broadcast media. Then you have a BBC that it employs the ex London Standard editor to edit BBCs flagship political radio broaecast the Today programming on radio 4 which in turn sets the BBCs political agenda for the day. The executive editor of the BBCs flagship TV programme the “Daily Politics” is Robbie Gibb who is a brother of Tory MP Nicolas Gibb and a former deputy chair of the Federation of Conservative students, former chief of staff to Tory minister Francis Maude and best man to Tory MP Mark MacGregor. Remember Stephen Doughty's on air resignation before PMQ's?
So if you have a media establishment controlled by a political establishment controlled by the money men or deep state. Is it any wonder Corbyn "isn't cutting through"?
The Corbyn project needs to fail at a general election before the renewal can begin. Otherwise Corbynistas will always be in a position to say that their man wasn't tested at an election. I hope that Labour are anihalated under his leadership at the next election so that the rebuilding can begin the following day.
I imagine that failure will happen anyway.
But it will all become rather irrelevant. We don't have to accept the Brexit vote, inflicted on us by just 25% of the population. It can still be stopped or reversed.
But I see a large chunk of the voting population just switching off. They've seen Article 50 nodded through by their elected representatives with barely a murmer. So many must be left wondering "why do I bother - next time I won't". Whipped muppets are just so much dead wood. Especially so mine, since he got promoted/neutered once they found him being a bit naughty.
So the Tories will not need to go through the exercise of rigging constituency boundaries to get their one-party state.
The thing this sort of wistful Blairist nostalgia overlooks is that Blair ran against John Major (who would have lost if he'd stood against himself), got a thumping vote of confidence from the electorate - and did fuck all because he didn't want to frighten the horses. In May 1997, he won a majority of 179 MPs. That is a legislated revolution. He did nothing with it. By the time of Princess Di's death and his mawkish speech he had an approval rating in the upper 90% range (Rawnsly's Servants of the People records the reaction of an astonished blairite: "Even Saddam Hussein doesn't get that.")
Blair had a huge mandate and he pissed it away with his managerialist approach to what the electorate had said to him. One Tory (forget who) sauid words to the effect of "Mrs Thatcher had a project. Mr Blair's project is getting the nation to accept that project."
He still won in 2001 - again, against a Tory party that looked as well-trained as Dad's Army and as voter-friendly as a PT Barnum exhibit -
and when the moment arose to take a decisive action in 2003, he jumped the wrong way. He was finished after that. The ID Card fiasco would have done it eventually, but Iraq was far quicker and more spectacular.
His economic triumphs were Gordon Brown's, not his own, and Brown had the misfortune to be portrayed in the press as a ditherer when the economy tanked. You can argue about Brown's "failure" all you like, but Obama credited him with more or less saving the global economy single-handed.
To sum up: Blair promised much and delivered the one thing no-one wanted. Brown was mugged by Macmillan's famous "events". Blair rode the wave of a rising economy and it is typical of the man's apparently charmed life that he was defenstrated before the illusion was dispelled.
What is it, exactly, that the Blairites want to do if they regain power? They and their myrmidons have yet to answer this question, and the voters are lukewarm because they didn't deliver their potential last time they got in. Labour voters have a choice between King Stork and King Log. They've got King Log for the moment, and aren't best pleased, but they remember King Stork all too well.
Um, it was the Social Democrats who kept Thatcher in power, by splitting the left-centre vote. Nothing like rewriting history.
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