You know the sort of thing I mean by Train Wreck TV. “Epic Fails” on YouTube, or those tittilating films that sit at the side of your Facebook page, offering vicarious enjoyment of some poor person’s misfortune. That’s what it feels like with the Labour Party at the moment: you can’t watch, but you can’t help yourself. It’s a gruesome fascination with the inevitable bloody outcome.
Unusually, we have had local government elections just before a general election. The result seems to have indicated that a Corbyn-led Labour Party is seen as unelectable, even by many natural Labour supporters, and are likely to be heavily defeated on June 8th. The extraordinary thing about this, and I’ve seen it expressed in vox-pop interviews with these disappointed Labour supporters, is that much of the belief of Corbyn’s “unelectability” is based on false perceptions. Just the other day I saw a clearly distressed life-long Labour supporter say that he could no longer vote Labour because Jeremy Corbyn was anti-Brexit! As far as I know, if anything, Jeremy Corbyn was for Brexit: at most he was ambivalent during the Brexit campaigning. So, where did that impression come from? Along with much else negative about the Labour Party, it comes from a very slick Conservative election machine.
It is clear, from what we have seen of the campaign already, that the decision to call an election was anything BUT a snap decision. The Conservatives have been preparing for this for weeks, if not months, and have hit the ground running. Labour, on the other hand, have been caught out because they are so busy navel gazing that they ignored the signs, and the warnings, that an early General Election was a very predictable outcome of the Brexit referendum last June.
The saving grace, if there is one, is that an unrestrained right-wing Tory government will feel it can do anything…until the country runs into the buffers of Brexit in 18 months time. That’s only 18 months to realign the left and prepare for another general election. Let’s hope that, by then, they learn that UK elections are not just about ideas, but votes; not about integrity but learning how to fight dirty; not about unpicking what your opponents say they will do but what they actually have done. As well as projecting their vision of an alternative Britain, Jeremy Corbyn and the present Labour party leadership should be banging on about what the Torys have already done in the last 7 years. The only hope they have of staving off a landslide, and having a sizeable left of centre contingent of MPs, is to wake the electorate up to the unvarnished, un-airbrushed, history of Conservative rule since 2010. Collapsing NHS, collapsed social care, schools closing or overcrowded, teachers leaving, roads full of potholes, homelessness and food banks rising etc., etc. The tragedy is that many of those who have been directly and personally affected by these failures have been successfuly gulled into believing it has all been the fault of the EU and, especially, immigrants. Only one week after Parliament has been dissolved, starting the general election properly, the Conservatives have again wheeled out immigration as a major policy issue. Classic distract, divide and rule tactics. In the absence of a Labour election manifesto, despite there having been a Labour Party conference last autumn where policy is supposed to be decided, the Conservatives are recycling Labour policy pledges from 2015, which they then derided as Marxist, or unaffordable, and claiming them as evidence of their own inclusiveness.
While Theresa May complained that the EU was trying to interfere in the UK election, actually the election of Emanual Macron, an avowedly pro-European and pro-globalisation politician, as president of France plays very nicely into the Conservative general election plan. They can claim, and already have, that this is proof that Theresa May must be returned with a strong mandate, otherwise a reinvigorated French-led EU will roll over the UK in the formal Brexit negotiations. Theresa May can now pose as Britannia going into battle with the nasty ‘Frenchies”, while keeping the UKIP vote on-side. Theresa May was against Brexit and yet has managed to convince the electorate she was not!
I despair that the present Labour leadership have not understood the lessons that crystalized in the Brexit vote: politics is visceral. Much of the British electorate is not fair minded, it’s not calm and reasoned, it’s not politically correct, it’s not well informed. It’s no use appealing to the altruism of the British electorate because much of it is self-interested. Thatcher saw that when, in 1987, she said “there is no such thing as society”. She was, in a real sense, quite right because she was in the process of creating the sort of “loadsamoney”, “me first”, “pull the ladder up” kind of country where people would vote this week for whatever gave them the best deal, and next week for something else, but meantime (and in the longer term) to hell with everyone else: a kind of ‘U Switch’, ‘Go Compare’ approach to politics. If I could, I would weep.
Mostly I would weep about the Labour leadership’s failure to see the world as it is, and deal with that, rather than wish in some nebulus way that it (and the voter) was thoughtful, decent, different and ‘nice’. It’s no use wishing it doesn’t matter to the electorate what you wear, how your hair looks, whether your teeth are white and regular, and whether you look the part. It just does: our entire economy is based on us embracing aspirational materialism. Even to those with nothing, those who might be considered fertile ground for the Labour message, it does matter what you wear, what sort of house you live in, whether you have the ‘right’ car, and whether you look tired and half asleep in interviews. The campaign opening Conservative sound-bite slogan, “strong and stable leadership” and coalition of chaos” is as specious as it is effective. It has been delivered at every opportunity, and in any context, even in presenting bananas to Jeremy Corbyn on the street. Done on camera for the benefit of the BBC, who dutifully kept showing it as ‘entertaining’, it neatly kept the slogan in the public mind and linked ‘bananas’ with Jeremy Corbyn: for those who forget, ‘bananas’ is a colloquial synonym for ‘mad’. Perhaps the Labour Party should turn each Conservative slogan in on itself as soon as it appears…”Mean and Nasty” “Attacking the weak”…etc., etc. but I’m afraid Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t do ‘snappy’ and every question, instead of being met with a binary, yes / no answer, gets a reasoned discussion. He doesn’t even seem to do passionate and angry, which plays to the Conservative-portrayed image of weakness.
So, I expect a new Conservative slogan every week. Labour is, and will remain, on the back foot. It’s as if the Labour leadership see this sort of “professionalism” in campaigning as somehow dirty, and part of all that is wrong with politics. Well, it is wrong, and I want a different world too, but I know I’m not ever going to get it at a UK election. The naivity is staggering. I also weep for the constituents of the many experienced, electable, Labour MPs who appear to have left their leader ‘hanging out to dry’. In being disloyal to him they have also been massively disloyal to their movement and the hundreds of thousands of do-or-die supporters up and down the country. They, at least, deserve to lose their jobs.