In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory, some on the British Left were seeking a silver lining. I’m sure it didn’t take them long to find it. Everyone said Trump couldn’t win because of the polls – everyone says Jeremy Corbyn can’t win because of the polls – Jeremy Corbyn is going to be prime minister! Right, let’s deconstruct this stupid thinking, slowly but surely.
Let’s start with the polls. Now, the polls were incorrect in the US election, yes. They said Clinton was 2 to 3 points up, whereas it looks like the popular vote is going to be very, very close with Trump edging it. So the polls were not wildly wrong. The same applies to the EU referendum. They thought Remain was ahead by hair, when Leave ended up winning narrowly.
All polls are is a snapshot of public opinion at a given time. They can change – and they can certainly change by 2 or 3 points inside of a week. So the idea that the polls putting Labour up to 16 points behind might be incorrect is true – but by 2 or 3 points. I actually do think they are wrong, as it happens: I think they are still overweighting the Labour vote and thus overestimating the Labour vote slightly. So I think the position Labour is in is actually worse than the polling suggests.
However, it isn’t really polling that let’s me know Corbyn will never be prime minister, just as I started to become convinced the closer with we got to the day that Trump would win had nothing to do with polling either. It’s about tapping into a certain anti-establishment anger that is of the moment. Now, Corbynistas think their man is channelling that very same anger, but in what they would see as a more positive way. But he isn’t. He isn’t even slightly.
Trump managed to take the campaigning equation that won the EU referendum for Leave and translate it for America – whether consciously or unconsciously, I have no idea, but I suspect it’s the latter. The equation is relatively simple: tap into nationalist feelings, by channelling anti-establishment, us v them thinking via anti-immigration rhetoric. Appeal to parts of the old Left that may share the sentiments of that us v them line by telling them you are opposed to globalisation, particular free trade deals. Appeal further to the old Left by telling them that you speak for them, and that through a more protectionist approach you will create jobs for them in a way that parties of the Left have supposedly abandoned.
Look at how little of that equation applies to Corbyn. The current leader of the Labour Party is anti-trade and certainly a protectionist – but he’s so far from being a nationalist, it’s hilarious. Think of the “God Save the Queen” stuff and you’ll see what I mean. He is vocally pro-immigration as well, which is even more off message.
Now, as a liberal, the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is pro-immigration is one of the few things I really like about his politics. But the idea that Corbyn can reach the same groups of people that Trump and the Vote Leave campaign did, and with it carry him onto Number 10, is totally and utterly ludicrous. If anything, by being protectionist and pro-immigration and anti-nationalist all at the same time, Corbyn has managed to alienate absolutely everyone outside of his small catchment. And a million or so votes won’t get you into double figures in terms of seats, never mind win you a majority.
Labour’s only hope of avoiding a total annihilation at the next general election (other than ditching Corbyn somehow before then) will be via old Labour voters holding their noses and voting for the party as they always have done. Not, I repeat, not because of Corbyn’s ability to tap into the spirit of the era – which he most certainly does not.