I should caveat that headline a little, since I’m now out of the game of predictions: as things stand, I just don’t see how Labour can possibly win a general election. We live in volatile times, and things can change very quickly, of course. Corbyn could quit and then Labour turns itself around in record time; the Tories could collapse spectacularly in a way that creates no new political space in the centre (I find this hard to imagine, but you never know). But given the range of foreseeable events, even to their furthest extremes, I don’t see how Labour can win the next general election, and in fact, unless there is some major schism in the party political structure, the Tories are 90% likely to win the next GE, whenever it should occur. Here’s why.
The few weeks following the last general election provided a rare window of opportunity for Corbyn. He could have shorn up both his position in Labour and the party itself with the electorate if he’d used the goodwill present to unite the party behind him. This would have involved bringing people like Yvette Cooper back into the shadow cabinet. Some on the Left claim people like Cooper would have refused to do this; the fact that almost a year later, in the midst of Corbyn being weak in the face of a national security crisis AND a major anti-Semitism shitstorm, she would go on television and support him tells me she would have almost certainly come back to the fold in June 2016. Or at the very least, enough of the Blairites and Brownites would have accepted such roles, enough to have ended infighting, possibly for good. Corbyn chose to only to one of those things, i.e. shore up his position as leader. The problems he’s facing now are the direct result of this.
In the same way choosing Ed Miliband over his brother as leader was a major case of taking the wrong road in the face of a fork in it, this was a major missed opportunity for Labour. This may become apparent at the next electoral event of real importance for the party, which is the local elections in May. I don’t think Labour will do nearly as well as expected. There will be two drags on their hopes of success: one, the fact that Corbyn’s Euroscepticism is becoming more and more apparent to Remainer voters and two, the Russian thing hurt Corbyn with a lot of voters in general, particularly outside of London. The first will be less severe than the second – pro-European people are still coming round to Corbyn as pro-Brexit and besides, these people are, for the moment anyhow, more anti-Tory than anti-Brexit. Corbyn’s handling of the Salisbury incident, on the other hand, was a gift to the Tories, and could save the locals for them, at least partially.
When this autumn rolls around, things will come to a head for Labour. If May delivers the reasonable outline of a deal and parliament votes it through, politics will move on. Corbyn will be re-examined in light of a new, post-Brexit era and I don’t think that will be good for his image. Or, we’re headed for a no deal Brexit, in which case Labour will probably formally split in some way, or a second referendum scenario unfolds somehow, in which case they’ll formally stay together for the time being only to split afterwards. That’s before we get into deselections, the blame game if the locals don’t go as well as hoped, more scandals particularly around anti-Semitism, or the fact that the Tories have the opportunity to get a fresh new leader in a little over a year’s time, something denied to the Labour Party.
What always scares me about this is what happens to the Left after another Tory GE victory. There’s the hope that everyone grows up a little, but I’m not banking on it. Could the Left become even more insular and conspiracy theory driven? I shudder to think.