When Jeremy Corbyn became the surprise leader of the Labour party in September 2015 (surprise as in no one gave him a chance at the outset of the contest – obviously we all knew it was inevitable well before the result was announced), I thought that amongst all the very negative things this would do for Labour and the centre-left generally, at least one thing would probably take place: by having a very left-wing Labour leader, the conversation within British politics would lean to the left. Instead, everything has got more and more right-wing since.
Some will argue that Cameron and Osborne departing has meant that May and Hammond are now talking in slightly more leftish terms regarding the economy. So less austerity, for instance. But this is out of necessity, not choice – Brexit is the reason they want more flexibility to spend and not lock themselves into restrictive targets, not a sudden benevolent streak. Of course, given you have to do it anyhow, why not dress it up as a sop to the poor and thus try and reassure old Labour voters that the Tories aren’t so bad after all? It only makes political sense.
Having dealt with that possible hiccup in my theory, allow me to move onto safer ground. For instance, we have a Tory prime minister who actually said in a conference speech a few weeks ago, “If you believe you are a world citizen, you are a citizen of nowhere.” We have a Home Secretary stating in her conference speech that businesses should be “named and shamed” for employing anyone foreign. We even have former soft Brexit cheerleaders like Dan Hannan suddenly saying that the harder the Brexit, the better (and the harder the Brexit, the more it will impact poorer workers).
May feels comfortable in doing all of this because she feels that under the current Labour leadership the old swing voter block doesn’t really need to be worried about. In other words, she feels she has those few hundred thousand voters in swing seats who used to be obsessed over by political strategists in the bag given they would vote for almost anyone over a Corbyn led Labour Party. She’s almost certainly right about that too.
So she and her inner circle are free to go after the UKIP vote as well as pursue more socially conservative old Labour voters. The electoral rewards if this works could be truly terrifying for anyone on the Left.
In the meantime, expect the conversation in British politics to continue its rightward drift – not something I ever thought would be the result of Corbynism, but there you have it.