Relax, this is not another article about Momentum threating candidates with deselection, or about all the social media hate that pours forth from Corbynites; that subject has been done to death elsewhere. What I want to examine is the new terrain we are in and where British politics seems to be headed.
The line that did the last rounds in the previous parliament was that the Left was united while the Right was split. I always thought that was rubbish, and so it has proved to be in the most spectacular fashion imaginable: the Left now looks more split than ever. It was there, under the surface of everything, all throughout the 2010-2015 parliament, but in everyone’s interests the conflict was a frozen one. Which made it all the worse when it exploded post-May: once it was ruthlessly exposed that keeping shtum and hoping Ed Miliband would sneak into Number 10 had been a faulty one, and the Lib Dems were pulverised by the electorate to practically zero benefit to the Labour Party, the Left has split into many different factions. But there are two distinct camps emerging.
What you think of Jeremy Corbyn and his politics will tell you everything you need to know about someone who purports to be centre-left, whether they be Labour, Lib Dem, Green, whatever. He is the essential fault line. Corbyn’s ascension to the leadership of Labour has seemingly killed the Green Party, which makes complete sense given Labour’s greater resources. Meanwhile there are a whole lot more Lib Dems who really like Corbyn and his politics than many are prepared to admit. Again, this makes sense: if you joined the Lib Dems because you thought Blair was too right-wing, and hell, thought that Ed Miliband was too right-wing, then Jeremy is the Labour leader you always dreamed of.
So that is the fight that is in its early stages: the Left’s civil war. And make no mistake about it, whatever any Guardian journalist may tell you, it is completely inevitable. The Corbyn/McDonnell goal is clearly identifiable and if you aren’t with them, you are against them by definition. In the short term, the main benefactors will be the Tories, who will govern opposition-free while this plays out.
The non-Corbyn faction defines itself mostly against Corbyn at present – this needs to change. The alternatives to what he and his cohorts offer must be clear and easy to pitch on a doorstep. We’re a long way from that at present. But the non-Corbyn faction can take heart from this: its victory over the other side is inevitable, it’s just a question of time. The Corbyn/McDonnell clique will never be able to secure a parliamentary majority and the Tories can only go on for so long before the people of the UK will plump for any sensible looking alternative. That time could be relatively short – 2020 is almost certainly too soon, but 2025 is realistic, if the effort is concerted. But given where we are 2030 looks more likely – if not 2035. The last option would mean a quarter century straight of Tory prime ministers.
The civil war has begun, whether we like it or not. Politics is surprising at the moment – for instance, I found out last week that I was a Bennite. That’s not something I would have ever expected to hear myself saying.
Dominic Londesborough says
I think your analysis is spot on. The Conservatives probably have a clear run of election victories ahead of them.
The next general election will be fascinating. How many of Jeremy Corbyn’s grass-roots supporters will turn out and vote? I suspect that Labour will not lose as many seats as some predict, as there will be a surge of new leftist voters who have never voted before, voting for Corbyn.
David Cameron and George Osborne have played a clever game lately, backing down over Tax Credits, backing down over junior doctors, funding the police, holding the middle ground. A few extra billion of tax receipts came at a good time, and Osborne was wise to use this to avoid a potentially disastrous clash with those who would have been hardest hit by the Tax Credit changes.
I see Hilary Benn as a potential Labour leader, the party could do a lot worse. But if David Cameron sticks to the moderate and progressive Conservatism he wants to pursue, and if his successor can avoid a lurch to the right, I think the Conservatives are pretty safe for the next few parliaments.