It is hard for some people in Ireland – especially for students – to “get” why Jeremy Corbyn has attracted such a visceral reaction among much of the British press.
Many of his policies, after all, such as renationalising Britian’s railways, or nuclear disarmament, don’t really seem all that radical in an Irish context – and they actually enjoy popular support among the general public in Britain.
However, that doesn’t seem to stop much of Britian’s mainstream media from lambasting the new leader of the Labour party – from The Sun to The Guardian, the consensus seems to be that Corbyn’s victory spells the end of any chance that Labour has of regaining the losses they suffered in the 2015 General Election.
Even accounting for the fact that most of Britian’s media openly endorse the Conservative party – compared to here in Ireland, where no mainstream publication would overtly affiliate themselves with any of the parties – there are, unfortunately, some indications that they are correct in their assessment of a Jeremy Corbyn leadership.
In the 2015 General Election, the British Labour party did not really lost the election to left-wing populists – despite the growth of the English Greens, and the explosive rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) – but rather, to the right-wing, anti-immigration UKIP and the Conservatives (or “Tories”).
Even if Labour had obtained all of the seats currently held by the SNP and the English Greens, they still would have lost the election. Even if the British Election had been held under some sort of Proportional Representative voting system, instead of the systematically flawed “First-Past-The-Post”, the Tories and UKIP would have won a majority of the seats between them.
Therefore, if anything can be learned from last May’s vote, it’s that it’s hard to see how a North London Socialist, with a heavily liberal and leftist world view, will encourage many of those who voted for the Tories or UKIP in the election to come back to the Labour fold – as well-liked as he might be as an individual.
A counter-proposal by those on the Left that, instead of trying to win over a greater share of those who voted in May, that the Labour party should try and re-engage with disillusioned – and mainly poorer – citizens, who have become so apathetic that they have even lost hope in voting.
This isn’t a completely unrealistic proposal – after all, the SNP’s rapid expansion in recent times had a lot to do with harnessing the high levels of political engagement brought about by the Scottish Independence Referendum over a year ago. Turnout in Scotland for the UK elections in May was 71.1%, compared to the 63.8% that voted in 2010, and the 65.5-65.8% that voted in England.
However, it basically took an epoch-defining referendum, a strong re-asserting of Scottish national identity, and arguably the most capable and canny nationalist political party in the developed world, to bring that about in Scotland. It’s hard to see the circumstances in which that could be replicated in England.
Sure, there is an upcoming referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union (EU).
However, there isn’t much evidence of a large grassroots movement surfacing among those who want the UK to leave the EU – nothing like the Scottish “Yes” campaign that has since re-defined Scottish politics, despite the failure of the initial raison d’etre of the movement.
And even if there was, it would be UKIP rather than Labour that would stand to benefit, due to their long-standing, principled opposition to EU membership.
Other than that, there isn’t really much opportunities for the Labour party, under Corbyn, to shake up previously apathetic citizens, at least to anywhere near the extent that the Scottish Nationalists managed to do last year.
Well, except to live in hope, that his “style” of Leadership will overcome the universal hostility of the Press – as well as large sections of the Labour party itself – to “inspire” those people to sign up to the voting register in their droves.
I don’t know about anyone else, but that does seem to be a pretty flimsy basis for a re-election strategy to me.
It might seem confusing, in one sense, why Corbyn’s leadership does seem so hopeless, despite the fact that some of his policies would actually be quite popular. In fact, it seems downright nonsensical.
It is quite possible that the sheer influence of Britian’s generally conservative press encourages people to vote against their best interests, much like Conservative media outlets in the US.
However, considering the fact that the readership base of much of the mainstream media is shrinking, and how the pro-Union slant of nearly all the media in Scotland did not prevent 45% of the Scots from voting for Independence, we probably shouldn’t exaggerate the press’s influence too much.
The UK’s national voting system, “First-Past-The-Post”, does come in for a lot of criticism, but considering that Labour had also lost in terms of it’s share of the national vote last May, and the fact that the party benefits at least as much from it’s systematic flaws (if not more so) as the Tories, it’s not really to blame either.
So, does that mean that the people in the UK – England in particular, as Scotland and Wales mainly elected SNP and Labour MPs – are just simply too conservative nowadays, for a Labour party that does not accept the same Thatcherite ideals under which Tony Blair’s “New Labour” had won three elections in the past?
If so, it seems that the Scottish Nationalists and Britain’s mainstream commentators can agree on one thing – the “centre ground” in England is more or less intrinsically conservative in it’s character and politics, and hence, it is “no country for old men”, such as Jeremy Corbyn and the “Old Labour” ideals he represents.
By Tomás M. Creamer