I Told You So. Are You Going To Listen To Me Now? (SPOILER: No)

<> on September 12, 2015 in London, England.
YOUR choice

THE moment Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party for the first time I was writing in the library. I doubt there was a person in there who didn’t hear my anguished cry.

I immediately wrote an intemperate tweet which suggested that perhaps the people who had voted for him might eventually come to regret their choice, and eventually took it down because I had called people I like and respect “gobshites”.

I am not going to say that everything I predicted was correct. I suspected that Corbyn’s old-time religion would pile up votes in Labour strongholds while putting off voters in swing areas. I was wrong. Mea culpa. I vastly overestimated his appeal.

Now I absolutely get why Corbyn appealed to Labour Party members and the three-quid recreational leftwingers. Labour had just lost an election which it was expected to win, like in 1992, and supporters were upset.

“We’ve already had to put up with Miliband saying he’d keep half an eye on immigration,” they said, “and now this?! You’re expecting us to vote for somebody like Yvette Cooper? Or Liz Kendall?!”

And then Corbyn came along, with those soothing words that told you what you wanted to hear: “It’s not you that’s wrong, it’s the electorate. Let’s not bother convincing those Tory voters, let’s just enthuse the non-voters and build a bright, etc, etc.”

No wonder you voted for him. Losing an election is tough. Being told that the reason you lost it is because you didn’t work hard enough to accommodate people to the right of your party is even tougher.

No wonder you took the easy way out. And then you justified it by saying that people have had enough of “moderates”. That’s the message you were getting from the electorate, oh yes.

You heard that message in 2010 when Brown was turfed out of office, and you heard it again in 2015 when that notorious Blairite Ed Miliband was defeated at the polls.

But it’s absolute nonsense, isn’t it?

Brown lost in 2010 because Labour had been in office for 13 years, and he was at the wheel when the economy crashed. It doesn’t matter how well he and Alistair Darling did to pull the country back out of recession, or how influential he was in saving the world economy.

Nor does it matter that the crash was caused by the collapsing loans market in the United States, and not because Labour spent some money on fixing school roofs. The fact is he was in charge, so he got a pasting.

Even so, if the Tories had been led by Michael Howard or Ian Duncan Smith in 2010, Brown would probably have beaten them. But they were led by “a moderate” who had spent three years reassuring the electorate that he was a safe option.

Yes, in power David Cameron presided over a dreadful right-wing shambles of austerity and bedroom tax and Brexit, but he had a plausible manner. He spoke like a centrist. “I’m not one of those old-style Thatcherite hang ’em and flog ’em Tories”, he said to the electorate, “I hug hoodies and huskies and I like The Jam and don’t mind the gays.”

Unfortunately, after the 2010 election, the Labour selectorate learnt the wrong lesson. Did they pick the wrong Miliband brother? I don’t know if it’s that simple…


But what they did do was pick the most left-wing candidate on offer who wasn’t a black woman. They picked the candidate most likely to spend the next five years saying how dreadful the previous Labour administration had been. And who wasn’t a black woman.

And in 2015, what happened? The Lib Dems collapsed, mostly because the Labour voters who had defected to them because of Iraq and tuition fees wanted to punish them for entering into coalition with the Tories, and the Lib Dem/Tory floating voters were sufficiently reassured by Cameron’s government to decide they did not need Clegg’s restraining hand.

It wasn’t because of a collapse in support for centrist politics. Cameron still painted himself as centrist. He did quite well out of it.

Miliband tried to paint himself as centrist to the broader electorate, and radical to Labour members, which was a difficult trick to pull off and one which he failed to do. But that was not the problem he had.

People decided early on in his leadership that he was not prime ministerial material, just as they had with William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith, and Michael Howard.

And Scotland went full centrist. The SNP is completely Blairite, apart from the constitutional issue, and its position on Trident, which is bound up with the constitutional issue.

The point is, centrism and moderation are not the problem here. It’s about credibility.

So when Corbyn came along in 2015 saying all the things you wanted to hear, and you convinced yourself that the problem with Ed Miliband was that he was too right-wing, and that’s why people went for the Tories, you were wrong. You were so wrong. You were 20-points-behind-in-the-polls-a-month-before-a-general-election wrong.

I’m a centrist. But I’m a centrist who knows that centrism isn’t enough. You need the electorate to believe that you have a leader who is prime ministerial, a leader who goes to where most people are, and gently pulls them in the right direction, rather than standing miles away from them with a megaphone and placard, a leader who says some things that they want to hear and that you don’t.

And what did you do? You picked a man with no experience of office, who has never seen a British foreign policy he liked, or an authoritarian left-wing leader he didn’t like. A man who won’t sing the national anthem. A man who is “always on the right side of history” – apart from Kosovo, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and that time he founded an organisation which then called for insurgents to kill British soldiers in Iraq, before becoming its chair.

Oh, yes, and that photo of him opposing apartheid – as if that were an unpopular position in Britain in the sixties to the nineties? That’s at a protest which the bulk of the British anti-apartheid movement did not want to happen.

As my dear friend Twll Dun says:

…what actually emerges from our brief potted history of a picture of Jeremy on a demo is not a lone man, prescient in his opposition to the evil apartheid regime. Instead, it is a man who – when an idea is already mainstream and backed by the vast majority of the left – finds himself drawn to a demonstration organised by those on the wildest shores of it, a demo the utility of which – centred entirely around the right to keep a non-stop picket outside an embassy – to the wider cause of the movement is debatable, to say the least.

You picked a man with absolutely no hope of becoming British prime minister – and a long history of opposing the EEC/EU – and you knew all this before you voted for him, because you were told.

And all this because you didn’t want to compromise. Because you were happy to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

That’s fine if you’re on the far left of British politics. If your concern is about building a populist protest movement, then you know what Jeremy Corbyn is and how he would be as leader. I have no problem with you. You had an objective and you succeeded. Fair play to you.

But the rest of you, the ones who voted for Jeremy Corbyn because you thought he was the most likely to become Prime Minister – what on earth were you thinking?

I’m a centrist. But there’s a line at that centre. I’m probably far closer to some people on the other side of that line on many subjects than I am to the leader of the Labour Party.

But I won’t cross that line, because in the end I think people who have all the advantages have to help those people with none of the advantages – not that they ought to help them, not that they should be encouraged to help them, but that they have to help them. It’s not a matter of charity, it’s a requisite of civilisation.

That’s why I have to vote Labour at this general election. Not because I think Jeremy Corbyn is good – I think he would be a terrible Prime Minister, incapable of taking the sort of quick and ruthless decisions with which Prime Ministers are faced.

But I think Theresa May has demonstrated she is a much worse Prime Minister. I believe she will pursue a disastrous Brexit and leave the public realm devastated for generations, while Corbyn would pursue a slightly-less disastrous Brexit and keep the NHS and schools ticking over until a proper grown-up who can do sums could take charge.

If you’re on the same side of that line as me, you should do the same. Being an adult in British politics often means voting for the unsatisfactory to avoid the worse. I told people before Corbyn was first elected that they were making the perfect the enemy of the good. It would be inconsistent for me not to follow my own advice.

But don’t bloody make me do this again, you gobshites.

18 thoughts on “I Told You So. Are You Going To Listen To Me Now? (SPOILER: No)

  1. Thank you for summing up my own views perfectly. Only one minor quibble. I think you need to add Sierra Leone to your “right side of history” exceptions list.

      1. Or they mitigated Tory plans…came up with more generous taxation, lgbt etc…the fixation on the tuition fee u-turn amazes me. As if they’re the only party to ever do it.

      2. They’re not the only party to do a u-turn, but the fact remains that they were punished by the electorate for it, as they were for going into coalition with the Tories. Fair or not, that’s what happened.

  2. Some fair points, but, bedroom tax – seriously? Are you still saying that’s a thing? And not just a cheap Labour ear-worm jibe? No bona fide taxpayer I ever spoke to got charged more income tax because of the number of bedrooms in their house – if they did presumably many Labour supporters would support this policy.

    1. They literally tried to charge my mother while I was away at uni for my bedroom back home because I was at uni so therefore I wasn’t ever going to need a bedroom at home. Maybe I could sleep in the bedroom of my two teenage brothers when I returned on breaks? Just because it’s not heard of in your small circle of friends doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  3. Except that they didn’t ‘prop up’ the last tory government. What they did was attempt to create stability in a period of extreme financial instability and having done so paid a heavy price. The criticism you make of the Lib Dems (making pragmatic choices in the national interest) is essentially what you are asking Labour supporters to do now. It would have been easier and purer for the Lib Dems not go into coalition.

  4. I agreed with every word, but then you went and spoiled it by summarily dismissing the Lib-Dems. In 2010, as a life-long Labour voter, I swore that the Lib-Dems would never, ever be forgiven for climbing into bed with the Tories. But that was then, and this is now. I even became a paid-up member of the Lib-Dems, when it became clear that Corbyn (along with his band of merry Momentum-ers) is nothing more than a relic of the dark days of the 80’s, when the Militant Tendency rendered Labour un-electable for a generation.

    Like you, I will more than likely vote Labour – but that is because I live in a constituency with a sitting Tory MP with a (relatively marginal) 4,000 majority over Labour, with hte Lib-Dems in a ditant 4th or 5th, last time out. But I will do so with a heavy heart, knowing that it is probably going to be wasted, in the face of a Tory landslide.

    In an era when politics is more polarised than ever, and with our antiquated FPTP system increasingly favouring the Tories, we’ve never been more in need of PR – which is of course a distant dream….

  5. The thing is Gary, I just don’t think they care: y’know, the @laboureoin’s of this world. This is their dream: power (of a kind) without responsibility. They don’t want to win, it would require compromises. This way, there is no need.

    I am with you, though; I will be voting Labour. But then I am lucky: my MP is Neil Coyle (yes, I know he nominated him in the first place). If I lived over the road and my candidate was Kate Hoey… I’m just pleased I don’t have to make that choice.

  6. Absolutely spot on. Whilst I didn’t vote for Corbyn, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he failed massively.

    When he was challenged for leadership, Labour members decided they would rather be pure than compromise again. If as expected Labour lose the next election do I expect Corbyn to stand down? No chance at all. Do I expect the membership to look hard at what happened, or fight to stay pure once more? Only time will show.

  7. You echo many of my own sentiments Gary, particularly the stark truth that some people are ‘electable’ as PM and some will never be. I also think if the other brother was picked over Ed, he might have managed to galvanise the swing votes but perhaps we’ll never know. Or do you think he’ll position himself as riding the white steed of hope through Corbynism….living in Scotland is double edged. We keep the Tories out of power, have a polarising but strong regional leader and don’t pay for subscriptions! I have a theory that some in England saw Brexit as their version of independence/freedom in a southern braveheart moment but I may be wrong. We know the score, the tories will win GE, UK swing voters will gasp in horror as EU bend us over a barrel and May’s rhetoric turns to dust, labour will bring back David or unearth a centrist that doesn’t get pilloried in murdoch or dacre’s satanic verses and that candidate will over 5-7 years win back the shires, Midlands and regionals to sneak a win in 2022, just in time to see the worst case of sunburn UK fans have ever had at the corrupt Qatar world cup.
    Ah, soundbite over. Anyway, the short response should be I pretty much agree with your words and you’ve identified the problem quite well.
    Paul, Edinburgher

  8. I predict (although probably wrong) JC remains leader of Labour on principle that he has the members support upto 2022 and beyond (unless replaced by another leftfield leader) and by 2018 a new centrist party begins and merges/replaces the Lib Dems. Ie one that the centrists are currently planning.

    That party will be Pro EU through and through, and if / when they’re voted in govt (as soon as 2022) they can bring UK back into the EU. My main hope is this new party must support Proportional Representation.

    That will benefit all the Fringe / smaller parties on the left and right, and give a stronger voice to people who feel “disenfranchised”. Pro-EUers currently included.

    But I’m probably wrong in my prediction.. although it would be a way to bring the pendulum back to the centre, and allow the leftfield to have more influence.

    I can’t believe I might support a future progressive party who might include Ashdown, Milliband, Osborne, Cooper, Khan, Clegg, Clarke, Soubry, Blair and Farron… but if they give us membership of the EU, Proportional Representation and rid the tory right from power.. then Bring It On.

  9. “people who have all the advantages have to help those people with none of the advantages – not that they ought to help them, not that they should be encouraged to help them, but that they have to help them. It’s not a matter of charity, it’s a requisite of civilisation.” I couldn’t agree more! That’s why I’ve carefully selected a list of charities and every month I devote at least 10% of my net income to them. It’s a much more effective way of helping people than voting for a party in the hope that they get elected and will do it for me. Sure, 10% of my income doesn’t amount to a hill of beans but if everyone did it, it’d be a mountain.

  10. Tony Blair is probably a war criminal, therefore it would be criminal to vote for him or one of his sympathisers.

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