It turns out that this general election in the United Kingdom is not about Brexit after all. It is about Jeremy Corbyn.
That was confirmed by the headlines after the Chief Rabbi declared the Labour leader unfit to govern. By any measure, this was an extraordinary intervention.
The accusations of anti-Jewish racism that have dogged Corbyn for several years have exploded into the election campaign and reinforced an impression that many voters have already formed — that stopping him getting into No 10 trumps everything, including Brexit.
Corbyn is the reason why the Lib Dems are floundering, because Remain voters in London and the South will not risk supporting Jo Swinson’s party if there is even a remote chance he will get into No 10. If it’s a choice between him and leaving the European Union (EU), then it’s au revoir Brussels.
He’s the reason why Labour is losing ground in seats across the North that have been impregnable party fiefdoms for decades. While constituency-based polling is always to be taken cautiously, a survey from Great Grimsby published in the Economist is startling.
Labour’s vote has collapsed — partly to the Brexit Party — and the Tories have a 13-point lead in a seat they have not held since the Second World War. We may be seeing a repudiation of Corbyn across the North and Midlands which, if Labour cannot arrest it in the next two weeks, will guarantee a majority for Boris Johnson.
The Labour leader’s unpopularity cannot have come as a shock to the party’s candidates, even if his Praetorian Guard cleave to the fantasy that their brand of red in tooth-and-claw socialism can ever resonate with the country. Yes, say the Corbynistas.
We heard all this in 2017 and look what happened. The Tories began with a lead of around 15 per cent but by the end it was reduced to just 2.5 per cent, denying Theresa May a majority. Labour polled 40 per cent, their best performance since 2005.
But in 2017, there were several factors at play. First, many voters were not particularly aware of Corbyn’s track record as an extremist supporting almost any loony Left cause, since he had spent most of his political career on the fringes of the party ploughing a lonely ideological furrow with his fellow Marxists.
Secondly, those who did know about him were assured by Labour candidates that the party could not possibly win and they could risk voting for them, as many Remainers did, hoping to stop Brexit. In that they succeeded.
But the other intended consequence did not materialise: Corbyn was supposed to do so badly that he could be pushed out. But even though he was 60 seats shy of a majority, by securing a much bigger vote than in either 2010 or 2015 he shored up his position. Labour moderates then faced a choice: either leave the party or trot lamely behind the Trot, prepared to put into No 10 a man they know to be dangerous. They chose the latter.
It was at that 1983 election that Corbyn was elected to Parliament.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament
He was joined in the Commons by Tony Blair, who subscribed to a platform proposing unilateral nuclear disarmament and leaving the EEC among other policies with which he subsequently said he did not agree. He did not openly dissent from the party line, which would have been politically courageous. Other pro? EEC centrists like Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Shirley Williams, had left the party.
Since Blair went on to help reshape Labour as a social democratic party and won three elections, who is to gainsay his decision? But that is not going to happen again now the leader is elected by an unremittingly Left-wing membership.
The Labour leader’s unpopularity cannot have come as a shock to the party’s candidates, even if his Praetorian Guard cleave to the fantasy that their brand of red in tooth-and-claw socialism can ever resonate with the country. Yes, say the Corbynistas
Blair must know this, yet he would still be voting Labour even though the Lib Dem candidate where he lives is Chuka Umunna, a Blairite who did have the guts to jump ship. Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his country for his tribe.
Labour’s moderates have been banished to the outer darkness, left the party or stepped down. It is hard to imagine a fresh-faced young barrister standing in a North East seat today extolling the virtues of a hard-Left party leader while biding his time to launch a counter-coup.
The last, lingering hope of Remainers is that voters conclude that Corbyn cannot possibly win and do what they did in 2017 — vote Labour or Lib Dem, leaving the Tories as the biggest party but without a majority.
This would force Boris to concede a referendum as the price of getting his deal through and staying in office. But if there is even the chance of putting Corbyn into Downing Street, who is going to risk that?
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2019
Philip Johnston is a noted British columnist and journalist.