Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The problem with Corbynism

There is actually a bit of what looks like good news for the Labour Party at the moment. Membership figures are through the roof, and that new membership is engaged, enthusiastic and almost messianic in its support of Jeremy Corbyn. In the Westminster Hour programme on Sunday night, there was a feature from the West Dorset Labour Party, which has added hundreds of members since the election, some of whom were retreads from the 1970s and 1980s (who left because New Labour was just Tory-lite) and some of whom are new joiners, having previously been unengaged by politics.

It was clear that this new membership were there because they believed in Jeremy Corbyn, and were excited by the return of true socialism to British politics. The story of Corbynism so far, on one level at least, is the story of enthusiasm.

And that's the problem. They're just completing the review into why the opinion polls called the 2015 election so badly wrong, and the conclusion is that they were polling the wrong people. The people they polled were engaged in politics, keen to vote and disproportionately Labour. The people that voted? Not so much. Not only are the British unenthusastic, they are positively anti-enthusiastic. Janan Ganesh has another very good article in the FT on this very point:
Apathetic Britons are not waiting to be redeemed. They just have lives to get on with. Not only are they apolitical; they rouse themselves to vote every five years precisely to stop hot heads and crusaders from running their country. They like Mr Cameron because he governs well enough to save them having to think about politics. 
The British generally don't like grand projects. They don't like visions. They don't particularly like politics or politicians. The wife of Spencer Percival discovered that she was a widow by the cheering in Parliament Square that greeted the news of her husband's assassination.

Corbynism (insofar as that's actually a thing) relies on uncovering a great army of the formerly unengaged; inspiring non-voters by the clear radicalism of Labour's new politics. But, as noted by more or less everyone else, the thing that non-voters have in common is that they don't vote. Their apathy is not caused by a longing for true socialism.

The dullness of British politics is a great British achievement, as Ganesh notes:
There are nations with much hotter politics, and they tend to send refugees to tedious old Britain.
The firing of blazing enthusiasm in the hearts of a couple of hundred thousand new members is not just not evidence of a Labour electoral revival, it might even be another symptom of their steps towards electoral disaster.


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