People critical of the current Labour leadership sometimes speak as though the reason for their dismal showing in the polls and string of poor results in by elections is solely the fault of Jeremy Corbyn. Change him out and talk about the NHS some more and we’ll have a winning combination, they say.
They are deluding themselves.
If Labour lose the two by-elections today and Corbyn takes this as his cue to leave (although he’s ignored every other cue to leave), the Labour Party will still be facing an existential threat.
Corbyn leaving will not suddenly make Scotland think “Hang on a tick, let’s give these social democrat types another shot.”
UKIP voters in the North and Midlands will not think “I know Corbyn and co didn’t understand us, but clearly this other bunch of public school boys in suits do.”
The Corbynistas will not pack up their pistachio coloured shirts, put the sandals back on the shelf and say “Oh well, turns out Third Way was the most electable option after all.”
Even granted that Corbyn goes quietly, and the membership somehow chose someone charismatic and charming, the party would still be in existential danger. The people who make up the ‘Labour coalition’ are just too disparate.
On the one hand there’s the metropolitan, liberal group who have done well out of the globalisation. The sorts of people who have the time and disposable income to buy lattes and think hard, yet do little, about social justice. They are relaxed about immigration and are not terribly interested in their identity as British or English; they are far too cosmopolitan to worry about that sort of thing.
On the other hand, there is Labour’s old heartland vote. The bedrock of loyal working people who followed the party through many tough years, but who have done less well out of globalisation. They’ve been struggling for a while and are resentful of the fact that politics doesn’t work for them. They are sceptical about immigration, and concerned by a lack of loyalty to Britishness and Englishness.
The problem is that these two groups are not only different, but they want mutually exclusive things. On immigration, social policy, and Brexit their priorities are simply incompatible. I fear that no amount of talking about the NHS and funding for education can create a bridge between these two groups.
Labour’s problems are made worse by having an unelectable leader, but those who think a new chief with a clean score-card and a charming smile will save the party are deluding themselves.