Jeremy Corbyn is set to damage centre-left politics for a generation

As Owen Smith concedes, Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader marks the beginning of the downfall of both a party of government and of the centre-left's possible appeal and popularity.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses a campaign rally | Source: New Statesman

When Jeremy Corbyn was first elected Leader of the Labour Party just twelve months ago, most people saw another leadership election coming. What ensued, was a summer 2016 fight between Corbyn and the previously and relatively unknown Pontypridd MP Owen Smith, in a contest triggered by the intentions of Angela Eagle (who later withdrew). In the year as Labour, Jeremy Corbyn ensured the basis of his political programme: to make the Labour Party a ‘Labour movement’. Now re-elected, Corbyn will ensure that his ground-work will be built upon in a way detrimental to both the Labour Party and to the politics of the centre-left in general.

Figures on the centre-left heralded Corbyn’s election as a new way of politics; a politics more open to debate, and crucially, one that would make policies which have in previous years only resided in parties of the left, like the Green Party, mainstream. Policies such as negative income tax/ Universal Basic Income, renationalisation of the railways, utilities and public services, and a reduced role in the Health Service for the private sector were all on the cards in an attempt to ‘normalise’ them and make the Labour Party a party of ‘anti-austerity economics’.

The left was led to believe that Corbyn would lead a populist left force. However, the key to being a populist left-wing force is to be, primarily, popular. Corbyn, however, is not popular. 58% of people have an unfavourable view of the newly re-elected Labour leader (Ipsos Mori), while he consistently comes third to ‘Don’t Know’ in a two-way question of who would make a better Prime Minister in polls according to various pollsters. Yes, it’s obvious that the leadership challenge has had some effect, yet even before that, Corbyn lagged behind David Cameron and later Theresa May, and has not once beaten the Conservative Party in polling averages since September 2015.

Corbyn’s re-election therefore sparks a lot of doom and gloom talk. And, well, quite rightly. The Labour Party has not been in a worse polling position or had such an unpopular leader since the 1980s. Meanwhile, the issue faced by the entire left is that Corbyn represents the left wing of British Politics. And he’s failing. Miserably.

While the Conservatives consolidate their position as the main centre-right force and naturalised party of government, Corbyn continues to lead Labour further and further away from power. Meanwhile, the status of his politics will increasingly become tarnished. While in 2015 the Greens may have looked like a fresh new face, Corbyn has ensured their platform has been adopted by Labour and dragged through the mud. Why? Because the politics of the left are directly associated with the leader of the Labour Party. It is, after all, the traditional left wing political party in the U.K.

While Corbyn’s politics may well already be popular, or the electorate may previously have been able to be convinced of their merits, Corbyn’s inept leadership simply means they cannot. The politics of the left is increasingly becoming associated with poor leadership, and poor opposition. The politics of the left is being dragged through the ground at the hands of the Labour leader. And while I doubt Owen Smith, Corbyn’s challenger, could do any better, it’s undoubtably Corbyn that has begun and will now continue to tarnish this left wing politics.

Even some of Corbyn’s popular and more sensible politics which many in the Labour Party and elsewhere support, like rail renationalisation and investment in public services and infrastructure, are tarnished by his more extreme positions and his incompetent leadership style.

While it’s possible for a party with these policies to have high public support, a party with a leader that shares a platform with Hamas and Hezbollah while refusing to share one with David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK. A party with a leader who doesn’t believe in a strong, at-sea nuclear deterrent will not be accepted as remotely Prime Ministerial by an electorate with priorities on Britain having strong defence policy credentials. And a party leader with the view that NATO is obsolete and refuses to rule out not defending a NATO ally state from Russian aggression is not one that will ever reach the highest political office.

While Corbynistas may believe that the Labour leader’s coming increased mandate demonstrates his popularity and electability, the Labour Party and the centre-left in general need to be aware that his continued inept leadership is set to do untold damage to the party and ideology’s appeal. Unless his leadership style can be polished and improved — a prospect that is incredibly unlikely — Labour should expect to face massive electoral defeat at the hands of an electorate that will become increasingly sceptical of centre-left ideals, thanks to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.