I’ll start by admitting: I’m one of those radical left wingers who joined the Labour party to vote for Corbyn. Seasoned Labour campaigners might not like that I exist — I’m an entryist, maybe, or I’m trying to derail the party’s goals.
But, despite the fact that my politics lie way to left of the PLP, I’ve been a lifelong Labour voter (I’m under 30 though, so take that for what it’s worth). I’ve voted for Labour because I recognise there’s always going to be two strands to left wing politics: the radical movement that works best through protest and direct action — amazing people like Sisters Uncut, for example — and a less radical, more centrist parliamentary movement who enact small changes which can nonetheless improve the lives of many millions.
Hating Blair is the done thing at my end of the political spectrum but, while I think his warmongering is utterly reprehensible, I think we on the far left have to accept the Labour right and their point that Blair did push through the minimum wage, Blair’s government enacted hundreds of reforms that made life a little more bearable for the millions of poor in this country.
I’m one of those people. I owe my university education to a Blair government, even if I did have to pay triple the tuition fees of students just a year older than me. Hell, I even owe the fact I have A-levels to the EMA, as I don’t know if my family would have been able to afford it otherwise — I’d have just had to get a job.
I really, really, seriously do understand the argument put forward by the Labour right that Labour cannot do any good if they can’t win an election. I agree with that, in fact.
I also agree with every person in Labour who tells me Corbyn is unelectable (in a GE, at least. Turns out he’s eminently electable to certain demographics).
So why vote Corbyn? Why vote for an unelectable man when you already understand that the Labour party is useless if it’s unelectable?
Reason 1: The Young Vote
Corbyn is overwhelmingly popular with an already largely left-wing young in this country. I count myself among them. There’s a reason for that. He is pushing policies and ideas which talk about our future which, really, is the future of this country.
The millions of children in poverty whose parents work are being failed by the Tories and by the policies of the Labour right. Corbyn at least is making the young a priority with his leadership. Yes, this doesn’t make him electable, but the young in this country have shown that they can be a force to be reckoned with in this country at the polling station.
Look at the EU referendum. Turnout amongst the young was comparable to all other age groups for the first time in a long time. Yes, they didn’t swing the vote, but without the votes of young people in this country, the Leave victory would have been a landslide. Had 16 and 17 year-olds been able to vote, the landscape of this country might — just might — be very different today.
We’re a powerful, large and passionate voting bloc, the young. And yet for as long as I’ve been able to vote, mainstream politics has been asking why we don’t turn out on election day.
I’ve seen mainstream political commentators tell the young that for as long as they don’t vote, politicians will never represent them, politicians will never attempt to swing their vote with policies which can improve their lives.
I hope the EU referendum, if anything good can come out of it, has shown this up for the lie that it is. The truth is that the whole argument is the wrong way round.
The Tories will never create policies for the young, so I’ll say this to the Labour Party: you can take a huge proportion of the young vote simply by building policies which will appeal to them. Focus on policies which help young people facing the prospect of becoming a lost generation see hope and as close to a guarantee of avoiding poverty as is possible to give and you will have their vote.
Don’t duke it out with the Tories over who can swing 4 or 5% of pension age voters your way with ever more gilt-edged pension protections — you’ll lose. Focus instead on firing up the young with policies which affect them today and bring their turnout up from 44% in 2010 to 70%.
Young people in this country are savvy. They know how to register to vote. They don’t need to be accosted at a Pokemon gym by an activist telling them about democratic duty. All they need is a reason to vote that goes beyond the abstract principle of democratic participation.
The Labour Party can capture the young now. No one else is even trying. Until the PLP can put forward a candidate who’ll do that, I’ll stick with the unelectable guy who will.
Reason 2: The Big One
Look, the continued failure of mainstream politics to represent the young is a personal bugbear of mine. But this reason is the real reason I’ll vote Corbyn.
The PLP tell me Corbyn is unelectable. They are right. However, when they say that, there’s a second, hidden point that they’re making but not saying, which I’ll put in italics:
Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable in a General Election and, since we’re the people pointing that out, it therefore follows that our candidate is electable.
I reject that. If the Labour leadership election was in fact a referendum on Labour’s electability, then I’d vote electable every time. And I wouldn’t look back.
But it isn’t. I don’t get to pick whether Labour is electable or not. I get to pick whether Owen Smith or Jeremy Corbyn leads the Labour Party.
And I simply do not accept the implicit argument that Owen Smith is electable. If he beats Corbyn, and then fights a General Election against May, here’s the Owen Smith quote that will be on every Tory poster:every Tory poster will quote his (caught on video) comment that another party leader only gets invited on TV because she’s a woman.
The Tory’s will take his quote that immigration is too high in places and tell you that even Labour agrees immigration is too high, vote for the party who’ll really put a stop to it.
The Labour right’s election strategy seems to be to recapture Tory and UKIP voters by taking on certain elements of their policies. But if someone starts voting Tory or UKIP because of immigration they won’t come back just because you decided you agree with the Tories in part.
Those voters left because the Tories and UKIP are the anti-immigration parties. Labour can’t be that without betraying every single one of its own values. Before Labour can be electable, it has to find a policy platform that offers a positive alternative to the Tory machine.
That means not going in with the message of “much of what the Tories have said is right, but we’ll give slightly more benefits.” The electorate have resoundingly rejected that message at two General Elections now and we need something different.
The PLP talk about “new ideas” and “progressive politics”, but I’m really only seeing one idea: more of what Blair did to get elected. And what Blair did was great — in a lot of ways it really was. But the Tories got elected by moving on from Thatcherism, updating it and progressing it for the modern age.
The politics of the Tory party are very different from the politics of their 70s and 80s counterparts. That’s the secret of their success. People may say that Corbyn’s politics are stuck in the 70s but for a large proportion of the electorate, his ideas really are new and different. I’ve never lived in a country with strong unions and relative equality between rich and poor.
But even then, he and his team have been willing to embrace some genuinely progressive ideas. McDonnell has said he’ll look at a UBI. Corbyn’s group have been genuinely supportive of BME policies. Corbyn’s anti-interventionist stance has been a breath of fresh air when the mainstream PLP don’t actually bother with even being an opposition party when the topic of military action comes up.
In truth, we don’t have a choice between an electable Labour Party and an unelectable one. That choice would be easy. Instead we have the following choice:
- An unelectable leader who’s overseen a huge increase in party membership, with loyal support from the young and politics which are in diametric opposition to the party of austerity and poverty who are currently in power, or
- An unelectable leader who is none of these things.
I’ll take the former, and if the Parliamentary Labour Party can work out how to become electable, then I’ll listen.