december 11 2016, 12:01am, the sunday times
Bravo, Screaming Lord Corbyn. You alienate the 52% — and the 48%
How did they do it? Sometimes you just have to stand back and admire political brilliance when you see it. Marvel at the cunning and ruthlessness, the clarity of vision. I am talking of course about the Labour Party, which, back in the summer, was presented with the perfect political opportunity. A government in disarray, nay collapse. The Liberal Democrats, which had seemingly ceased to exist. And Ukip leaderless and with its rival candidates punching the hell out of each other.
And from that position, a few short months ago, Labour has managed — incredibly — to render itself absolutely irrelevant to everybody. It is a remarkable achievement. When you consider how divided was our country over the referendum, the feat of alienating both remainers and leavers took some doing — but Jeremy Corbyn was up to the task.
The remainers know that Labour is both confused and hamstrung in its attitude to Brexit and will not fight their corner. They know too that the party’s leadership is, at best, equivocal about the EU and likes only the stuff that everybody else hates — that is, mass immigration, regulations and bureaucracy.
The leavers, meanwhile, had already deserted by late summer, appalled that countless Labour MPs representing constituencies that were more than two-thirds in favour of getting out had campaigned against their constituents’ interests. And so the Labour Party has nothing whatsoever to offer anybody on the biggest political issue of the past 50 years. Yay! Result!
I don’t suppose you were hugely surprised that Labour performed so abjectly in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, coming fourth and with a vote more than 7,000 down on its 2015 performance (which was disastrous, but now looks positively vibrant.)
Even Labour wasn’t surprised. Some benighted sap was wheeled out to exult in the fact that the Labour candidate hadn’t actually lost his deposit, as its perfectly decent candidate did the week before in the Richmond Park by-election.
That’s how high they’re setting the bar — we’re just about beating the loonies! No. Look in the mirror. It is not that you are beating the loonies. You have become the loonies. You are right down there with the single-issue nutjobs, the mirthless Lord Sutch and that old bloke who was worried about road safety, Lieutenant-Commander Bill Boaks. Opposition parties are meant to win elections. Not break open the bubbly because they’ve saved £500.
Given the divisions in the party and the hilariously ineffectual leadership, even this vote is at risk
It is not just about Brexit. It goes far deeper. Labour opposed Brexit, albeit half-heartedly, because it has come to despise the views of almost all of the people who used to vote for the party — the working class, the northerners, the Welsh, people of the Midlands. This is true of both the Corbynistas and the Blairites, to be fair. In the referendum the party preferred to go along with that comparatively tiny tranche of their voter base, the affluent metropolitan liberals.
But given the divisions in the party and the hilariously ineffectual leadership, even this vote is at risk. It has already been outflanked by the Lib Dems; don’t be surprised if the Greens start beating it too. Labour has become a party that does not know what it stands for, aside from radical chic posturing. The Cuban solidarity stuff, for example. Or out of snobbery banning from its conference McDonald’s, which employs 85,000 and provides cheap, tasty food that people — other than Labour Party members — enjoy. You know, ordinary people.