‘You’re Fired’: Jeremy Corbyn and what Voters Want to Say to the Political Classes

Gerry Hassan

Sunday Mail, July 26th 2015

This week Tony Blair compared Scottish nationalism to ‘cavemen’ and told supporters of Jeremy Corbyn who wanted to vote with their heart to ‘get a transplant.’

You always know something is up when the political insults start flying. Labour have no idea what has happened in Scotland, and to compound matters for the party establishment, this week saw the rise of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership challenge.

The trigger was a poll which put Corbyn not just ahead of the other contenders in the Labour leadership contest but actually winning it. Now this will not, in all likelihood, happen. Corbyn in many senses has already ‘won’ – by forcing the debate leftwards. He does not want to ‘win’ in the formal sense, knowing this would be counter-productive both for him and the party.

All of this says legions about the state of Labour and politics. First, both Labour and the Lib Dems are heading leftwards post-election. Second, neither is any nearer in working out how to do credible opposition. Both are in the midst of what can only be described as identity crises.

This is good news for the Tories, their electoral dominance, and the Osborne project of ‘reshaping the state’. It is also good for the SNP who can fill part of the Westminster vacuum left by Labour and Lib Dems. But it is bad for democracy, as there could well be for some time a national void where there should be an alternative government to the Tories.

Large parts of Labour and the left are in denial. Labour suffered a terrible election defeat in May. It increased its vote by a tiny margin, but went backwards in seats. It is now 99 seats behind the Tories across the UK, and 113 seats behind in England.

Yet, so strange was the election result: the unexpected Tory victory, the impact of the SNP and UKIP, the absence of one single national contest, that large parts of Labour have yet to comprehend the scale of their defeat.

Post-election the party is having one of its regular collective meltdowns. This is Labour’s seventh leadership contest in opposition since 1979, so you would think it might have got the hang of how to do opposition, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Even simple things seem beyond them at the moment. On Monday last, Labour got into an embarrassing mess on Tory welfare plans: 48 MPs voting against and 184 abstaining. This after acting leader Harriet Harman had said they should support some of the measures, and then faced a mutiny. Now no one knows what Labour stands for on welfare.

Even more critically, the faultlines of this contest are shifting from ‘middle England’ to the party faithful. Only 27% of party members think winning over voters is the critical issue in the leadership contest; and this falls to 5% of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters.

For the time being there are no respected elder statesmen or stateswomen in Labour who can lay out the terms to restore the party back to sanity. It cannot be Tony Blair. He won three elections, but in the view of many in the party at such a cost to its soul. It won’t be Gordon Brown as he is an isolated figure. And it definitely will not be John Prescott who this week chose to attack Blair’s incendiary language.

Part of Labour’s trouble is the unexpected nature of their defeat. Another is the underlying pessimism of the parliamentary leadership: with some suggesting there was no point opposing the Tories on welfare as they have a majority of 12. While others still are openly writing off the party’s prospects in 2020 – hardly healthy politics.

Mainstream, moderate politics are in a state of flux. This reflects the economic and social turbulence we are living through. It isn’t plausible just to promise ‘business as usual’.

This has contributed to a summer of independents. A common thread of insurgency and populism runs through the candidatures of Jeremy Corbyn, and in the US, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders, the socialist Senator standing for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton.

None of these people will win their party leaderships. But they indicate that the insider political class world offered by their respective establishments does not fire up the emotions. And nor does it adequately answer the big issues of the day.

Voters want to show how fed up they are. They want to use the Trump catchphrase ‘You’re Fired’ against the political classes. Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the future of Labour politics, but he is a lightening rod for frustration at the uninspiring safety-first style of the other candidates.