Many were surprised by the by-election result in Copeland, where Tory Trudy Harrison won with 13,748 votes to 11,601 for Labour’s Gillian Troughton. Mrs. Harrison hailed the victory in the Cumbrian seat – the first by-election gain by a governing party since 1982 – as “a truly historic event”.
While by-elections are usually unreliable guides to future general election outcomes, they tend to be effective measures of voter volatility. They usually give voters the possibility to voice their dismay over an incumbent government’s shortfall to the benefit, of course, of the opposition party. However, it is remarkable to see the trend reverse in the latest results. The tralatitious nature of politics would typically see Labour relishing a surplus of votes over the Conservative Party.
Why, then, has this happened? Many are pointing their fingers at Corbyn. I think they’re right, and I think they’re right for two main reasons.
The first reason is that few voters in Whitehaven have trust in Labour anymore. Yoking the words ‘trust’ and ‘Labour’ will likely conjure up Jeremy Corbyn admitting to having lied over the train seat debacle after Sir Richard Branson released CCTV of him walking through an empty carriage. But no, that isn’t what I mean. You might even be thinking Corbyn’s double standards that saw him rightly denouncing US foreign policy in Syria, but fail to extend the same reprimand to Russia. No, that isn’t what I mean. I mean Brexit.
One need only recall Corbyn’s recent injudicious decision that the Labour Party be whipped to vote to trigger article 50 and thus start negotiations to leave the EU. Even though 65% of Labour Party supporters voted ‘Remain’ during the EU Referendum, Corbyn nevertheless turned a blind eye to them, and thus renouncing a central tenant of the Labour Party: a commitment to the European Union project. Corbyn had to kowtow to the awful position: “the will of the people!” – A political jerking move from politicians who have few things of substance to say to the public. Why did he fold? Maybe, as Ed Vulliamy noted, Corbyn has been so used to the stolid walls of Westminster that he cannot see beyond paragraph 6, clause 8, subsection 4. Maybe, his concerns are so Anglocentric that Corbyn is unable to peer beyond the Jurassic-coast. Maybe, Corbyn always despised the EU.
Corbyn and his Labour entourage are probably trying to appease xenophobia in Labour heartlands, no matter the cost of principle – their main aim is to keep their warm green seats at Westminster. Either way, a lack of trust in Labour has dawned. Whilst many saw Corbyn as the exemplar of Labour’s core-tenets and many hoped that trust in the Labour party could be restored after Blair’s and Miliband’s well-documented dishonesty and all of the political imbroglio attached to them, especially given the throng of wooing schlemiels heralding the new messiah when Corbyn was elected leader in 2015, Corbyn’s accession to the ol’ political-gambit has done nothing more than painfully reveal Corbyn as a run of the mill leader who has riveted his eyes on power at the expense of the party’s core principles.
The second reason, which links to the first, is that Labour is struggling to determine its own identity. While Labour is in opposition nationally, and Jeremy Corbyn often flaps over the point that he will take on the political establishment, in areas Labour has controlled for inordinate years they are deemed part of that establishment. Whilst Blair started Labour’s snowballing move into the political establishment with its trendy nu-labour modus operandi to curry favour to the trendy political permutations seen across Britain in the 90s, the vagaries appear to show no sign of stopping. Corbyn’s decision to trigger Article 50 (let’s also not forget that Corbyn has not presented any substantive post-Brexit plan; hence why many deem his politics to amount to nothing more than slapdash) not only begets distrust, but turns a deaf ear to Labour’s core values and schmoozing with the establishment populists. As Keir Hardie, who was a founding member of the Labour Party and its first leader, remarked concerning Labour’s identity which he said offered, “A platform broad enough for all to stand upon.” Hence, the need for Labour to protract the message and strew the political fight.
One should surely be stupefied to see the description of the Party of European Socialists who thump for “the rule of law, the freedom of speech, information and deliberation, the fight against discrimination, the respect of privacy and human dignity” to be in such incongruity with the current banner brandished by Corbyn and his current coterie. What Labour’s current position with Corbyn in control reflects, particularly concerning the kind of politics Labour has jumped into bed with during the parliamentary debate on triggering Article 50, is that they are now committed to a quasi form of communitarianism, one coloured by an-inward looking perspective and sheathed by its zero-sum game mentality. All the while Labour is edging increasingly towards an ingratiating rosy-hued nationalism.
If Corbyn manages to reclaim the trust of the British people and is also able to repossess an inspiring vision, he can bring Labour back into power. Labour can, only if they remodel their awry footing, delight in the kind of political power that often follows from being more sui generis. It can actively secure the grounds of trust within it. The climate is there for Labour’s dowdy “revolutionary” leader to achieve such a feat. The climate is also there in the vast expanse of media which can mobilise the British people, especially those more progressive-minded. That was the plan when Corbyn originally sought ownership of Labour. And now he manages it. So must he also now manage last night’s failure and act accordingly. If he fails to do so, well, we should expect more disasters for Labour. After all, as Nietzsche said, “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die.”
Benjamin David founded Conatus News in 2016. He currently works as an editor for Parliamentary Review.