I consider Matthew Parris to be the finest columnist in the UK, and today’s article on Labour is one of his best.
He suggests that Jeremy Corbyn’s victory is an opportunity – rather than a defeat – for the centre left: a “gift”. He paints a painfully accurate picture of what is likely to happen to the Labour Party now that Corbyn is in place:
The party may (as I suggest) go out with a bang. Equally likely, some residual instinct for self-preservation will kick in, they’ll defenestrate Corbyn, and replace him with a less astringent nonentity, capable of papering over the cracks.
In which case the party will go out with a whimper, on a long, gentle amble into that good night: drifting on towards the next election – and the next, and the next – never winning, forever compromising, softly losing support in a sort of quarter-century slow puncture…
Arguing that Labour is the same old beast it’s always been, and that three election victories under Tony Blair couldn’t reshape its identity, he pleads with Labour’s moderates to abandon the brand. There is a fairly strong hint at the end of the piece that he is suggesting they should either start a new party in the mould of the SDP or join another party.
Parris is a liberal Tory who, it is fairly clear, harbours some fairly warm feelings towards my own party and to whom the coalition government was probably close to the ideal blend of ideas and policies. So I think it’s quite clear which home he is envisaging for these liberal Labourites. In any case, the same argument is being made on a regular basis by senior Lib Dems too.
Unfortunately, it’s completely unrealistic.
Labour MPs bow to no one in their tribalism. Even now most Labour people – even the moderates – are still pretty pleased about what happened to the Liberal Democrats in the general election: this is despite the fact that if the Conservatives had not won seven seats as a result of Lib Dem voters switching to Labour, they would not have a majority in the Commons.
More importantly, it’s a simple question of mathematics. If to be in politics is to exercise power, then Labour moderates have two ways of doing so. One is to stay where they are, grit their teeth and hope for the best: that somehow, in two or three years, the tide of left-wing support will ebb as quickly as it flooded in, and their party will allow someone “sensible” to take over in time to avoid total destruction in 2020. The other is simply to join the Conservatives, on the basis that they are closer to people like George Osborne than to Jeremy Corbyn.
Neither scenario is at all plausible.
If there were a third party with, say, 50-60 MPs, around 20% of the vote and a relationship with the electorate that hadn’t entirely curdled into a poisonous mess, things might be different. But there isn’t.
For the UK opposition (which doesn’t include the SNP, a party so obsessed with its own nationalism that it may as well be given the opportunity to hang itself at this point), politics is now simply a waiting game. We must wait for the Conservatives to make some kind of mistake; to get so complacent that they try to do something so utterly insane that even voters who believe in their competence wake up to their fallibility.
It might take a very long time, and our country will almost certainly be a very different place – a poorer, harsher, more insular place – at the end of it.