What is Corbyn's Labour getting wrong about British politics?

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22 November
12:01
November
2016

Things began going wrong in 2008. The financial crisis upended Labour in terms of its relationship with the British electorate. They had been telling people that we could sell ourselves to the free market because Labour’s leaders had a strategy to make the country more equal. The banking crisis put an end to that.

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn actually is pointing in some economic directions that could appeal to voters. There is a sense that, economically, they are proposing things that might make sense to some traditional Labour voters. But they are not doing this on cultural issues such as national identity and immigration. In fact, they are pointing in the diametrically opposite direction to the prevailing mood.

“In the past Labour has traditionally been able to reconcile its socialist ideals with an appeal to racist voters. Corbyn will not do that. For him Labour must be totally anti-racist.”

Labour’s relationship with the working class has always been fraught. For Labour ever to win a general election, it’s always had to try to bring together a complicated coalition that involves the working class – despite the fact there has always been a degree of racism within the working class.

In the past Labour has traditionally been able, some might say in a highly duplicitous way, to reconcile an appeal to racist voters with its socialist ideals. In the sixties and seventies they imposed some basically racist immigration restrictions to pander to racist opinions within the working class, at the same time as passing legislation that challenged racism and made it illegal.

  • Labour’s latest campaign messages were widely ridiculed as unappealing and impenetrable. 

There has always been a degree of to-ing and fro-ing and doing two contradictory things at once, but Jeremy Corbyn will not do that. For him Labour must be totally anti-racist to be true to its ideals and he automatically rejects working class people who may not hold such enlightened views. He will go on talking to a narrow strand of people and saying the same things he’s been saying since the eighties. He’s not pulling people into the tent – he’s kicking them out.

In fact, when you look at what Labour is getting wrong, it is impossible to see past the fact that they have the wrong leader. The members elected Corbyn for what they thought were the right reasons – that he would connect with a new public mood, post-banking crisis, and oppose austerity – but he is an appalling advocate for any strategy of any kind. He’s not a leader and he doesn’t look like one.

“It’s impossible to see past the fact that they have the wrong leader. Corbyn’s not a leader and he doesn’t look like one.”

Party leaders are crucial in politics because if people don’t know what the ins and outs of policy are, they will look at the leader as a short cut. Most people have very traditional, conservative ideas and they want their Prime Minister to be in a suit. Even today, they think if he is not in a tie, he is not worth listening to.

Too many people are not listening to a word that Jeremy Corbyn says because they look at him and just think ‘No’. If Labour had a different leader, who had a language and a disposition to articulate its current policies well, it might have a chance of getting through to people. But Corbyn can’t do it. And, as one person in a recent focus group said, he just looks like some bloke off a barge.

Hear Steven Fielding on class relations in period dramas in the Radio 4 documentary Period Drama Politics

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