After last June’s General Election results, it would be tempting to view Jeremy Corbyn as some kind of political genius. A victorious underdog and master communicator who finally made that acute connection with the minds of the British public and brought his party back from the brink of annihilation. Labour’s gains, while not enough for a majority, were most certainly a remarkable feat – even if they were helped along the way by the worst Tory election campaign, probably ever. They came back from one of the greatest polling deficits ever experienced by an opposition party to snatch a symbolic (if not technical) victory, defying all the laws of political gravity and (once again) rewriting the rule-book of what is possible in politics.
No doubt, Mr Corbyn is a formidable campaigner. After all, campaigning is the only thing he’s ever done – a fact which goes a long way to explaining his absence of actual political achievements prior to becoming Labour leader in 2015. Nevertheless, his skills in this area are to be commended.
Since the election, it seems that everything that can go wrong has gone wrong for the Tories and Theresa May’s embattled premiership. The preventable tragedy of Grenfell – and May’s disastrously inept response (remember how she didn’t even speak to the victims at first?) – did almost irreparable damage to their reputation and, in the mind of much of the British public, has cemented the view of the Conservatives as a party that doesn’t care about Britain’s poor.
There was May’s symbolism-laden car crash of a conference speech – think P45s, cough drops and the stage literally falling apart behind her. If you’ve managed to inspire a whole genre of memes, it’s generally a sign that things have gone pretty badly.
I could go on for ages describing the rest – the resignations and sackings, the ‘pestminster’ scandal, defeats in parliament, rebellions over Brexit, humiliation over May’s courting of the politically toxic Donald Trump. To say nothing of a continuous crisis in the NHS and the disastrous rolling out of Universal Credit. And of course, Brexit looms on the horizon as the wildcard that could throw everything in the air should it go badly.
Next to this government-in-meltdown, Labour should be a government-in-waiting, going in to the next election with every advantage. They have an enormous, enthusiastic membership, and can count upon thousands of volunteers to turn out for them during election time. Their mastery of social media is second to none. Their communications department churns out slickly produced, heartstring-tugging campaign videos. They have the means, the resources and above all else, they have the narrative of change that voters around the world have been so hungry for these past few years.
And yet, they just can’t seem to sustain a lead. Since December, quite a few polls have put the Tories ahead by 1 or 2 points. A few weeks ago, one poll had the Tories ahead by 4 points. Depending on which you read, Labour right now are roughly level-pegging, give or take a point. Given a government that is one unending series of travesties and a weak and impotent prime minister like Theresa May, they should be streets ahead. And yet they are not.
And the reason they are not is the same reason why Labour were doing so horrendously badly for the two years prior to June’s election. The fundamental problem remains the same: that Jeremy Corbyn is a poor leader and a terrible politician. And next time he can’t count on an equally poor Conservative leader to grant him a respite.
He still doesn’t understand the nitty-gritty of politics or how to hold a government to account, when it so desperately needs holding to account. His policies may sound great in a chant, but they are poorly thought out, neither progressive nor radical, and likely to cause more harm than they seek to prevent. His dodgy, regressive foreign policy history may roll off the ears of the converted, but it remains a turn-off for a significant section of the British public that might otherwise vote Labour. And his attempts to simultaneously fool both Remain and Leave voters can’t go on forever.
Regardless of June’s result, it remains a fact that voters interviewed on the doorstep frequently cited Corbyn as the biggest reason they could not vote Labour. ‘Don’t know’ still beats him and Theresa May when voters are asked who would make the best prime minister. Everything should be pointing to a Labour landslide at the next election, and yet it isn’t, because the leader has neither the policies nor the political skills to carry them forward. Sooner or later, liberal England needs to realise it has no future with Jeremy Corbyn.