Indulge me for a second. I’m going to make some predictions about the now actually-imminent (as opposed to the supposedly imminent) leadership challenge by Angela Eagle. I’ll make a note somewhere to come back to them in about a month’s time and then we can all see whether my powers of basic logic can predict the future.
- Angela Eagle will actually announce her leadership bid on Monday as promised. This will be the conclusion to almost two weeks of the most boring telling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf ever. I’ve had people tell me that actually this was a really clever move to keep the Corbynistas at bay while Tom Watson tries to negotiate a compromise agreement (how exactly you compromise between “I want to keep my job” and “We want you to not have your job” is a matter for them) and I can only presume that they’re smoking crack, because Eagle has only damaged her own credibility with this pointless announcing and then re-announcing.
- Eagle’s leadership bid will involve talk about “recapturing Labour heartlands” and the means of doing this will involve moving to the right on immigration. Book it. Done. There are numerous assumptions that need to be dealt with here – that these places are our heartlands (they were, they’re not any more), that we have an automatic right to these “heartlands” (we don’t), that they will automatically come back to us if we become anti-immigration (they won’t), that if we become anti-immigration we’ll be trusted (we won’t), that the rank and file membership will put up with this (they won’t) and that our actual core vote/heartlands will also put up with this (they won’t). There’s a very basic political calculation in play here, one that betrays the very fundamental idea that Labour at the moment doesn’t think it can persuade anyone so therefore it must not try and make arguments; people in our former heartlands are switching to Ukip, we must be more like Ukip to win them over, become more like Ukip. Of course doing so pisses off our actual core vote but, fuck it, why not?
- We’ll hear more bullshit about “fiscal credibility” being needed to persuade swing voters. This is what we got last time. There were three candidates who, to varying degrees, accepted the prevailing logic of “we need to cut spending but in a nicer way” and one who questioned this for the complete horseshit that it is and all but took the other three out and horsewhipped them as a result. The idea that swing voters can only, only, be swayed by notions about the deficit (as opposed to, for example, public services, the need for an actual industrial policy and the fact that deficit obsession demonstrably hasn’t worked). I predict that we’ll get more of this shit and it will go down exactly the same way it did before.
- Eagle will get smashed to pieces. Unless both 2 and 3 are false then this will probably be the case because she won’t have actually thought about who she needs to sell herself to. The membership are in absolutely no mood to have another candidate who wants to “meet in the middle” with regards to policies after the party has used this strategy in multiple elections with diminishing returns, culminating in 2015. Corbyn has not had many returns on his strategy either, but at least it’s one that the membership can nod along with – and, ultimately, they are the only people who actually need to be persuaded in any way in this contest, doe-eyed appeals about all the people we’d be leaving behind by not electing Eagle who would inevitably win an election of course because she isn’t Corbyn aside.
- Nobody of any consequence will learn a single lesson from any of this. The result (if as described in number 4, with its necessary dependents 2 and/or 3) will be blamed on entryism or just the membership being idiots if Corbyn wins again. That Eagle wasn’t an appealing candidate, that she wasn’t in tune with what the membership wants and Corbyn is, that her strategy for winning an election would be the same basic one that has lost us elections twice on the trot, that she’s made herself look like a buffoon to anyone who follows Labour at all with the “will she won’t she” game… all of these far more plausible reasons why she might lose will be completely dismissed if Corbyn wins, because it can only be because of SWP entryists, Momentum or because the membership are just fundamentally thick.
I genuinely hope I’m wrong on some level. I hope that Eagle has enough nous to know who she’s pitching herself to – 600,000 people (and counting) who aren’t in hock to Corbyn because of some strange Marxist-Leninist personality cult but because he actually speaks a language they understand, shares the same concerns they do and is quite vocal about wanting to do something radical about it rather than tinkering around the edges of a system that is failing people. I hope that rather than considering these people – many if not most of them long term Labour party members – a write off and generally just not worth engaging with in any way, she will actually properly listen to them and think about what motivated them to vote Corbyn last year and what could maybe be done to win them over to her side.
It’s true, of course, that there is some personal loyalty to Corbyn the man in play – unlike some, I don’t automatically consider this evidence of a “personality cult”, I consider it to be because the things he says are relatable to so many people and he appears to them to be the only one saying them to any great degree. Some people will dig their heels in and will see the entire thing as an excuse to get rid of a leader the PLP don’t agree with – fair enough. Let them, it’s as much of a legitimate choice as just wanting Corbyn gone no matter what. But just assuming anyone who voted Corbyn doesn’t have a point, can’t be persuaded and won’t vote for anyone else because they’re part of the cult is never going to work – if you can’t persuade your own party, how the hell do you expect to persuade the wider electorate?
I’m pretty confident that all of the things 1 through 5 are going to happen. Eagle will run, she’ll run as the “concede and move on” candidate, she’ll crash and burn and it’ll be Corbyn’s fault for having a fan club and not hers for not motivating people. But I hope I’m wrong. (I’m also working under the assumption that most horses I bet on tend to end up as glue, so if Eagle suddenly swings to the left instead and wins you’ve got me to thank.)