Jeremy Corbyn’s term as leader of the Labour party has not been terribly accomplished. Short as it is, it already contains examples of staggering incompetence, which is almost as much of an obstacle to some voters as his inflexible ideology. In this he is not atypical; all politicians make mistakes, and all who aspire to government are capable of failing to exploit certain situations to their utmost. But Corbyn in many ways is a special case; he is almost uniquely unable to exploit favourable circumstances, to build up political momentum in any way.
And despite the apparently damaging revelations regarding David Cameron’s finances to come out recently, as well as a whole host of public relations problems both within and without the Conservative party, the government is effectively safe from all political harm because of the simple fact of Jeremy Corbyn’s being Labour leader.
A recent example seems pertinent. The crisis surrounding British steel is one of strong passions and strong arguments. The government, whatever one’s political background, could well be taking a battering in the polls for the simple fact of what has been going on at Port Talbot. Its handling of the affair doesn’t really matter. But though there has been some sound and fury, the opposition that has arisen has largely come from places extra to the official Opposition, which remains almost a political sideshow.
This situation has been replicated across the country in other ways – and the nature of Thursday’s elections has only served to confirm its accuracy. Whether or not Labour lost fewer council seats than was expected is an irrelevance; it is frankly unimportant whether the party is seen to have avoided the direst of predictions. All of that pales in comparison to what took place in Scotland’s elections: not only is Labour not providing the sort of coherent opposition parties out of power are meant to organise; it has even been supplanted in that role.
That the Scottish Conservatives are the official opposition in Holyrood is staggering – just as remarkable, in many ways, as the initial triumph of the SNP in 2007. To imagine that the Conservatives, whose days of having numbers of seats in Scotland to match Labour seemed confined to history before last week, have become Scotland’s second party behind the SNP is remarkable.
Others, I’m sure, will go into exactly how important this is in historical terms – how it shows that the Conservatives are triumphing over the almost personal animosity felt towards them by many in Scotland. And many too will talk about the political significance of the SNP being denied a majority, and how the Conservatives are now the default standard-bearers of unionism in a country where that position recently won a referendum on a very high turnout with 55 per cent of the vote.
What cannot be denied, however, is what an amazing about-face all of this represents, and how much of a nightmare it is for Corbyn’s Labour party – and those who profess their loyalty to the man in question. Naturally some – no names need to be mentioned – will position all of this as a great triumph for Corbyn, who has more or less survived without the sort of crushing loss which would have necessitated a speedy reviewing of the situation in the Fagin mould. (Some of those advocates already have.) But the truth of the matter is that the man is toxic, and his character and milieu both present serious obstacles to his ever holding office or having any serious impact upon the exercising of power.
Though it is not his fault in any way, the conspiracist writings of Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers, and the latter’s apparent closeness to the Labour leader’s political campaigns and fortunes, cannot be anything other than a gift to Tory strategists and supporters. Ever attuned to opportunities to hurt his image, and despite the fact that Piers Corbyn has decidedly unpopular views on numerous contentious topics, his brother has said that ‘we actually fundamentally agree’, which even when quoted charitably is a thoroughly self-defeating thing to say. He has a staggering talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Similarly, the fact that Corbyn decided to bring Ken Livingstone back into the public spotlight in order to participate in the party’s defence review is something I have no doubt he will regret. Not only has the guy gone on a one-man tour of the nation’s television and radio studios, telling all who will listen about his unique theories regarding the political affiliations of Adolf Hitler – he has also reminded everyone that the Labour party of the Corbyn is not fresh and revitalised and exciting, but rather represents an unpleasant throwback to the sort of views and characters best left in the party’s past.
These election results are if anything even more damaging than Livingstone’s one man PR disaster: Sadiq Khan did, after all, win in London – and though in doing so the mayoralty is simply returning to its default state, this will inspire subtle confidence from those who matter and absurd, boastful defiance from their cheerleaders. Labour and the country are in for a great deal more at the hands of Corbyn’s ideological allies.
At a time when the Conservatives, who have grown complacent in the face of ineffective opposition and who are increasingly confident of victories of the magnitude of what we have seen in Scotland, are hardly the most popular people in the country, it seems frankly insane for the only party capable of opposing them nationally to fall into the same complacency. Ed Miliband – he of losing the last general election fame – actually won seats in local elections. Look at where that got him.
Corbyn is no Miliband – and the absurdity of that statement itself reflects the scope of his problem, despite the enthusiasm of fanatical loyalists and online obsessives. Whatever one’s views on the current government, it is becoming increasingly clear that there will be no effective opposition while he is leader of the Labour party.