Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday was the decisive winner of the UK Labour Party leader’s election, an event many of us believe to be great news for the UK Conservative Party.
It’s worth taking a moment to look at why this happened, and why this is terrible news for Labour’s electoral chances.
First, why did it happen? Erick Erickson has written repeatedly that one problem that hurt Republicans for years, is that the GOP has never had a clear chance to have a referendum on the George W. Bush Presidency:
The fatal mistake George Bush made in 2008 was not having Dick Cheney run for the Presidency. Without Cheney, the party was forced to go back to 2000 and refight the McCain fights all over again. All the long settled issues came spilling back out. Party unity turned to discord. But the discord did not burst forth like from a dam. It was already there.
Cheney, not running, prevented the GOP from having a referendum on the legacy of George W. Bush. But the various elements split within camps. Each had bits and pieces of the Bush legacy they were willing to uphold and we had a smorgasbord of candidates and Bush related doctrines to choose from.
Well, the Labour party did not have that problem in this vote. While Andy Burnham was clearly the next leader in the line of Blair, Brown, and Miliband, Corbyn was a move in the opposite direction. Corbyn stood as a vocal rejection of everything Tony Blair and his successors stood for: against private property, not just against the War on Terror but actively for Islamists, and against fiscal responsibility.
Jeremy Corbyn was the Labour base speaking Truth to Power, and letting out a dam burst of anger at George W. Bush and Tony Blair, after all these years. Well now that it’s done, it remains to be seen whether Corbyn can turn his party’s electoral chances around, but I don’t think it can be done.
Some look at Corbyn and think maybe he can win as Barack Obama won here, by activating the base. But that ignores UK-specific factors that already threw Labour in a hole, which is why they had what amounts to a primary election for PM to begin with, instead of just letting the Unions pick the way they always did (which is how Edbot was their guy last time).
First, UKIP is a functioning protest vote in England for centrist and center-left voters. While some Americans like to believe every UKIP vote is a TRUE CONSERVATIVE, but if you look at the polling and the voting shifts, it’s not the case. UKIP has attracted voters who used to vote Liberal Democrat as a protest vote, or even who used to vote (New) Labour.
But Labour has gone left (and now has responded to the 2015 shellacking by going even further left), and the Liberal Democrats post-Nick Clegg are viewed on the left now as David Cameron’s lap dog (much like we’re seeing with [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] and [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ], but on the left), those voters needed a new option. In England they went with UKIP.
Second, UKIP will be a much less effective protest vote in England for center-right voters. Once Cameron gives the UK its in-out referendum on the European Union, which he pledged to do this term, that destroys UKIP’s core issue.
Third, Labour has lost Scotland. Scotland gave Labour its last PM, and was a reliable source of votes for them since Thatcher (56 of 72 seats in 1997, 41 of 59 in 2010). Thatcher killed the Conservatives in Scotland (22 of 71 in 1979, 0 of 72 in 1997, 1 of 59 in 2015).
But in the last election, the nationalists took over Scotland (56 of 59 seats in 2015). And while the SNP is governed as a left-wing party, it also gets votes just for being a patriotic Scottish option for those who want to wave the Saltire.
So for Labour under Corbyn to win he must find a way to win England from the center-right, while at the same time winning Scotland from a center-left party who will constantly be getting good press because SNP is the ruling majority party of the Scottish Parliament.
Iraq never hurt the Conservatives there the way it hurt the GOP here, because it was Tony Blair who was our partner in the Global War on Terror. So it’s that lingering hatred for Bush and Blair that is causing internal battles on the left and in Labour, in a way that war is a lingering partisan issue from left to right here. Which means Corbyn cannot rally the troops against Cameron, in a way that Obama could run against Bush on Iraq.
Likewise, Cameron unilaterally capitulated on marriage, taking from the left yet another wedge issue they have here.
So I don’t know what issues Corbyn will use in order to achieve what he must. I don’t see how he can possibly win.