Jeremy Corbyn would be Labour’s most left-wing leader in history
By Andrew Roberts
Jeremy Corbyn is far more left wing than Michael Foot, the leader to whom he is most often likened, writes Andrew Roberts for CapX. Yet "because governments lose elections rather than oppositions winning them, and governments can become very unpopular virtually overnight – such as when John Major’s was forced out of the ERM in September 1992 – the Conservatives cannot become complacent about the Corbyn Effect on British politics."
The seemingly inexorable rise of Jeremy Corbyn towards the leadership of the Labour Party might seem like a truly extraordinary political event, but in fact there is plenty of historical precedent for what the Left of British politics is going through at the moment. The phenomenon by which a party after a surprise or devastating electoral defeat – and Labour’s loss in May was very much the former rather than the latter – responds by moving towards its own comfort zone rather than towards the political centre is a very familiar one. Yet the precedents offer only limited hints as to what might happen if Corbyn does become leader.
- Can an unrepentant Marxist-Leninist really become the Leader of the Opposition and premier-in-waiting in a modern, advanced Western democracy?
- A man who has never significantly deviated from his hard Left principles over thirty years, has invited IRA men to the Palace of Westminster and shared platforms with Hamas and Hezbollah, whom he has publicly described as his ‘friends’?
- A man who is opposed to the Special Relationship, British membership of NATO and the monarchy?
- All these things might seem astounding, but in fact they fit into an established pattern of what I will dub post-election losers’ remorse.
Nor is the phenomenon confined to the Left. After Edward Heath lost the two general elections of 1974, on top of 1966, the Conservatives took the extraordinary step of electing as leader not only a woman but one who opposed Heath from the right rather than from where he himself hailed on the left. Contrary to the mantra that elections could only be won from the centre – the entire basis of the Mandelson-Blair-Cameron-Osborne world view – the Tories chose someone who looked like she genuinely believed in the free market politics that Heath had u-turned over so disastrously during his 1970-74 premiership. In Margaret Thatcher’s case, of course, the result was that the Conservatives won three consecutive general election victories.
When the long period of Tory rule between 1979 and 1997 ended with John Major’s catastrophic defeat, the Conservatives elected three leaders in a row from the Right of the party, namely William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. Government was to elude them until they elected the centrist David Cameron, who openly spoke of “One Nation” Toryism and saw himself as heir to Harold Macmillan’s form of Conservativism.