by Jonathan Todd
I am a liberal social democrat in a country full of liberal social democrats with no liberal social democrats to vote for. I briefly hoped that this would not be so after the general election. That Labour would turn away from the defeated soft leftism of Ed Miliband. Not to an arid New Labour that leaves even ardent Blairites cold. But to something more vibrant, contemporary yet classic, what I call liberal Labour, in tune with the increasingly liberal, broadly socially conscious UK that Jeremy Cliffe’s work for Policy Network charts.
There is no love for Conservatives in this country. They won the general election in spite of themselves. But they still won it. There is no route to Labour recovery that does not confront that. Yet paradoxical claims persist, which the Miliband years should have tested to destruction, including that Labour can win with the votes of non-voters.
The Conservative victory came in the country that we are, not the country that we might want it to be. We wish that non-voters voted and all voted – contrary to the experience from Australia’s compulsory voting system – Labour. But that’s not the country we live in.
The disjuncture between the portrait painted of the UK at Labour’s spring rally and the actual UK shocked me. If Labour elects Corbyn, we will have chosen to keep believing what the rally wanted us to believe and not the hard truths that defeat ought to have had us confront.
The spring rally wasn’t Corbyn’s rally. The pretence that it peddled wasn’t his. It was Miliband’s. From whom the silence deafens, as Corbyn rallies proliferate, based on a similarly sharp break between the UK lived outside the rallies and the UK believed at the rallies.
Corbyn threatens to become the leadership bullet that Labour ducked with Tony Benn, one of Miliband’s early employers. During the Glasgow Hillhead by-election of 1982, Roy Jenkins recalls, in his autobiography, Benn having some noticeable meetings. “His appearances in the constituency at once exciting those present and alienating those not.” Based on the chilly reception for Corbyn witnessed in Newsnight’s focus group of ex-Labour voters, we must worry that Corbyn is another divisive presence.