27 December 2017

All that matters now is stopping Corbyn


Over the Christmas week, CapX is republishing its favourite pieces from the past year. This was first published on June 12. 

Britain’s political commentariat didn’t see the Corbyn surge coming, didn’t understand how it could happen, didn’t believe it was real while it was happening, and insisted right up to the day of the election that even if Corbyn had lots of supporters, they wouldn’t turn out to vote for him.

We were completely wrong, and we were completely wrong in a way that means we have no real chance of understanding why we were completely wrong. So what we are all doing now is to tell you what it all means and what should happen next, despite our just having demonstrated we have no expert credentials for doing so. This is my go…

I believe that the overwhelming priority in politics is now to prevent there from being a Corbyn government. A few still cling to the hope that that is inconceivable, as Labour MPs wouldn’t back him. I think that’s a delusion we now need to get past.

If he gets a majority, his MPs will regard themselves as honour-bound to back him. And he can get a majority. In the latest Survation poll Labour is 6 per cent ahead – definitely into largest party territory and possibly overall majority. Everything else is secondary now to stopping him. Austerity, Brexit, public services reform, trade deals with the US, foibles about doing deals with Irish politicians or Lib Dems – even new anti-terror laws. Everything else is secondary and expendable for the moment.

How can we stop him? Three things.

First, there must be no general election until we can beat him or he is gone. If Labour replaced him with someone more acceptable – Yvette Cooper, say – then if business became difficult to implement we could fight another General Election that we might lose, so that there would be a stable majority government.

With the threat of a Corbyn government, the Tories must find a way to carry on for as long as possible, in the hope something turns up. If that means, for the next five years, running a minority government that does little more than pass a holding finance bill each year, with the rest of the Commons’ time spent debating drain repairs and motions congratulating the Queen of Bhutan on the birth of her latest child, that’ll be just fine.

To beat him, we will in due course need a different leader. Theresa May should not resign immediately. She became leader unopposed, and most of those folk now saying how terrible she was in the campaign were saying what a genius she was in the first week of it. She got 42.4 per cent of the vote – the same percentage as Thatcher in 1983. Her vote share barely changed in the polls during the campaign.
She failed to stop Corbyn’s vote from surging in a way we’ve never seen during an election campaign before, but it was not for lack of trying. The Conservatives went very negative trying to dissuade people from voting Labour. It just didn’t work.

But for all that, at the end of it, she was only four seats short of a majority and will have an effective majority, even if the DUP simply sits on its hands. She didn’t win well, but she did in practical terms win (or at least come within a whisker of doing so). And you don’t win a general election and then immediately resign as Prime Minister.

Nonetheless, we can’t have her fighting Corbyn again, because she’d probably lose. We need someone else. In particular we need someone who can battle Corbyn on charisma, vision and appeal to young voters, flexible before events and a proven winner that we can risk everything on when the alternative is Marxist-socialism. At the moment there only seems to be one answer to that: Boris, for all his imperfections. But perhaps if May can last a couple of years a better answer will turn up. I don’t know, and at this stage no one else does either.

Second, we need different attack lines on Corbyn. At that stuff about the IRA, Hezbollah, the Falklands, nuclear weapons, a maximum wage, mass nationalisation, appointing Communists, abolishing the monarchy and empowering the unions was all true and ought to have made him utterly inconceivable as a prime minister, but it didn’t. Young voters didn’t care, or didn’t believe it, or actively wanted it. We need to stop saying he’s a liar and a dangerous, sinister extremist (even though he’s definitely both), and start arguing directly against what his manifesto promises and what he says in interviews.

Third, we need our own offer directed at younger voters. We may never stop Corbyn getting a majority of them, but he must not get 70 per cent if we are to win. That means we need policies directed at things like getting house prices down – whether that is via higher interest rates (my preferred route) or more housebuilding.

We also need to better grasp the cosmetic impact for young people of policies such as those on EU citizens. In my experience, younger people could not understand any good reason for threatening to deport three million people and did not always have the historical perspective to be confident that wouldn’t really happen. They saw it as hateful and I suspect it was an important motivation to get out and vote.

Changing that now – by offering a political guarantee that whatever cut-off date is used for changing the rights of EU citizens, anyone here by June 23 2016 will be allowed to stay and work – could be a good start in trying to win them back.

Thus, we must not fight another general election until either the Labour Party has found a way to replace Corbyn (which I do not believe plausible) or we have a new leader and new programme that can attract voters under the age of 35 and beat him. Forget all your pet policy programmes for this Parliament. Brexit talks are about the only substantive thing we should do – because we now have no choice but to proceed – but we should not be optimistic that anyone (EU, US, Australia) will do a deal with us while a Corbyn government sits just around the corner. We cannot really make progress on Brexit until Corbyn is gone, but if we backtrack on Brexit that will make a Corbyn government even more likely. We need to tough it out and do what we can.

Clear the decks and strap in. It’s going to be a stomach-churning ride.

Andrew Lilico is an economist and political writer