This is the weekly newsletter from Iain Martin, editor of CapX. To receive it by email every Friday, along with a short daily email of our top five stories, please subscribe here.
First, here is the overwhelmingly good news, if you are someone who wants the United Kingdom not to be broken up. The Union looks safer now than it has been for some time because the momentum of the SNP has been halted and even reversed a little in the Scottish Parliament elections which took place on Thursday. The SNP did not put another Scottish referendum in their election manifesto, and trying to patch one together with the handful of Green MSPs would be a constitutional imposition that would render them a laughing stock.
A few Nationalists appear to be having difficulty processing this, pointing out that their idol Nicola Sturgeon won 63 seats and remains First Minister. Yes, of course that observation is correct, and their grumpy protestations are understandable. The Nationalists have become used to winning recently; they have fallen for their own hype. But political success is often about small margins. In falling short of an overall majority, despite plastering the supposedly invincible Great Leader’s face everywhere in imitation of a Kazakh despot, Sturgeon has slipped. The UK constitutional question is settled for a quite a few years.
So that is the good news from Scotland, where a new star has also emerged in the form of the talented Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader who pushed Scottish Labour into third place in the same elections. But perhaps you do not care too much for the United Kingdom, either because you do not live here or you are simply tired of the Scots going on endlessly about Scotland’s constitutional future. What then are we to make of the election results south of the border?
Voters were electing councillors and London has chosen a new mayor to replace Boris Johnson, the charismatic Tory with the Donald Trump hair. Since the results emerged there has been the most extraordinarily desperate and cynical effort undertaken by supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to pretend that the outcome was successful or at least not disastrous for Labour’s fortunes.
Here the agitprop, anti-market, West-hating Corbynistas deserve to be measured according to their own extravagant claims made last year when they were taking over, and destroying, the Labour party. It is extremely important for the (relatively) honest conduct of politics in the UK that they be held to account and not allowed to get away with lies and deflection. They must not be allowed to claim that taking back London – long a Labour city that flipped to Boris – vindicates Corbyn. He was barely mentioned in the campaign, because the victor Sadiq Khan was too sensible to allow it.
Yet just late last year, the Corbyn crowd proclaimed that their man was at the head of an extraordinary, surging mass movement that was going to turn on “non-voters” and change the landscape across the country. In a democracy there is always a moment when the followers and groupies making such excitable noises must put their claims to test. That moment was on Thursday. Corbynistas? Meet the British voters.
Outside London, the best that can be said is that the party stood still and “hung on” in Corbyn’s hilarious phrase when he gave his first rambling comments. This is the point in the cycle when any opposition that stands even a hint of a chance in a future general election should be miles ahead in local elections and making large gains, especially with the Tories split on the EU referendum and making mistakes of the kind to which governments fall prey after a while. If there was any truth whatsoever in the idea of Corbynite surge, voters would have given him a large number of gains. They didn’t.
To put the failure in context, in the comparable local elections in 2012, Ed Miliband scored 38%, seven points ahead of Labour’s vote share this time. It looks even worse when compared to Tony Blair’s first outing as a new leader with the British electorate in the 1995 local elections. He got 47% of the vote.
Add to that the party’s humiliation in Scotland this week, where remember it was claimed by Corbynistas that his brand of left-wing stone age economics would aid the party greatly in its recovery. Scottish Labour, as I indicated earlier, ended up third.
This Corbynite flop is not surprising, because since becoming leader Corbyn has been revealed as a complete clown who is unfit to hold the office of leader of the opposition never mind get anywhere near becoming Prime Minister. Under his stewardship the Labour party is being held hostage by a bunch of student politicians and half-wits. Among the leadership clique are a few smarter and more cunning individuals with their own agenda. But at least one of them is a Stalinist.
For Britain, this Labour failure creates two problems. It is simply deeply unhealthy for the opposition to be a joke, as it means the government is not being held to account adequately and millions of centre-left voters lack a voice in Parliament on the frontline. Politics is, despite how it looks sometimes, a deeply serious business. The childish vandalism of the Corbynite Left who refuse to see what sensible voters in the places where Labour needs to win will make of their pathetic games and policies is self-indulgence pure and simple.
And there is another danger. Labour being this useless, and possibly even being finished, could easily make the Conservatives and their leadership lazy, a state of affairs that the party does not take too much encouragement to slip into. If complacency results, and reform stalls, then we will be badly governed and many people will end up with worse services and fewer economic opportunities.
Indeed, whether in or out of the EU, we are at the end of an arc on public service reform south of the border, dating back to the Thatcher government’s first attempts to introduce competition and consumer choice. Blair eventually picked up some of that in education. The Cameroon Conservatives have had their own iteration. But what next? What does the next generation of school reform look like? Where will the UK’s encouraging lead on science and technology take us? How can we strengthen defence and borders? How exactly might UK capitalism move from a debt-fixated model that is over-reliant on financial engineering to capitalising on the entrepreneurial boom that has begun in recent years? How can the tax system be unscrambled and simplified?
The Tory leadership – this one and the next – needs to be pushed by its sharper MPs, ministers and think tanks on these and other questions. It will soon be time to turn on the collective brain and start thinking properly about more than Jeremy Corbyn’s uselessness and the EU referendum.