4 December 2015

Stunning Corbyn victory in Oldham gives the Tories a big boost


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What happens when the Corbynite shock troops who terrorise their opponents work out that the victorious Labour candidate in the Oldham by-election is a Blairite who backed the moderate Liz Kendall in the party’s leadership race? Will Jim McMahon have time to take his seat in the Commons next week? Or will he be purged and deselected first?

I’m joking, of course. McMahon won a stunning victory in Oldham that was not supposed to happen and the Corbynites seem mightily relieved to have been rescued. In the aftermath of the result, the Labour family – riven by factionalism and the consequences of its infiltration by the hard left Stop the War crowd – is taking a deep breath and enjoying the rare sensation of getting good news.

There is another bonus for Labour. The metropolitan media guild (I plead guilty, I’m a member) got the result wrong. In a rotten year for British political punditry, polling and bookmakers, in which the general election was miscalled by most observers, the expectation was that Labour under Corbyn would struggle to win this by-election. The contest was billed in advance as a test of his rackety leadership and Corbyn passed it, easily.

It helped Labour greatly that it was fighting an ultra-safe seat with McMahon, a popular local candidate who has run the local council and is a star in the making. But the Labour leader in London was not a drag on his party and none of the controversies that have raged in Westminster, about Corbyn’s far left views on war, peace and economics, seem to have impinged much on the consciousness of core Labour voters. UKIP’s challenge was a flop, again. Labour held the seat with an increased share of the vote (62.3%) and a majority of 10,722.

Why then, is it the Tories who will be happiest of all? The answer is that the voters of Oldham have just done the Tory party the most enormous favour for which David Cameron and George Osborne will be very grateful. The people of Oldham have saved Jeremy Corbyn for the nation, which is exactly what the Tories want.

Before Oldham the pressure on Corbyn was becoming intense and the party’s appalled moderates seemed to be coming to the conclusion that a move against him would be better done early rather than waiting to be done in themselves by the Left later.

The reasons moderates are so concerned are not hard to divine. The shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn eclipsed the party’s leader in the Syria debate in the Commons this week, making a speech of such eloquence that the contrast with Corbyn was immediately obvious to all but the most blinkered.

Not only are Corbyn’s performances in the House of Commons atrocious, the operation around him is also an embarrassing shambles. His shadow chancellor John McDonnell is, and I’m sorry to say this so directly, completely cretinous. The pair of them together shame a once great party of patriots and promote a policy agenda that would take Britain into Venezuelan territory. There, Corbynite policies have produced epic inflation, economic collapse and social disaster on a scale that McDonnell is more than capable of replicating in the UK. The message is clear: if you vote for McDonnell or Corbyn, you must be absolutely Caracas.

The Tories – or those who prefer Britain not to have a serious opposition, which is a dangerous notion – like all this, for perfectly understandable reasons. Corbyn is clearly beyond unelectable in the types of seats in the south and elsewhere that Labour needs to win to stand a chance at the next general election. That being the case, David Cameron and George Osborne sensibly want Corbyn to remain in post for as long as possible so that the maximum damage can be done to Labour. Wouldn’t you in their position? The ultimate dream is Jeremy Corbyn fighting the next election and losing spectacularly.

Of course, the Conservatives are vulnerable as ever to over-confidence, not least on the economy and on Europe. But even if there is a meltdown on either of those fronts, it is difficult to imagine the UK electorate deciding that the answer is a bout of old-school socialism implemented by the pair of dangerous clowns currently leading Labour. For the lesson of the last year, and of the general election in particular, is that the portion of the British electorate that decides elections is pretty hard-headed and practical when it comes to these decisions, and not likely to entrust Britain to Corbyn and his friends.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX