Monday, August 24, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn in lights on Broadway

I thought I had escaped the Labour leadership battle at the end of July when I headed off to the USA for a couple of weeks. News in American hotels reports American news. Nothing much about the latest from the UK. In the US, they are not free of leadership elections. Whilst in Washington DC, the key political story was which 6 of the 16 candidates for the Republican nomination would not make it on to the Fox New candidates' debate. The other key issue was how to stop the Donald Trump bandwagon. It seems extremists with simplistic messages can make headway in the USA, not just in the UK Labour party, even though they both come from opposite ends of the spectrum (though sometimes it's difficult to differentiate.)

By the time I had left DC, visited Baltimore and Philadelphia and arrived in New York, no matter how much I tried to avoid UK politics, news of the surge in Corbyn support kept reaching me. It really brought it home to me when I stood in Times Square and saw the "surge in support for extremist Jeremy Corbyn in UK Labour leadership election" on the tickertape news. It may be the only time Corbyn's name is in lights on Broadway!

I got home on Saturday 14th August and on Monday 16th, I watched the speech by Andy Burnham. It was his bid to place himself as the candidate to beat Corbyn. Burnham is not a person who makes the political weather. Instead, he is one who is buffeted by it. When the winds are blowing in a Blairite direction, he is a Blairite. When blowing in a Brownite direction ... and so on. With Labour rapidly tacking to the left, Burnham drifts to the left as well. His speech was a clear example of that. It was his attempt to jump on to the Corbyn bandwagon.

His speech was a shambles. His presentation was wooden, his appearance more like a bobbing Thunderbirds puppet. Away from speech-making, he continues to look like a startled bunny caught in the headlights of the oncoming (Corbyn) juggernaut. No wonder he has lost his status as favourite to the person who was only meant to be there to "broaden the debate."

Those backing Corbyn claim he is plain speaking. There is nothing plain speaking about telling people what they want to hear whilst avoiding the hard truths about debt and living within our means. Ask Syriza in Greece about that and the answer will come back that harsh reality always gets in the way of unsustainable spending promises. (Indeed, ask the Lib Dems about that on tuition fees.) Corbyn's message of anti-austerity goes down well with some. A Corbyn-led Labour party will find its support deepening with this group of voters. Yet at the same time, it will alienate those with a greater grasp on reality. Those who understand that money borrowed to pay the bills will at some point need to be repaid far outweigh those who believe you can continue spending other people's money. The realists in the electorate outnumber the fantasists. Blair understood that. Economic credibility is what wins elections. If Labour do elect Corbyn, the final vestiges of Labour economic credibility will be shredded.

Before going to the US, I refused to believe that Labour could elect Corbyn. Surely they could not be that mad. But now, it's looking more likely. And so does a long period of Conservative rule.

That said, I'm not at all convinced that Labour would do any better with Burnham as leader. At least with Corbyn you have someone who believes in something, no matter how unrealistic. Bumbling Burnham would make Ed Miliband's dithering look inspiring.