It is tempting, very tempting, to dismiss Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour as an unelectable joke. This past week the phrase “you couldn’t make it up!” has been used more often than at any time in human history. We have a vegan who believes that “meat is murder”, representing farmers. We have a woman famous for sneering at ‘white van man’ in charge of business. We have a Shadow Chancellor who believes in abolishing capitalism.
There seems to be no end to it. Presumably because you can’t just have a shadow cabinet of vegans and terrorist appeasers, Corbyn then appointed a convicted arsonist to, of all things, an education brief. In the 1980s, at the height of the troubles, an Irishman walked into Westminster, told Corbyn that he was an IRA bomber on the run from the police and needed some money. Corbyn gave him £45. And I haven’t even mentioned Diane Abbott.
Amusing as much of this has been, there are serious implications for the British people. Labour provided precious little value in the last Parliament for the £6,000,000 of taxpayers’ money they receive as Her Majesty’s Opposition. On the big issues – the deficit, the debt, EU membership – they were too close to the Tories and too complicit in creating the problems to be able to offer any real opposition.
This Corbyn-led Labour party will open clear red water between themselves and the Tories, but there is no hope that they will be any more effective as an opposition. Corbyn’s supporters are anti-austerity. They believe that cuts to government spending are unnecessary. The TUC played “Big Spender” as Corbyn’s conference entrance music (no, seriously). This in a country that is still spending seventy billion pounds a year more than it has coming in, adding to a national debt on which we pay a billion pounds a week in interest. We can expect no responsible opposition to George Osborne in the next five years. We now know that Corbyn has given David Cameron the “blank cheque” he said he wouldn’t – Labour will back EU membership however bad ‘Dave’s Deal’ is. Again, on the most important of issues, the government has no opposition.
As a Parliamentary party Labour are in trouble. Labour have 232 MPs. Fewer than 20 of them are thought to have voted for Corbyn, whose first entrance into the House of Commons chamber as new Labour leader was greeted with silence from the Labour benches. Having just lost an election and now finding themselves stuck with a leader unlikely to win another, there may be some defections in the offing (paging Kate Hoey, paging Kate Hoey…).
These ideological and parliamentary weaknesses are exacerbated by incompetence. The media storm that followed Corbyn’s lack of respect at the Battle of Britain memorial was entirely avoidable, and from a political point of view it was a gift to the Tories as it distracted media attention from the vote on cutting Tax Credits. Worse, Labour failed to mobilise their MPs on that vote, gifting the Tories a comfortable win on what had been expected to be a close run thing with some Tories rebelling. How likely is it that DUP and UUP MPs will vote with Labour given Corbyn and McDonnell’s record of IRA appeasement? Corbyn may be unelectable, but it could be his incompetence that finally does for him.
How does all this affect UKIP? Corbyn’s supporters claim that he is riding a wave of popular support. Indeed he is, but that popularity is confined to a very small constituency – the hard left. UKIP should not be concerned by this. These are people who are not just unreceptive to UKIP’s arguments, they have been at the forefront of much of the hatred we have had to endure in recent years. They are Unite Against Facism. They are Hope Not Hate. 70,000 people who voted in the Labour leadership election did not vote Labour in May. 40,000 of them were Greens. The rest are presumably people who thought Ed Miliband wasn’t left wing enough. What we are seeing is a hostile takeover by the extreme left of a mainstream Labour party that has run out of steam.
If you believe that the monarchy should be abolished, that Britain should have no borders, no army and no cap on benefits, and that the Falklands, Gibraltar and Northern Ireland should be surrendered, then Corbyn is your man. Fortunately there are very few people who believe these things. There is a much larger group, running into millions of voters, who will be dismayed by Corbyn’s past, his present behaviour and his future policies. What we might term ‘moderate’ Labour supporters, those that voted for Blair and Brown, will be reluctant to vote Corbyn and will be looking for an alternative to voting Cameron. UKIP has already had great success in attracting such support. Corbyn’s appointment makes it more likely this success will continue.
A more subtle effect of Corbyn’s victory is that it will make it more difficult for Labour to leap upon their moral high horse. Labour favour fighting their battles from the moral high-ground, often in the face of the available facts and Labour’s own track record. Our opponents are not only wrong, they say, but are nasty too. With each revelation from Corbyn’s past this tactic becomes increasingly difficult to pull off. It’s difficult to feign outrage at something a UKIP supporter posted on Facebook several years ago when your party leader has links with anti-semitic holocaust deniers.
A Corbyn-led Labour party does however pose an all too familiar problem for UKIP at the next General Election. In May, the prospect of a Miliband/SNP government scared large numbers of people otherwise sympathetic to UKIP’s message into sticking with the Tories. In Jeremy Corbyn the Conservatives have a scaremonger’s dream. UKIP will need to find an answer to this hard left bogeyman or face the sight of potential UKIP supporters voting Tory in 2020 as the lesser of two available evils.
Corbyn may be a joke but by giving the Tories a free pass for the next five years and a near certain election victory the British public will be paying for the punchline. UKIP must, once again, provide the government opposition that Labour cannot. In doing so we will attract those left cold by Corbyn.