Kevin Maguire: Corbyn needs to start talking to Tories to get to No 10

Written by Kevin Maguire on 1 September 2016 in Opinion

The Labour leader's progressive friends cannot carry him to Downing Street on their own.

Jeremy Corbyn could sit next to the toilet on an empty train for the next three weeks to grumble on camera about ram-packed privatised services and the odds are he’d still be re-crowned Labour leader.

The YouGov poll recording a healthy lead over Owen Smith points clearly to him winning when the result’s announced in Liverpool at the start of the party’s annual conference. And the summer campaign may prove to be the easy part when enthusiastic supporters would willingly line the route from London so he could crowd surf all the way, depriving Richard Branson’s Virgin West Coast of a fare.

From private conversations I know some - perhaps even a slight majority - of Labour’s Westminster quitters are prepared to skulk back onto the fontbench, though a vocal band of hardened refuseniks will carry on the war, resisting to the death.

Divided parties fighting themselves rarely do well in the elections which really count - general elections. And to retain even the faintest chance in 2020, or whenever installed Tory PM Theresa May seeks a mandate of her own, Corbyn must leave his comfort zone.

What follows may be received by the man himself like advising a vegetarian to eat foie gras, but a politician who revels in the cheers of Lefty disciples needs to recognise he must convert Tory and Ukip voters.

The progressive alliance of which Corbyn is a creature and so fond will take Labour only so far when the party would gain, according to analysis published in The Guardian, just 11 seats if each and every one of the Greens’ 1.2m voters in 2015 joined Corbyn’s Labour crusade.

Mopping up the Trots might deliver a few extra such as Gower in South Wales where 103 votes for the small Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition front of the Socialist Party (nee Militant Tendency and the Revolutionary Socialist League) translated into a slender 27-vote Tory majority in the constituency.

For the big gains required to deliver the keys to Number 10 the Labour Party must recover voters from the Conservatives (11.3m total last May) and Ukip (3.9m).

Labour lost two voters to the Tories and one to Ukip in 2015 for every defector to the Greens, according to an illuminating flow chart produced by Electoral Calculus. The party’s losses to the SNP were double those to the Greens and a single seat in the fortress that was Scotland is a millstone on Labour’s ambitions.

All this before boundary changes abolish mostly Labour seats and the task looks impossible. Except when politics is convulsed, anything is possible.

Rail renationalisation and an increased top rate of income tax for the highest earning 1% are Corbynista popular policies (Smithite too) appealing to a sizeable number of Tories and Ukippers. Corbyn’s Euroscepticism is too.

But the leader isn’t wired politically to engage Blues and Purple Shirts, preferring the warm bath of his progressive friends.

Until he is, Labour can’t win. Whatever his majority in a party contest.

The answer isn’t suddenly spouting anti-migrant rhetoric or embracing privatisation. It is, however, developing a platform embracing the desperate and the doing-nicely, appealing to both self-interest and concern for others.

The low paid and the pretty affluent, for instance, share a common interest in a healthy NHS and thriving schools when a mere 7% opt out of state schools.

Corbyn hasn’t found a convincing voice to widen his appeal in the country. He could. But it does require engaging with voters who don’t flock to his rallies.



Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror.


Picture by: STEFAN WERMUTH/WPA Rota/Press Association Images.

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