Britain’s Labour Party, fresh from a new general election drubbing in May, is searching for a leader to bring it out of the wilderness. Four candidates are in the running, the ballot papers go out tomorrow, and on September 12, Labour will have its leader. Those to invented “New Labour” are in a panic because one of those candidates, Jeremy Corbyn, is more Old Labour. In truth, Mr. Corbyn’s candidacy offers a powerful critique of New Labour’s failures, and perhaps, that is what they cannot stand most.
Mr. Corbyn is to the left of the other candidates to be sure. Former ministers Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper wish to broaden the party’s appeal without a radical shift in policy; they simply want a new marketing effort. Liz Kendall is a centrist of the Tony Blair mold, and she is currently standing fourth in the polls.
The election will be held under the alternative vote system (single-transferable vote is another name for it). This means voters mark their ballot paper in order of preference. It takes 50%+1 to win the job, and if no candidate reaches that threshold in the first round, the fourth-place candidate is eliminated, and that person’s votes are re-allocated according to the second choice the voter selected. If that still doesn’t put a candidate over the top, the candidate with the fewest votes after the re-allocation is eliminated, and those votes are re-apportioned. It is a vastly superior system to the first-past-the-post, whereby the candidate with the most votes in the first round wins — in a four candidate race, 26% support could produce a victor.
Under this system, it seems Ms. Kendall is doomed to be eliminated first, and her votes will likely pass to Mr. Burnham and Ms. Cooper. Should Mr. Corbyn find himself in first or second after the first round but shy of the 50%+1 needed to win, it is difficult to see how he gets to that level. Ms. Kendall’s backers are unlikely to switch to him, and Ms. Cooper and Mr. Burnham’s backers are more likely to move to one another than to Mr. Corbyn. There really isn’t a clear path to victory for him without a first round win.
Mr. Corbyn is merely anti-austerity, and his big idea is a proposal to fund massive infrastructure investment by asking the Bank of England to print money – a so-called “quantitative easing for the people.” Yet to hear it from New Labour types, Mr. Corbyn’s mere presence on the ballot paper is one of the signs of the Apocalypse.
Mr. Blair wrote in the Guardian this week, “If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election, It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.” He added, Mr. Corbyn represents a “danger more mortal today than at any point in the over 100 years of its existence.” He also wrote, “Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t offer anything new. These are policies from the past that were rejected not because they were too principled, but because a majority of the British people thought they didn’t work.”
Nor are these the musings of a largely unpopular ex-PM. Former Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary Jack Straw, said the money-printing plan was “economic illiteracy … of the worst order” that wouldn’t end well. “We know from the history of the Weimar Republic, we know from Venezuela and you can see the beginnings of this in Greece, that it’s bound to end in tears,” he told the BBC.
One must laugh at the hysteria. Jeremy Corbyn is the greatest threat to Labour since its founding, and Britain could wind up like Weimar Germany if he leads Labour?
Here is the real problem for Labour. It can’t win elections without a good showing in Scotland, and the SNP has Scotland sewn up. This happened because Labour is out of step with the anti-austerity, progressive electorate there. The SNP won 54 out of 57 Westminster seats by running to Labour’s left. It is hard to believe Labour wouldn’t also do well in England and Wales if it reclaimed the left. The party doesn’t need to go back to the weird old days of Michael Foote and red flags at party conferences. It does need to top being “Me, too” Tory.