An open letter to Jeremy Corbyn
I was part of the lobby that said you should resign. I hoped that Owen Smith would beat you in the second leadership election. I was sceptical that left economics could appeal to anyone in the post-Blair political landscape. I assumed that the dissent from the PLP would bring an end to your rule and that another moderate neoliberal would take the helm in your place.
I was wrong to think you were unelectable. I was wrong to typecast you along with the hapless Labour leaders of the 1980s. Your campaign was a break with the spectre of globalism and Blairism still hovering over the left after the 1990s and the early 2000s: something I thought impossible given the landslide wins presented by neoliberal politicians. We thought that they had redefined politics: broken the mold for good. We were wrong, as those who assume a new status quo is permanent always are.
The socialist economics that you presented to the electorate cut through to young people and those fed up with years of Tory austerity destroying their public services. Your team’s goal to rebrand you as a populist railing against the establishment was another thing many doubted would have any effect on the polls. That was a good decision and has paid off at the election. Attracting young voters with the tuition fees promise and attracting non-voters by being the only credible party to offer hope in their manifesto meant you increased your vote share.
But I think you can do so much more.
Looking at your performances in the televised non-debates there was one thing missing for me. Whilst you cut through to younger, more lefty-liberal members of the audiences well, this was sharply contrasted by the older reaction to your defense policies in particular. That gang of old, white, men criticising you on Mail-induced links to the IRA are exactly the voters you need to win over if you want a majority when the next election is called.
So how do you cut through the Tory rhetoric on stability? More importantly, how do progressive parties present an alternative to the more Compassionate Conservatism that will result from this election?
There’s a few things I think are key to an effective opposition in the next parliament or a winning election campaign.
First, you must compromise on some issues to cut through to traditional Tory voters. It’s a cliche now, but you do need to say that you’d press the big red button. You can say it in the most reasonable way. Consult COBRA, ask as many advisors as possible, and only do it in the worst, worst circumstances. But if you want to appeal to those voters on economic or health service grounds, you also need to seem credible by their own rules on security. I would rather they were anti-war as well. But we’re not going to change that. Because compromising on that small message allows you to have a more effective campaign in other areas, I think it’s worth it.
Second: don’t make the same mistake that Kinnock did. Large rallies with thousands of supporters doesn’t necessarily mean you’re cutting through to important demographics of voters that you need to win. You might be preaching to the Corbyn-converted. So don’t take a chance. I implore you to take the campaign to the strongest Tory seats you can win. That way, you’ll get that key message of hope out, and provide a real alternative to any fence-sitters who are less than inspired by the empty rhetoric of Lynton Crosby.
Do it not by huge Kinnock-style rallies where thousands come but are likely pre-Corbyn-converted, but by grunt work from activists on the ground. Hold meetings, but make sure they’re open to opposition. Be prepared to debate them and to defend your principles or your costing. I’m confident that you can do that effectively: that you can cut through on both moral and practical levels to those voters. This would also help you pick up on the percentage of the UKIP vote that moved to the Tories on June 8. That’s the group you need to win alongside the young and the non-voters.
Thank you for providing a campaign and a programme based on hope rather than the hollow, uncosted, rhetorical platitudes presented by the right. I hope you’ll be able to cut through to those traditional Tories at the next election, and show that left economics based on a firm principled foundation really can make government more effective and palatable to voters. With those voters, Jez, we can.