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The next election will be decided in Britain, not Venezuela

August 5th, 2017

The public is not bothered about Corbyn’s past endorsements (even if it should be)

Unless Theresa May or her successor can overturn over a trend well over a century old, Labour will form the next government. Quite simply, once governments start losing seats from one election to the next, they continue losing seats until they’re in opposition. And not only did the Conservatives lost seats at the last election but the result was so tight that any further loss would make their position impossible.

Defeating that trend will be no small task. It exists for strong reasons. The longer a government is in place, the more responsibility it has to take for the state of the country; the longer a government has lasted, the more people it is likely to have upset; governments tend to promote able administrators while oppositions elevate campaigners, which matters come election time; governments get tired and struggle to renew without undermining what they’ve previously done. So when the public has turned against it (or turned towards someone else), it’s extremely hard to reverse that swing.

Could we see an exception this next election? As always, it’s possible. Politics is a human activity and there are no cast iron rules. Jeremy Corbyn is a highly unusual Leader of the Opposition and the scope for the next Tory campaign to improve on the last one is immense. On the other hand, Brexit – a policy the Tories own for good or ill – will be exceptionally hard to manage on so many levels and if it goes wrong, the knock-on effects on the economy and on any number of other aspects of daily life will be huge. In such a situation, the people are unlikely to blame themselves.

    One factor that doesn’t seem likely to play much of a role, despite the best efforts of the Tories and the right-of-centre press, is Corbyn’s record on support for radical left governments and groups. There are always reasons to think that this time it’ll be different but invariably, it’s not. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the IRA, Hamas, Iran’s Press TV, Venezuela’s government or what, there are an awful lot of people who either don’t believe the stories at all (linked to the source of them), or they don’t believe they’re relevant.

That’s linked to a different comment that I’ve heard more than once since the election (as well as before it): that politicians are all the same. In reality, this is less the case now than for many years but reality is not intruding. The assertion is made not because people have genuinely compared the actions, policies and records but because they want to believe it because that then absolves them of blame: if politicians are all the same, how can a voter be to blame if something subsequently goes wrong? It also means that stories of extremism can’t be true because most politicians aren’t extreme, therefore if they’re all the same, then none can be extreme and attacks on individuals for it must be false.

This much is supposition. In terms of hard facts, what we have are opinion polls that continue to show Labour in front (and while May still outscores Corbyn, the margin is tight rather than the 3- or 4-to-1 majorities she was chalking up in March and April.

Renewed prominence for Corbyn’s warm words towards Chavez and Maduro has not had the slightest impact on voting intention: yesterday’s YouGov actually showed a slight swing to Labour and the local by-elections, while a mixed bag, saw Labour make two impressive gains (alongside a loss to the Tories).

That his comments and his record should affect the public’s opinion of him is beside the point. At the very least they say something about his judgement; they quite possibly also reveal something about what he considers legitimate behaviour from a state in pursuit of a legitimate goal or to counteract opposition. But the natural conclusions to be drawn from such an assessment are so beyond the range which we are accustomed to UK politicians operating in (hence the ‘they’re all the same’ comment, despite the evidence), that they recoil from the conclusions and reject them.

We are in a different world from March and April now. Theresa May cannot undo her election campaign and the public cannot unsee it. The time for fuzzy words and bold claims on Brexit has passed and the time for detail is here. Even if the government were united and fully prepared to crack on with the negotiations, there’d be much for the public to disagree with (see border controls and fishing rights today, for example). And the government is not united nor fully ready.

As things stand, the 4/1 for Corbyn to be the next PM doesn’t look attractive it’s more likely that the Tories would dump May first were a defeat on the cards, she may go of her own accord before 2022 anyway and even if you win, your money could be locked up for near five years. All the same, we should reconcile ourselves to the likelihood of him entering Number Ten.

David Herdson