30th December, 2015
Leopards and other Political Animals
Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn keep telling us that voters will change. Despite the polls and other factors such as boundary changes predicting electoral catastrophe for Labour, we are told the electorate will be won around to voting for Corbyn in 2020. After all, it seems it is the Corbynite agenda that people have been longing for, despite what you read “in the right-wing media”.
Can people change? I must admit that I struggle to find examples of where I have changed my mind when it comes to my opinions on policy, although I know my views can change when it comes to people.
I supported Ken Livingstone for the London Mayoralty, and after he lost out to Boris Johnson I went along to the British Library to see him speak on environmental issues. I believed that he would be, on balance, good for London, as he demonstrated such love and commitment to the city. I was not disappointed as I liked what he did, and how he got us through the highs and lows of that week in 2005 when we gained the Olympics for 2012 but lost so many innocents on 7/7.
I shook Livingstone’s hand at the British Library and said I hoped he would stand again. But my outlook changed, and I went to a London Labour conference where he would address delegates. I stood next to him as we both made our cups of tea, and I could not bring myself to say anything to him. My view of him continues to go into free-fall.
From across the Atlantic I rooted for Al Gore over George W Bush and was saddened by the eventual outcome of that election. However, as I supported Bush in many of his foreign policies, such as the war in Iraq, I secretly hoped that he would go on to beat John Kerry, and was then relieved at the Gore loss as I did not feel that the Democrat candidates would have acted the right way over Iraq.
I was a fan of Ed Miliband when he was in government and felt I could always trust him to defend our record even in the toughest interviews. I met him at a fundraiser before he stood for the Labour leadership and I held my head up and was pleased to say “Wow, even better in real life!” But then he did stand, and he opened his mouth on what he really did think, especially about the government in which he had served, and I held my head in my hands and cried out “No, this is a disaster!”
Miliband seemed to feel he had some kind of destiny and yet I was lost on what he thought he had to offer. I never for a second believed he could win for Labour, and I will never forgive him for the Syria vote in August 2013 when he decided not to support the UK taking action against Assad.
When it came to that leadership contest I supported Andy Burnham, even though I was practical and gave my second preference to David Miliband, thinking he had the most realistic chance of winning. Burnham was the most Blairite of the candidates in my view, and I so admired how he defended the rights and safety of the Kurds when the candidates were asked their views on Iraq at the London hustings. Here was the candidate I could trust on this precious subject, and I met him afterwards and he was one of the warmest of people.
I so wanted to support Burnham for the leadership in 2015, but he changed so much and even aligned himself with Miliband when it came to our actions over Syria. Many of us scratched our heads and wondered just where we were with the flip-flopping former Health Secretary. But for me, it will never take away from his amazing work for the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, and Burnham will never lose my respect for his defence of my beloved NHS. After seeing him speak at the Progress rally at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, where he had us on our feet applauding whilst he repeatedly sang the praises of Tony Blair, I live in hope that Andy Burnham will one day come through for the moderates of the Labour Party.
Angela Eagle stood for the deputy leadership in 2015, and I was told that she was a highly impressive performer. But I saw her at a hustings and was not convinced. How wrong I was! Not only was she one of the ‘heroes’ who voted in favour of air strikes against ISIS in Syria, but she absolutely stormed it at PMQs.
On the subject of those air strikes, over the summer I had come to the conclusion that Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn would not lead the party towards voting in favour. But they joined the MPs who voted the way I wanted, and with one of the most inspiring speeches from Benn.
When it comes to policy, I have observed how people change. I remember being at university and arguing in favour of how we should not expect the state to cover all our tuition fees and living expenses. I hardly found anyone like-minded over the years. Nevertheless, a survey by NatCen assures me I am now in the majority in thinking that students should pay some tuition fees at least.
So I have come to learn that people do change. However, can they change so much that they will defy the current polls and elect a Corbyn-led Labour party into government in 2020? No! I think people will know that their instincts are right on this one.
History shows us that parties in this country win elections from the centre-ground and there has never been a popular yearning for a hard-left alternative. Can the Corbynites present any evidence to convince us otherwise? I am still waiting to hear it. They may put their faith in the non-voters, but Corbynites forget; non-voters tend not to change either, and they simply do not vote.
Jeremy Corbyn is another one who does not change, and neither do us moderates find any reason to trust him and change our opinions of him. Corbyn is not the right leader for Labour and he is not the right leader for our great nation.
What Labour needs right now is drastic change at the top, otherwise we can get used to a very long period of Tory government ahead.
By Paddington Baby