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Is Corbyn stronger than he looks?

Today’s mass Shadow Cabinet resignations following Corbyn’s lacklustre performance in the EU referendum will not have been welcome news for his supporters, but he may be stronger than he looks.

Firstly, there is no obvious candidate to replace him. Hilary Benn is probably most people’s favourite, but has clearly indicated that he doesn’t want the job. Tom Watson probably does and has strong left wing credentials but looks shifty. Secondly although Corbyn is uniquely unpopular within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) he has almost cult status amongst Labour Party members and activists: were he to fight another leadership election he would almost certainly win. Thirdly, despite suggestions that Corbin is unelectable in the country, a careful review of the evidence suggests otherwise.

The national press interpreted last month’s May local elections as a disaster for Corbyn. They were anything but. Labour did rather well, now holding 1291 seats compared with the Conservatives’ 828.

So much has happened in UK politics during the last year it is easy to forget that the last General Election was only just over a year ago. Most of the press made this mistake too and described the results as mid-term elections – when opposition parties normally thrive. They were not. Local elections held the year after a General Election produce very different results – usually giving the Government the benefit of the doubt, as this analysis of post-Thatcher elections demonstrates—

  • 1980 – Labour were only 2% ahead.
  • 1984 – The Tories won the local elections
  • 1988 – The Tories won the local elections.
  • 1992 – The Tories won the local elections with 46% of the vote.
  • 1998 – Labour won the local elections.
  • 2002 – Labour were just 1% behind the Tories.
  • 2006 – Is this election the exception that proves the rule or was it just the response to the Iraq War?
  • 2011 – Tories drop just 1.1% from the GE.
  • 2016 – Tory vote drops 6.9% from GE.

Following the May elections Labour controls 57 councils, the Conservatives 38. Of the 35 Metropolitan districts, where the majority of Britain lives, only three remain under Conservative control. Along with decisive wins for Labour in the Mayoral elections in Bristol, London, Liverpool and Salford the prospects for Labour at the next election look much better than some would have us believe, whilst for the Conservatives May 2016 was their worst performance at local elections since 1996.

Bearing this in mind it seems bizarre that so many Labour MPs are willing to risk damage to their party without any clear alternative plan and when there is a realistic fighting chance that Corbyn could deliver a victory. The resignation of Bristol East’s Luton-based MP, the uninspiring Kerry McCarthy, is unlikely to create many sleepless nights but the loss of so many others looks terminal.

Corbyn may not be a great speaker or be particularly photogenic – he is certainly not another Tony Blair – but there is still a strong appetite in the country to hear his alternative perspectives. We want to know why divisions between rich and poor have only escalated since Thatcher, why houses are unaffordable to so many, why worker representation on boards of large companies barely exists, why austerity hasn’t hit the wealthy and why tax avoidance is still such a big problem. We also want to know how come Tony Blair has amassed a personal fortune of £65 million. “New” Labour cannot be the party to address these issues and it is impossible to imagine that any of the previous leadership contenders – Burnham, Copper or the other one, were ever going to even try.

Which is why even if Jeremy Corbyn is willing to fall on his sword then the only hope that the Labour Party has is to follow his agenda. Corbyn v. Boris would certainly have been an interesting fight, but even if it isn’t to be, let’s hope that at the next election no one is able to say that all of our politicians still just all look the same.