This is a review of the political events of 2015. Read my summary of the general election here.
If the election was a surprise than what happened afterwards was a shock. Jeremy Corbyn was given odds of 800 to 1 when he was nominated to stand for Labour leader but he won with nearly 60% of the membership backing him. Corbyn won a huge victory across all ages, demographics and types of Labour members, but all has not gone well since then. Corbyn’s victory has exposed huge divisions in the Labour party.
I voted for Corbyn, and his politics are the closest to mine of any Labour leader during my lifetime. It has been painful to read the writings of many left-wing journalists I respect, trashing him at every opportunity. There are certainly legitimate criticisms of Corbyn – I will come to these – but I feel many journalists made up their minds early on that they did not like him and nothing he can do will change this. This is because the election of Corbyn as Labour leader goes beyond what you think of Corbyn personally, his voting record, or even his policies. It is a question of what Labour stands for and what it should aim to be.
The division opening up across the Labour movement is a division between those who want radical change to our politics and our society, and those who want liberal reform to our current system. It is the difference between those who want capitalism with the worst excesses removed or those who want our entire relationship with capitalism reformed. I feel this divide is unbridgeable, by Corbyn or anyone else.
Corbyn’s victory is partly down to having an ideology at all in an ideologically bankrupt Labour, and partly down to inspiring young voters and many alienated leftists and Greens. But it is mainly because the rival Blairite and Brownite candidates were awful. None of them looked like they could win a general election so the party members preferred to make a principled stand, rather than choose a Prime Minister in waiting. The Blairite and Brownite factions need to take a hard look at themselves to work out why they lost so massively to the left of the party. They have nothing to offer apart from indigent cries of “it’s our party, we should be in charge”. Since Corbyn’s election they have continued down this route, doubtlessly helping keep Corbyn popular among Labour Party members.
Labour wins big when it can unite the working class trade-union supporting voters, the liberal metropolitan middle class voters and the aspirational voters who think they will be better off under Labour. Under Miliband, UKIP ate away at the first group, the Greens at the second and the Tories took a huge bite of out the third. Corbyn is losing the third group, but he has stopped the exodus of the second group and a question mark remains over his appeal to the first. In Oldham UKIP heavily targeted this group, hoping that accusing Corbyn of not being patriotic could win over these voters. It did not work, because of the issues with UKIP discussed above. The Tories are trying the same tactic on a bigger scale and that is where the real threat to Labour lies.
If the Tories can win over group 1 and 3, while holding onto their core support, they will win big in 2020. However I do not see a Labour front bench figure who can win over all three groups and Labour need all three. Yvette Cooper gets group 2 and 3, but loses group 1. Liz Kendall gets group 1 and 3, but loses 2. Stella Creasy gets group 2 and 3, but loses 1. David Miliband gets group 3, but loses 1 and 2. The only possibilities would be Lisa Nandy or Jess Phillips but they are not exposed enough for us to accurately judge how well they would do as party leader.
Corbyn and his new shadow cabinet have made some mistakes. Certainly having John McDonnell waving around Chairman Mao's Little Red Book was a bad idea, however over four years away from a general election these mistakes matter little to most voters. The few victories Corbyn has had have been the most widely noted, mainly Labour stopping Tory plans to cut working tax credits, which interim Labour leader Harriet Harman supported.
Then came a terrorist attack on Paris and the excuse Cameron had been looking for to start bombing Syria. This is a terrible idea and Corbyn was right to oppose it. However, parliament thought otherwise and a few in the Labour Party seized this as an opportunity to embarrass Corbyn; showing once and for all that Blairities care more about being proved right than they do about the Syrian civilians we will inevitably kill and how this will encourage others to flock to ISIS.
Even so, the Syria vote is a major defeat for Corbyn. I think ultimately he will be proved right and that this military intervention in Syria (and Iraq) will only increase support for ISIS. Unfortunately at the point when this becomes apparent everyone will have forgotten Corbyn’s stance on the issue as we will be focusing on a new political crisis. Sometimes it looks as if Corbyn cannot win whatever he does.
Parliament and party politics were more interesting this year than for a long time, but there were important trends outside the Westminster bubble. Read my summary of trends in 2015 and what to epxect in 2016 here.