After the General Election, I did swear off looking at polls. But now here I am again, glued to their latest offering, faced with a YouGov poll that is so tantalisingly optimistic for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership quest. The poll places his support at 43 per cent. And I have to admit, that one was a welcome break from political monotony for a young pro-Corbyn Labourite like myself.
It doesn’t surprise me that Corbyn is coming out on top. What Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – those indistinguishable cardboard cut-out candidates - fail to realise is that the message of 'electability first, policy last' does not resonate at all with the country, much less the Labour Party membership. Young people don’t want to be sold the uninspiring message that to win, you have to compromise yourself into grey nothingness.
To unashamed ‘Jez We Can’ supporters like me, Jeremy Corbyn has rejuvenated politics. He is a breath of fresh air against the polished, Oxbridge-educated, conveyer-belt mentality that the other candidates represent. He is the only candidate who garners cheers on televised hustings (to non-Labour audiences), and he is the only candidate who can win over the six out of ten young people who didn’t bother to vote in 2015. Don’t tell us that he has no appeal to the general public.
Before Corbyn entered the race, there was hardly anything to distinguish the three other candidates from each other. Now that he is in the race, demonstrably the only interesting politician among them, it seems that those same candidates are running scared. None even have the confidence to argue that their respective policies are in themselves best for the country - other than the line that their Tory-lite plans will make Labour more 'electable', allowing them to ‘regain trust’ from an apparently right-wing electorate. Even support of the benefit cap is argued in terms of perceived fairness; that no one should be seen to receive more on benefits than some working families, without any discussion of the economic and social credibility of a policy that will drive yet more families into poverty. The fact that Corbyn was the only leader candidate who stood against Osborne’s Welfare Bill should speak for itself.
Indeed the only prominent voice challenging Corbyn's policy platform on the policies themselves, regardless of electability, has come from Tony Blair. Small wonder that the Labour membership has turned away from other contenders.
We are disillusioned with the old adage that the centre ground always wins – and we’ve stopped believing it. 2015 saw the Lib Dems, the only party that explicitly stood on a centre platform, obliterated. Meanwhile support for radical left and right parties surged, with Ukip gaining 3.9 million votes, and an unprecedented swing to the SNP in Scotland. In this climate a move to the centre seems like a great way to lose support on all sides.
Harriet Harman asked members not to choose ‘somebody who we feel comfortable with’ but someone who can ‘command the confidence of the country’. The trouble with this message is, despite their rhetoric, neither Burnham, Cooper nor Kendall has shown any evidence that they can command confidence outside the Labour Party. Corbyn is the only candidate who has been able to demonstrate that he has bought anyone from outside the party into the movement.
Labour party members will only step outside of their ‘comfort zone’ for a candidate if they are pretty sure that candidate will win in 2020. Fair enough. But if no one can adequately convince the membership of that, then they will favour the candidate who offers the strongest opposition to this government. When Burnham, Cooper, and Kendall abstain on the Welfare Bill, and Labour MPs become the minority in opposing the government, it should come as no surprise that the Labour members choose Jeremy Corbyn to be the face of that opposition. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s so much more popular than anybody thought.