On Monday morning, I was on BBC Radio Wales to talk about the Labour Party leadership contest and the travails of the party in general. In brief: Corbyn will win, the party is sexist, and can we all stop pretending that being “opposed to austerity” is a meaningful thing please.
There’s going to be a lot of argument over the next few months about who can win Labour’s leadership election. Bit it’s also worth talking about who loses. In 1994, it was Margaret Beckett. In 2010, it was Diane Abbott. In 2015, it was Liz Kendall; second last was Yvette Cooper. The 2015 deputy leadership election was lost by a man, Ben Bradshaw; however, Angela Eagle, Caroline Flint and Stella Creasy were all steamrollered by Tom Watson in the end. In 2007, Harriet Harman narrowly won the vote for deputy leader – but she lost anyway, because Gordon Brown decided not to appoint her deputy prime minister. As Angela Eagle launches her bid for the Labour leadership, one of her lines is: “Labour is ready for a woman leader”. It’s certainly time that Labour had a woman leader. But looking at Labour’s track record, it’s difficult to find any reason to believe that the party is ready.
“A good and decent man but he is not a leader. That is the problem.” This was just-sacked Hilary Benn’s verdict on Jeremy Corbyn, and he’s two-thirds right. Corbyn is not a leader, and if that wasn’t obvious before the referendum campaign, it should be now. If the Vice documentary didn’t convince you that Corbyn is a man who cannot lead – marked by both insubstantiality and intransigence, both appalling presentation and mortal vanity – then surely his botched efforts for Remain must have.
But so what. Even Corbyn’s greatest supporters don’t rate him as a statesman. They like him because he believes in something. Not just something (after all, Farage believes in something: he believes in a bleached white endless village fete with rifle-toting freemen at the gates) but the right things. Socialist things. Non-Blairite things. The things they believe in. And the one thing that the EU referendum campaign should absolutely put the lie to is any image of Corbyn as a politician of principle – or one who shares his party’s values.