Rethinking Europe

Europe’s Left and Labour’s Disastrous 2019 Election

What are the hard lessons for Europe’s young leftist party activists, including Germany’s SPD, from Jeremy Corbyn’s 2019 defeat in the UK?

Credit: David Martyn Hunt - www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • There is a lesson in Corbyn’s defeat for the European left like the German Social Democrats who are desperately turning leftward in their search for more appealing policies.
  • Corbyn incarnated all the European hard-left’s standard trope but, outside young, urban, leftist circles, his vision flopped completely.
  • Corbyn gave off the sense of seeing himself on a historic mission to reset the clock of British politics back to the 1960s.
  • “The people” – i.e., traditional Labour voters – just didn’t buy Corbyn’s ranting on globalization, liberal economics or more state control.
  • The Corbyn generation of young Labour activists face a decade in the political wilderness.
  • It would be nice – and fully within British electoral traditions – for Corbyn to step down. Instead, he and his acolytes will blame everyone else.

Never, ever before has such hate and venom been directed on the doorsteps throughout Britain against a party leader as was this case with Jeremy Corbyn.

He was never going to be elected but insisted on running to satisfy his – hard to imagine – personal vanity, in addition to trying out his throwback politics to lead the UK back to the 1960s.

Corbyn as Johnson’s best campaign aide

This was an amazing election because Boris Johnson is not a popular candidate. He is a known liar (and only performs well on that score when compared against Donald Trump).

That is usually wonderful grounds for an opposition — if not to win, then to make gains. The opposite happened. This is Labour’s worst electoral defeat since 1935.

That this was so is due to the fact that Boris Johnson could not have dreamt for a better Labour candidate than Jeremy Corbyn. The latter is the one man in British politics who is even significantly more unpopular than Johnson himself.

Johnson probably could never believe his good luck that Labour sent up from central casting an easy-to-beat old man with political ideas that date him by decades.

Corbyn unperturbed

None of that fazed Jeremy Corbyn. He gave off the sense of seeing himself on a historic mission to reset the clock of British politics back to the 1960s.

Corbyn’s list of catastrophic failures is long. It includes his personal unwillingness to root out antisemitism in the Labour party, his admiration for Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, his life-long hostility to NATO and the EU, his rampant anti-Americanism and his personal hatred of the election-winning Tony Blair and his history of support for different terrorist groups like the nationalist IRA.

Corbyn’s unmanly “It wasn’t me” argument

Corbyn has managed to defy political gravity and accountability for four years but now has come crashing to the ground.

It would be nice – and fully within British electoral traditions – for Corbyn, the resoundingly beaten leader, to step down. Instead, he and his acolytes will blame everyone else – the media, the Blair generation, centrist-oriented Labour MPs and Tony Blair – but they will not look in the mirror.

Time for realism among continental left-wing politicians?

There is a major lesson in Corbyn’s defeat for the European left like the German Social Democrats who are desperately turning leftward in their search for more appealing policies, new offers to voters and new leaders.

Corbyn incarnated all the European hard-left’s standard trope but, outside young, urban, leftist circles, his vision flopped completely.

“The people” – i.e., traditional Labour voters – just didn’t buy his ranting on globalization, liberal economics or more state control of the economy. Instead, they put in their lot with the Tories.

Still, Corbyn is convinced to this day that deep down people wanted more power for trade unions, more taxes as well as a de-liberalizing of modern capitalism through nationalizations. He was wrong.

At least Corbyn’s offer to the British people was honest in one regard: It incarnated every wish list that different groups in left-wing 20th(!) century politics had ever advocated.

Will the young activists learn their lesson?

As they look at the disaster of Corbyn and elimination of Labour as a serious political force in Britain for at least a decade, will the generation of young activists rethink?

Labour attracted 500,000 new mainly young, university educated members after 2015. They swallowed the magic socialist potion offered by Corbyn and his narrow coterie of Marxist advisors.

Now, the Corbyn generation of young Labour activists face a decade in the political wilderness.

But it is not just them who have some serious rethinking to do. So do the (older) intellectuals, university professors and journalists — for example columnists on The Guardian.

They are the ones who describe in glowing terms the links between the Corbyn team and leftist parties like Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Die Linke in Germany and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French leftist who leads the anti-EU La France insoumise movement. Most of them rank in the single digits electorally.

Conclusion

Some serious rethinking needs to happen if the Labour Party is not planning to be a spent, past force in British politics.

Achieving just that is certainly the ambition of Boris Johnson and the Tories, with their grand plan to achieve a realignment in British politics through what they grandiosely label as “The People’s movement.”

The question is whether Labour seriously wants to continue making things easy for Boris Johnson.

A first step for Labour would be to elect a sensible new leader soon, probably a woman (such as Rebecca Long-Bailey or Emily Thornberry).

But even when that happens, Labour will take some time to get back on its feet.

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About Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist. [Berlin/Germany]

About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexiternity. The Uncertain Fate of Britain” published by IB Tauris-Bloomsbury, London, October 2019. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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