When a party loses an election, the leader has to take responsibility. Many cite Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of popularity as a key reason for Labour’s loss. These calls have been made particularly by his opponents on the right of the UK Labour Party.
Few expected Corbyn to win the leadership election in 2015. From the start Corbyn was a polarising leader, and never very popular. Corbyn built up a core support base within the Labour Party membership, though always had fierce opponents within the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Jeremy, though polarising had strong supporters. Who can forget 2017 Glastonbury festival, where Corbyn was greeted by thousands of festival goers with the chant “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” loud cheers after he recited Percy Shelley’s poem The Masque of Anarchy. After the 2017 election, where Labour’s support increased after the Manifesto was released, Corbyn’s personal popularity also rose significantly. But he remained polarising and continued to have many detractors. Corbyn’s support was and remains much stronger with young voters
To those who say Jeremy Corbyn could never have been Prime Minster I respectfully disagree. The 2017 result got him close. However, to get him across the line he and the party needed to keep building support around the manifesto. And they needed unity of purpose and not division within the party, particularly within the parliamentary party. In an earlier post I suggested that Boris removing the Party Whip of Tory MPs who voted against him over Brexit, showed strength and gave the public confidence that the Tories would be united. By contrast Labour showed signs of deep divisions. Corbyn as leader had two options 1) try to bring the detractors into the tent or 2) cast them out.
But I believe there were two other issues that ultimately undermined Corbyn’s leadership after 2017. One was Brexit and the other was Antisemitism. The earlier smears that Corbyn supported the IRA or terrorists resonated with some Conservative voters, but never really harmed him politically. Later when he was being seen as indecisive on Brexit or not strong enough on Antisemitism, this alienated voters including some who earlier had supported or at least tolerated his leadership.
Once people have been turned off your leadership, they become open to other critiques or smears against you. These issues weren’t just about Corbyn, but as the leader he was the figure head and he took the hit for them. Further, on both Brexit and antisemitism he and those close to him could have handled these issues considerably better.
Previous posts in this series
Why UK Labour Lost? Part 1: Historical Context
Why UK Labour lost? Part 2: UK Labour’s strange loyalty to First Past the Post
Why UK Labour lost? Part 3: Its Brexit Innit
10 thoughts on “Why UK Labour lost? Part 4: Ooooh Jeremy Corbyn”