Labour’s great white hype

Hany Ghoraba
Tuesday 17 Dec 2019

What are the lessons of the British Labour Party’s resounding defeat in this month’s UK general elections

For a political party that was founded in 1900, the British Labour Party has been committing amateurish mistakes that hardly befit a120-year-old party. The investment of party members in the cult of personality around its leader Jeremy Corbyn cost the party massively in the recent UK parliamentary elections. This investment brought Labour its worst election loss since 1935 and its competitors the Conservatives their largest gain since 1987.

The campaign of the Labour Party before the elections and the hype surrounding the sometimes almost insane statements coming from Corbyn may have provided the party leadership with the confidence that it could turn the tide in its favour in order to win the December 2019 elections and shape the country’s future for decades to come. The party’s leaders seemed to have believed their own hype, thinking that Corbyn’s communist-like manifesto could lure enough middle-class and working-class voters in the UK to carry them to victory in the elections.

But the tides did not favour Labour at all, and the party had to swallow its biggest losses for over 80 years. The pride the party had that it could mobilise the British working classes and answer their demands vanished on election night. Corbyn was simply the poster-boy for a party that while hypothetically labelled centre-left in fact allowed itself to shift towards the extreme left in an attempt to garner more votes and increase its base. This plan backfired like almost no other time in the party’s history.

Corbyn’s pre-election manifesto, declared during a wild speech about targeting the rich in favour of the poorer sectors of society, was a major blow to the party. It may have hit the right note with the party’s supporters in the audience, but it did not do the same with the majority of British voters, who even if they are struggling do not want to see more pressure heaped on the country’s business owners, in turn affecting their jobs and livelihoods.

Polarising speeches that aimed to turn lower-income citizens against higher-income ones or against a successful model of society failed miserably in these elections. Corbyn and his team overlooked the fact that a capitalist economy is sustained by the success of its entrepreneurs who through their innovation and hard work manage to create opportunities for millions of others to work and flourish as well.

Success should not be a punishable crime and certainly not for those who achieve it to be punished by the less successful in society. Inciting a nation’s struggling classes has been one of the classic tools of socialists and communists since the early 20th century at least, but the results of these negative policies have been destructive to all the countries that have applied them, along with the many millions of citizens living in them.

Many socialists, radical leftists and communists believe that solving social issues and struggles within society start by targeting the empowered and the wealthy, but hardly any of them would accept the same targeting if the roles were reversed. Moreover, many in the UK have attained success from hard work and dedication alone, with examples ranging from novelist J K Rowling to industrialist Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of Ineos Chemicals, who has wealth estimated at 21 billion pounds sterling.

There are also other examples, such as the well-known billionaire Richard Branson who started his great success by establishing a mail-order record company and within a year had opened his first store, the Virgin store in London’s Oxford Street, with the rest being history.

It is not up to Jeremy Corbyn or any other citizen of the UK to decide how much wealth or success is good for any other citizen or how much money someone should have, because allowing them to do so is the very essence of communism. Corbyn, who once described communism’s founder Karl Marx as a “great economist,” should have known better and to have kept his communist stance away from mainstream party politics.

Befriending the leaders of the likes of the Palestinian group Hamas, the Irish Republican Army, and the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah, while also being shown making the infamous four-finger salute of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not add credibility to Corbyn’s already controversial stance. While he has criticised the governments of Egypt and other countries in the Middle East, he has also been seen courting the leaders of terrorist-designated groups from these countries who have been responsible for much of the destruction they have had to face.

That stance would have made Corbyn’s life as UK prime minister that much harder had he managed to win the recent elections. He would have thrown years of diplomatic work with countries in the Middle East and others away, given his tainted record of association with some very unsavoury politicians and political figures.

The Labour Party’s leaders are now licking their wounds after a humiliating and historic defeat that has left the Conservative Party free to tackle the issue of Brexit unchallenged by any sizeable opposition. Meanwhile, the Tories are also celebrating a win that surpassed their dreams. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a victory speech that said he would form a new government committed to unity in order to lead the country safely through the Brexit process. However, given what has transpired over the past three years since the vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union, that may be easier said than done.

But Johnson has been rightly chuffed by a result that means he will be able to take bold steps in negotiating the final stages of exiting the European Union while knowing that he is backed by a solid majority in the UK parliament.

Brexit may have been and may still be a nightmare for the UK, but the process may now be expedited as a result of the December 2019 elections and the solid majority won by the Conservatives. Even so, this will not mean that life in UK will become any easier, especially on economic matters given the years of uncertainty and the mass exodus of capital from the country, something which is expected to continue until more economic incentives are introduced to lure investors and capital back to the UK.

Nevertheless, that would have been a task that Corbyn would have been the last politician in Britain to have been able to attain, given his communist affiliations. Johnson may be able to do it if he engages in proper planning and execution in the post-Brexit stage. Johnson has had to drop his well-known rhetorical and sometimes provocative speeches in the face of the European Union. Furthermore, he will now be required to mature politically and negotiate wisely with the European Union to form a new political position for the United Kingdom. If he does not do so, there will be many more years wasted for the United Kingdom and the British people.

He will also be tasked to rise to the challenges emanating from the new independence referendum that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced she will seek in the light of the Brexit vote and the parliamentary election results. Scotland will seek independence as it did in 2015, when voters seeking to remain in the United Kingdom were incentivised by the desire of the Scots to remain within the boundaries of the European Union, something which, with the UK leaving, is no longer the case.

Corbyn’s vanity has led him to retract his declaration that he will step down as leader of the Labour Party, at least for the moment, despite the tradition that says that in cases of such huge losses this has to happen. It has become apparent that the Labour Party is now about Corbyn and his minions rather than about politics and the best interests of the British people that Corbyn claims to have in mind.

What was perceived by some in the Labour Party as its great white hope in the form of Jeremy Corbyn has thus turned out to be just great white hype, as the man has become his own and his party’s worst enemy.

*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly. 

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