The Corbyn Citizen: How it might go wrong

By - Thursday 24th September, 2015

Robert Ward looks into his crystal ball to see what Jeremy Corbyn’s win might bring to Croydon and the rest of the UK in the next twelve months

At the time, no-one had any idea of what might happen next. Now, one year on from the political earthquake of the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, there is much on which to reflect.

Initial euphoria amongst Labour Party members took time to subside. Once the moderate wing decided in the interests of unity not to engineer an early split, appointing a shadow cabinet willing to serve under Corbyn went surprisingly smoothly.

It also helped that the expected all-out attack by the Tories, fuelled by material from Corbyn’s many appearances on Russia Today and Press TV, largely failed to happen. With the election of Tom Watson as Deputy Leader there were occasional ‘Tom and Jerry’ jokes, but in the short term that was pretty much it. Thanks to a bolt-from-the-blue allegation, David Cameron’s team had their hands full for the time being.

Labour’s Steve Reed decided to maintain a dignified silence but did not turn down the offer of a shadow ministerial position

We now see that the Tories were happy for Corbyn to remain in place as long as possible. Perhaps they had learned lessons from Labour’s leadership campaign, where full frontal assault only increased Corbyn’s support.

Croydon’s Tory MPs Gavin Barwell and Chris Philp continued much as before, concentrating on local and national issues, ignoring Labour. Labour’s Steve Reed decided to maintain a dignified silence but did not turn down the offer of a shadow ministerial position.

In Croydon the shock waves from the epicentre in Westminster triggered a stunned silence from Croydon’s Labour councillors. But surrounded by cheering local activists, and recognising that their more moderate Westminster colleagues had decided to grin and bear it, things quickly settled back to business as normal.

Championing the working poor was an approach that found support beyond the Corbynistas

Indeed their usual approach of blaming all ills on the Tory government, and characterising themselves as heroic strugglers against adversity, fit well with the Corbyn narrative. It also bought them time to see which way the electoral tide might be flowing. Similarly taking their lead from Westminster, their Tory opponents also acted much as before, concentrating on a narrative that accused Croydon Labour of incompetence and poor spending priorities.

Back at Westminster Corbyn landed a few good blows at early Prime Minister’s Questions. Cuts to welfare payments, especially working tax credits, were an easy target and more than once David Cameron was given a reminder that he wasn’t going to get an easy ride. Championing the working poor was an approach that found support beyond the Corbynistas, and more than once the Tories found that they weren’t as strong or well-prepared as they thought they were.

Things started to go wrong when Corbyn’s left wing views clashed with the majority within his party. His inability to make compromises and build consensus coupled with his own history of rebellion meant that the Parliamentary Labour Party started to unravel as an effective opposition. Losing his temper publicly built on the impression of irrationality in the minds of the electorate.

The patience of the Croydon electorate ran out as the increased council tax was soaked up with no noticeable improvement in services

This was just as the London mayoral election campaign was starting in earnest. Pitting old Etonian Zac Goldsmith against the son of a bus driver, Sadiq Khan, it appeared to be a match-up made in heaven for Corbyn’s supporters. But Khan, having allied himself with the initially-popular Corbyn approach soon found himself stranded when the tide turned. It came down to a battle to get out the vote, and in the end inner London voters favouring Corbyn were exceeded by outer London voters fearing more taxes and spending biased towards the inner city. London got its second blonde mayor in a row.

Labour in Croydon went off track when their Corbynite wing persuaded the council to propose a sharp increase in council tax to fund more social housing. The softening London property market reduced the leverage on developers so house building stalled in the Borough as neighbouring Tory lead councils became more attractive in spite of the opportunities created in Croydon by Westfield.

The patience of the Croydon electorate ran out as the increased council tax was soaked up with no noticeable improvement in services and declines in bin collections and flytipping. Ritual blaming of Tory central government delayed the crisis for a while but as the opinion polls sagged and then swung steadily towards the Tories, tempers began to fray.

Eventually the patience of the moderate wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party snapped

Of course it is at Westminster that Jeremy Corbyn had to maintain support. George Osborne had taken the lead in a subtle approach highlighting the more unpopular of Corbyn’s views, slowly driving in wedges between Corbyn and the more moderate wing of the Labour Party, all the time painting Corbyn as an extremist to the electorate. Eventually the patience of the moderate wing of the Parliamentary Party snapped as the House entered the summer break.

So after just ten months as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn stood down “for the good of the Party”. Fortunately this time the party was well prepared for a leadership election, with Chuka Umunna eventually emerging victorious as the new leader of the fractured party, with Liz Kendall as deputy. With two years to the next council election and three to the general election, who can say what might happen next?

Readers may be interested in Tom Black’s later article for a different take on what the future might hold for Jeremy Corbyn, Croydon, and politics itself.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Anne Giles

    I am totally confused by your article. Jeremy Corbyn never stood down. Where did you get that information from? Also – London has not got its second blond mayor in a row. We have not yet had our elections for the Conservative mayoral candidate. There are four candidates. Sayed Kamall is my favourite.

    • Pass The Deutschy

      Chukka doesn’t want to marry his bird, that’s the real reason he stood down I said it at the time too and then he stood down.

      • Anne Giles

        There is no reason for anyone to get married. Lots of couples live together or simply have a relationship living separately. This is 2015, after all.

        • Pass The Deutschy

          If that were true gay and lesbian people would not have spent so much time and energy fighting for the right to marry and are still fighting for that right the world over. That is all.

          • Anne Giles

            That is because they want to get married. Some don’t.

          • Pass The Deutschy

            Precisely! Meaning if people want to get married then you cannot say there is no reason to. Simples.

          • Anne Giles

            There is no reason for people to feel that they must get married. They can either get married or not.

  • moguloilman

    Having written this piece immediately after the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader I am pleased how accurate my prediction has so far turned out to be. The filling of shadow cabinet positions, albeit with some rather obscure people, and Steve Reed accepting a post are all accurate.

    My most speculative guess is Zac Goldsmith as Tory candidate for London Mayor. I had thought not to name anyone but decided that would be chickening out (no disrespect to chickens ;-) ). Whether this turns out to be correct will be for me very interesting.

    The selection by open ballot slipped by under the radar whilst the Corbyn election was going on. The choice is for me between Zac Goldsmith because he is well known – Ken and Boris both won at least partly because of that; and policy – either Stephen Greenhalgh or Syed Kamall. I myself voted for Syed Kamall. Time will tell.

    • Anne Giles

      So far many of the members have been unable to vote, as we did not receive our codes.