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The Persistent Myth of Jeremy Corbyn's Unelectability

09/03/2016 10:55 GMT | Updated 09/03/2017 10:12 GMT

If we were all to believe that Jeremy Corbyn really is guilty of the charge which has been repeatedly levelled at him since becoming leader of the Labour Party - namely that he is unelectable - then we might as well admit defeat right now, disband the Labour Party and leave the Tories to it for the rest of eternity.

You would think from listening to Corbyn's critics (many who're supposedly on the left) that he is the anti-Christ, if not in terms of his personality then at least in the effect he's having on Labour's chances of regaining power. It's an astonishing lack of perspective which has surpassed the realms of the ridiculous, and is enough to drive even the most patient to frustrated despair.

We now finally have an opposition which rather than mimicking the government almost down to the last detail, actually opposes it. This - at least as I understand it - is the entire point of having an opposition. This time last year when Osborne announced his budget, the then-shadow chancellor Ed Balls stated that he wouldn't change a single part of it. Fittingly enough he no longer has a seat in Parliament, and fittingly enough Balls was dropped for a Tory.

Surely if Ed Miliband's stint as leader is proof of anything it's that however united the Labour Party, it cannot win a general election being Tory-lite. It was of little surprise that when election time rolled around Labour Party activists repeatedly heard the same accusation from the doorsteps of the people - ''We can't tell the difference between you and the Tories.'' Well now we can.

Perhaps the same could be true of a different leader. Is there somebody within Labour's ranks who could unify the party to form a better opposition to the government? If so they didn't show up when it mattered, and it therefore seems a barely relevant question. Corbyn won a broad victory across all sections of the party in a democratic vote, and as things stand he would probably do the same again were another election called. Indeed, his support amongst party members hasn't diminished since becoming leader but continues to increase.

On the right of the party this is cause for many a long face. Critics accuse Corbyn supporters of willingly sacrificing electability in the name of 'ideological purity' - a fallacy if ever there was one. Clause four endured throughout the entirety of Neil Kinnock's leadership without his supporters ever being subject to such a tumultuous allegation, and as yet there's no sign of its resurrection. Surely an ideologically pure socialist would make it his first order of business?

Browsing social media you'll even find those who want to depict Corbyn as some sort of hard-line Stalinist. The PLP has not been subject to a purge of any description, and Corbyn even gave shadow cabinet jobs to people with whom disagreement was inevitable somewhere down the line, precisely because he endorses the concept of strength through diversity of opinion. True, there are some who would like to see Corbyn purge the PLP of its dissenting voices, but this is about as likely to happen as Iain Duncan Smith's defection to the Labour Party. He's already ruled out the return of mandatory reselection (which - incidentally - any MP with the support of their own constituents should have no reason to fear).

The most significant aspect of Labour's failure to win the 2015 general election was its utter annihilation in Scotland, where Jim Murphy and John McTernan had tried unsuccessfully to sell a Blairite message to an electorate which wanted none of it. Scottish Labour lost 40 seats, leaving behind a solitary Labour MSP. The words 'rout' and 'annihilation' spring to mind - the same words Blair himself used when predicting the effects of a Corbyn-led Labour. Blair continues to peddle the electability question when asked about the current direction of the Labour Party, seemingly oblivious to what happened in Scotland. Somebody's in denial, and it isn't Corbyn.

It is not Jeremy Corbyn who is making Labour unelectable, but it is true that those who're damaging Labour's chances the most come from within its own ranks. As Len McCluskey recently opined in a speech at the Oxford Union:

''If the right-wing Labour MP's want something constructive to do then start working out policies and ideas that might help attract voters back to Labour . . . This continual war of attrition is achieving nothing beyond taking the pressure off the government . . . Stop sniping, stop scheming, get behind Jeremy Corbyn and start taking the fight to the Tories''.
Well said indeed, and that should go for everyone who opposes the government. Like it or not Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party, and refusal to accept this is to be guilty of an idealism which the country cannot afford.