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How Corbyn Could Win... In 2020

23/07/2015 16:17 BST | Updated 23/07/2016 10:59 BST

It appears that a majority of British Political Scientists (at least those active on Twitter) seems to share the widely held view of journalists and commentators that a Corbyn-lead Labour Party would have worse odds of winning in 2020 than a Burnham/Cooper/Kendall-lead party. Naturally, I believe electoral viability is important in a future Labour leader, but over the last month I have come to disagree with the assumption that the other three leadership candidates would be better placed to lead Labour to victory. There are several reasons for why I no longer agree that Corbyn would be the worst strategic choice for the Labour Party. Given the electoral map (redistricting, size of the electoral swing needed to win marginals, Scotland), an outright Labour victory in 2020 is an unlikely outcome in the first place. If Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper have a real strategy of how to win back Scottish seats, they still have to spell it out. Alternatively, they would need to win 100+ Conservative seats in England and I do not see any scenario under which such an outcome would be the result of Burnham's Milibandism with a kinder accent. I do agree with Liz Kendall that Labour therefore needs a radical break from the Miliband years, and I have given Liz Kendall's campaign a favorable, initially sympathetic, look. But I have come to believe that she will neither be able to win the leadership contest (she is predicted to come last), nor is her electoral strategy likely to get her into 10 Downing Street even if, by miracle, she won the leadership. Kendall's is an England-only strategy that is likely to win as many votes on the right and in the South as she would loose to her left and in the North. The party system has changed since 1997. There is more competition on the left of the political spectrum, which is also more geographically fragmented. It is the Green Party and the SNP that would benefit from Liz Kendall taking Labour to the centre. In the process of doing so she would further alienate everyone else on the left.

Corbyn (through his clear anti-austerity, anti-trident message) has more appeal than the three other candidates in Scotland, and could probably win non- and young voters, Greens, some non-racist Kippers and voters who voted LibDem in 2005 and 2010. How could such an electoral coalition be built? Naturally, the first pillar would consist of mobilising 2015 non-voters who are much more likely to be sympathetic to Labour than to the Conservatives. Corbyn has argued on many occasions that he would focus on mobilising leftwing non-voters. Of course we know that mobilising non-voters is difficult, particularly those who have never voted before. However, Labour already appears to have a healthy lead among voters that are located just below the participation threshold, those that have a smaller than 50% but greater than 25% probability of turning out based on past records. Combine that with young and first time voters, who can still learn the habit of voting, and there is some potential. Why do I think that a mobilisation strategy could work, particularly after Labour's hopes of winning the election through 5 million door-step conversations did not materialise? Corbyn has recently pointed out that he believes in a version of the 'top-down theory of class (non-)voting' that has attracted much academic attention over the past years. While Blairites (and Third Way theorists such as Anthony Giddens) believe that the working class stopped voting Labour because the working class changed, the top-down school believes that the working class stopped voting Labour because the Labour Party changed: It moved to the centre and became harder to distinguish from the Conservatives in respect to economic policy. There is actually much empirical evidence published in some of the most respected Political Science Journals that supports this interpretation of the narrowing class divide in British Politics, for instance here, here, and here. In consequence, moving to the left may give Labour a shot at winning these voters back.

Finally, Labour needs to stop fighting other perceived enemies on the left, learn some humility and start to co-operate. What upset me (and many of my friends) most during the last campaign was how dismissive some commentators sympathetic to Labour were towards the Green Party, the SNP, and even the LibDems. These parties are not the ideological enemy of the Labour Party. The second strategic pillar is hence a focus on pre-electoral pacts and coalitions similar to those practiced successfully on the French left, and now envisaged in Canada. Electing Jeremy Corbyn will make it easier to negotiate with other members of the progressive coalition. There is absolutely no point for Labour in opposing someone like Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion. In return for withdrawing a Labour candidate in Brighton (and possibly one or two further seats), the Green Party should pledge not to contest Conservative-Labour marginals. The same could be done with the LibDems in the South of England. Canadian progressives have recently launched a campaign called Vote Together. It is time that Labour understands that it is the leading member of the British progressive coalition, but it is no longer hegemonic. I think Corbyn is the only leader who actually perceives the Labour Party as embedded in a broader progressive movement that includes NGOs, as well as "rival" leftwing parties.

Of course none of these steps guarantees victory in 2020. Most likely Labour will not win the next General Election. Electing Jeremy Corbyn would be a high-risk strategy that would, in my opinion, increase the probability of an extreme outcome: A big win or a bad loss. However, the assumption that the party would be more likely to win outright if it was lead by Burnham, Cooper, or Kendall, is really not as straight forward as it appears at first sight.