There has been a remarkable response to the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign - more remarkable than he or anyone else really expected. In a few short weeks he has gone from scraping together adequate nominations to stand at the eleventh hour, to social media hit and surprise favourite to win (8-3 from 200-1, according to William Hill). The right wing media are having a field day with this - imagine, a loony pinko lefty nutjob with radical hard left policies such as closing the gender pay gap, communicating with our enemies rather than illegally declaring war on them on dubious grounds, and nationalising the railways - winning an election! Responses to Corbyn's dignified, thoughtful campaign have gone from amused, to indignant, to genuinely alarmed. And that is just within the Labour party.
The main opposition to Corbyn winning - as he is looking increasingly likely to do - is that he would be unelectable. "Consigned to the eighties" I hear frequently. "Twelve years of Tory power." The political elite, centrist journalists and much of the Twitterati appear to find his principled approach and refusal to toe the party line as rather sweet, but ultimately useless if Labour spend another eight years in opposition. I get where they're coming from, and although I believe principles should always be our guiding light (I'm an INFJ, can you tell), I think the whole argument is wrong. "We need to stick to the centre" people tell me, "We won't win with radical leftist policies". Not that, say, 'equality for all' is wildly radical, but you get the idea. "Ed Miliband was too far left, that's why we lost!"
Well, no. Firstly, Ed Miliband was not too far left - he was hardly left at all. Labour lost the election for a number of reasons, but mostly because no one knew what he was standing for. First he posed with a copy of the Sun, pissing lots of people off. Then he apologised for posing with the Sun, which pissed everyone else off. He swayed to every whim of the right wing press, failed to make a stand against the savagery of the welfare cuts - in short, no one really knew what, if anything, he stood for. So is it any surprise that a veteran rebel MP (with a very non-establishment beard) who is the very antithesis of ham-faced Cameron and his identikit, be-suited, PR machine cronies has met with a roar of unprecedented approval?
The Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader Facebook page has almost 50,000 likes, @Corbyn4leader has 31,000 followers, and he is now backed by Unite and Unison unions which represent close to 2.8m members. The political class are really underestimating how much a politician with principles and a decidedly anti-slick-PR approach will appeal to people. Corbyn has a broader appeal than just the excited Twitter left. "But how will he win back the UKIP voters!" they wail. What about the 44% of the electorate who didn't vote? The challenge for Labour in 2020 will not be winning back from UKIP, although that may be a side-effect, it will be reaching the young (only 43% of 18-24 year olds voted in May) and the disenfranchised. So far, Labour has given them nothing to vote for - Tory-lite, centrist policies are not going to tempt the media-savvy, politically disengaged youth - and the other three candidates offer nothing but a repeat of everything they've seen and rejected before.
It isn't just the politically disengaged who are through with the suits of Westminster and the false, scripted messages it pumps out - as the leadership contest has demonstrated, people are looking for something new, something real - and that is what Jeremy Corbyn offers, and that is how he could win a general election.