Inward-looking idealism will undermine Corbyn’s leadership

5 Oct 2015


Jeremy Corbyn’s inaugural conference speech as the leader of the Labour Party was passionately delivered, but essentially flawed. Indeed, stylistically, the speech was rambling and disjointed; it lacked the clarity and structure fundamental to compelling political oratory. Style, though, wasn't the only problem with Corbyn’s address. There were also several factual errors contained within the speech. Indeed, the new Labour leader claimed that Trident represents 25% of the UK’s defence budget. In reality, Trident costs a mere 5-6% of the defence budget. Early mistakes like these are easy to dismiss. However, going forward, such blatant blunders will cause continual embarrassment for Labour.


Keynote conference speeches represent vital opportunities for the leader of the opposition to talk to the public on his/her own terms. Instead of simply opposing the policies of the government, as they are usually forced to do, conference allows the leader an open space to divulge their own agenda. This was the opportunity that Corbyn missed. Instead of pitching to the millions who don't know him – those who are uneasy about his socialist principles – Corbyn decided to preach to the converted.


Some commentators have argued that it was necessary for Corbyn to entrench his support within the party through his conference speech. Yet, the goal for the Labour leader should have been expansion, rather than consolidation. Indeed, unless Corbyn reaches out an olive branch to the Right of the party, a group of bright, young, ideologically incensed MPs will have regrouped and will be ready to undermine the party’s radical leadership.


As Tim Montgomerie insightfully argued at a Fabian fringe event, introspection is a strategy for political failure. In order to win, leaders must reach out and, yes, dilute their fundamental message. This is a necessity that Corbynites will find particularly painful. After-all, ideological purity is the source of their political smugness. They believe that the abandonment of ideology killed the party. They claim that Labour lost in 2015 because the party wasn’t left-wing enough, when all evidence suggests the contrary. Corbyn is pursuing a fatal policy by solely indulging this strand of the party. If Labour’s new leader continues to pitch an idealistic message to the deluded few, he will alienate the pragmatic masses both in his party and the nation as a whole.

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