The Conservative Party conference certainly didn't lack political drama, in part because a 60,000+ protest movement crowded the Manchester venue last weekend. Indeed, what was supposed to be a nerdish political celebration of a general election victory descended, at times, into a gathering marred by intimidation and fear.
The political momentum unleashed by Jeremy Corbyn is impassioned and often hostile. “Tory scum” is the catchphrase of the enraged, and nothing but total war on the blue party will do.
While Corbyn’s firefighters have highlighted that the protest was largely peaceful and even fun, the rhetoric used by the protestors was universally off-putting. In essence, the anti-austerity marchers held their banners aloft and shouted into the skies of Manchester their disbelief that anyone could ever vote for the Conservatives. Indeed, ‘Tory’ has become a by-word for immorality, much like ‘scab’ after the miners’ strike.
This kind of rhetoric, underpinned by ‘mass’ demonstrations, breeds a false political reality. Michael Foot did not anticipate that he was going to lose in 1983 after packing out meetings with hundreds of enthusiastic supporters, much like Corbyn with his army of new supporters.
The harsh truth is that 60,000 is not a significant number of people, nor is 250,000 (the number of individuals who voted for Corbyn to become the leader of the Labour Party), when considered in the context of the national electorate. Protest movements often consist of loud minorities who use political theatre to attract disproportionate media coverage. So, while a few angry Corbynites protested at the Tory party conference, new polling demonstrated the scale of Labour’s nationwide predicament. Indeed, London is now within the margin of error, whereas Labour held 13% lead in May. 61% of the over-60s ‘would be dismayed’ if Corbyn became Prime Minister, and Labour has slumped to a miserable 17% in Scotland. Much like his inaugural speech, Corbyn continues to speak only to the converted few, not to the sceptical majority.
To escape his deafening echo chamber, Corbyn must reach-out and lead a genuine, credible political party, not just a protest movement. The new Labour leader needs to gradually moderate his rhetoric and control his Shadow Chancellor, who has a penchant for making jokes about murdering Conservatives. Corbyn must keep telling his supporters that their hatred of the current political orthodoxy doesn't give them the right to intimidate journalists, or harass people on Twitter who accept that orthodoxy. Shouting and screaming hardly exudes political strength. Indeed, if there is one fundamental truth in British politics, it's that shouting ‘Tory scum’ means that electoral death isn't far away.