2016 has been a year of political incompetence.
David Cameron had to resign as Prime Minister after losing a referendum (that wouldn’t have been undertaken, had he not promised it) to none of the world’s economic experts.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton failed to defeat a sociopathic half-wit in the Presidential election, and Theresa May’s political career has slowly been sabotaged by her own trousers.
So it is an impressive achievement to rank as one of the worst politicians of 2016. Yet this is the consensus regarding Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour Party is showing signs of chronic dysfunctionality, bordering on disrepair.
Though Corbyn fortified his position in the party through a second leadership election, he cannot conceal the gaping chasm that has opened up between Labour MPs and the party membership; a gulf that will surely consolidate the party’s impotence in 2017.
Here's what has happened in the world of Labour over the past 12 months.
Corbyn landslide 2.0
Another year. Another Labour leadership election. Another landslide victory for Jeremy Corbyn.
A botched coup against the Labour leader has strengthened Corbyn’s grip on the party, and has left self-defined ‘rebels’ thrashing in a well of self-pity.
It all began with a Benn – as it usually does in the Labour Party. On 25th June, Hilary Benn was stripped of his shadow cabinet role after telling Corbyn that the party had no confidence in his ability to win a general election.
Mass resignations ensued, leaving Corbyn with a threadbare shadow cabinet. A motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership was quickly passed by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), as centre-left MPs waged a pub floor brawl with their leader.
Knowing that Corbyn would likely win another membership vote, the plan was to portray his position as untenable – forcing him to stand down. This strategy was very nearly successful. Deputy leader Tom Watson was apparently moments away from persuading Corbyn to hand in his notice, before Seumas Milne interceded.
The last hope for Corbyn’s aspiring assassins was to prevent the Labour leader from being automatically placed on the ballot paper in the event of a leadership election. However, after factional wrangling within Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and an unsuccessful court case, this final scheme bit the proverbial dust.
So, ultimately, the man thrown to the lions was Owen Smith – a polished speaker who was formerly one of Corbyn’s closest allies. The result was perhaps inevitable. Smith’s political inexperience gradually damaged his plucky campaign. Instead of being seen as a more politically astute version of Corbyn (as Smith claimed), he was perceived as a spineless pretender, reeking of Blairite mendacity.
And so Corbyn now has reaffirmed control of the party – boasting the largest mandate in Labour Party history.
Yet, the energy of Corbyn’s campaign has rapidly dissipated in the three months since his re-election. Bold promises on taxation and investment haven’t been pitched to the nation. In both leadership elections, 2015 and 2016, Corbyn developed a slick brand, an enviable social media strategy and audacious policies. But, on both occasions, he has squandered the impetus of his victory.
As 2016 draws to a close, people outside Corbyn’s inner clique still don’t know much about his plans and policies, which is a disaster for someone presenting himself as a radical alternative to the status quo.
An associated reason for the widespread obliviousness towards Corbyn’s policies is undoubtedly his uncomfortable relationship with the media. Throughout 2016, Corbyn has intensified his personal vendetta against the ‘mainstream media’ – or ‘MSM’, if you’re fluent in conspiracy Marxism.
This was no more apparent than in June, when Corbyn opened his office to VICE. Presumably Jeremy was hoodwinked into this media stunt, as the Labour leader spent most of the documentary complaining about being filmed in various awkward situations.
In fact, rather than prompting a more press-friendly attitude from the veteran socialist, VICE’s documentary merely demonstrated the scale of Corbyn’s antipathy towards the media. Even moderately tolerant, liberal outlets failed to dodge a barrel of insults from the Labour leader, as he threw wild haymakers at the Guardian and the BBC.
This has been a common feature of 2016. Corbyn's office, egged on by veracious online trolls, has rallied against the BBC – snubbing interviews and slinging criticism at BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg. To wage war with the nation’s most popular and most respected broadcaster is an act of unparalleled idiocy. And, as a result, 2016 was once again a year during which Corbyn spoke to his followers, rather than the nation.
In an era of political polarisation; of sharp, acrimonious divides, Labour has mastered the art of political equivocation. This was epitomised by Jeremy Corbyn’s stance during the EU referendum campaign. The referendum was a simple yes or no decision, with no hazy middle ground option on the ballot paper. And yet, just days before the vote, Corbyn said he was "70-75%" in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Ironically, roughly 70% of Labour voters plumped for Remain, whilst approximately 30% voted Leave. Corbyn’s failure to galvanise the vast majority of his party’s supporters has repeatedly been blamed for the failure of the Remain campaign. Granted, this is perhaps a flimsy analysis. After all, 58% of Tory voters backed Leave, even despite the party’s top brass championing EU membership. Even so, Labour’s argument was ambivalent; an example of poor politics.
This has been compounded by the party’s reaction to the referendum result. The political climate of the nation has arguably become even more polarised after 23rd June – where mudslinging and accusations of deception have pushed voters into pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit camps. Yet Labour is sat, obstinately, in the political void in between.
The party is neither in favour of Brexit, nor opposed to it. Instead, it maintains that progressive forces must fight for the sort of exit that preserves the hard-fought gains of the world’s largest political and economic union. This may well be a sensible, democratic position. However, it isn’t politically expedient. It is a half-way house between two far more popular alternatives. The Brexit debate is a battle of strong wills and, without an equally strong message, Labour will simply be left behind.
Chastening collapses in by-elections over the past few months have evidenced the scale of Labour’s conundrum. At the Richmond Park by-election in December, the party lost its deposit after posting just 3.7% of the vote – an 8.6% decline from its performance at the 2015 general election. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have been basking in the gains of a staunch anti-Brexit approach – overturning Zac Goldsmith’s 23,015 majority in Richmond and slashing the Tory’s majority in Witney – increasing the party’s share of the vote by 23.5% in David Cameron’s former constituency.
Of course, avid Corbyn supporters have constructed their own narratives following the EU referendum, and the subsequent election of Donald Trump as US President. They claim that these two seismic political events demonstrate the power of anti-establishment politics; something that will eventually catapult their leader to power. It is indeed true that ‘professional’ politics is dying, or at least morphing into something less noxious, but this alone will not assure electoral success for Corbyn and his barely groomed beard. Brexit and Trump were anti-liberal, populist revolutions. They were defined by a yearning for revived nationalism and a scepticism towards immigration; both things that Corbyn deplores.
All things considered, perhaps the most damning indictment of Labour’s record in 2016 is that Ed Balls – a widely scorned shadow chancellor who lost his parliamentary seat after overseeing a humiliating electoral defeat – is now one of the party’s most valuable political assets.
Yep... this guy.