With the far-left Jeremy Corbyn polling first in the race to become the British Labour Party’s leader, the ruling Conservatives are gleeful. An unrepentant Marxist like Corbyn would surely make Labour unelectable and all but guarantee a Conservative victory in the next election.
Yet the liberal Adam Smith Institute’s Madsen Pirie cautions against such optimism and argues that a Corbyn win would be disadvantageous to the right in two ways.
If Corbyn wins the leadership contest to replace Ed Miliband — who resigned after losing the election in May — Labour may split, Pirie warns. Moderates could set up a competing party, just as they did when the far left seized control of Labour in the 1980s.
They might, farther down the road, join with the remaining Liberal-Democrats to form a center-left party that would be by no means unelectable.
The Liberal-Democrats only have eight out of 650 seats in the House of Commons but got 23 percent support in 2010. Voters switched to either the Conservatives or Labour after five years of coalition government in the last election. By 2020, after a decade of Conservative rule, a new centrist, social democrat party that — unlike Labour — is seen as economically credible by voters in Middle England could pose a real threat to the ruling party.
Legitimizing the far left
In the shorter term, Pirie argues that a Corbyn victory would legitimize his economic policy: a combination of higher taxes, renationalization of industries and redistribution of wealth.
If he became official leader of the opposition, his views would merit coverage daily in the media as if they were serious politics. They are not. We know that state control of industry does not work. We have been there and seen it not working and it took heroic and sustained efforts to undo it.
Corbyn’s economic program would almost certainly doom Labour in 2020, as would his criticism of the Atlantic alliance and cozying up to terrorist organizations like the Irish Republican Army and Hamas.
But his views would also no longer be fringe, leading Pirie to conclude, “People who suppose that his victory would make the left unelectable miss the very important point that in the short term it would make it respectable.”