Mo Metcalf-Fisher is the Contributing Editor at Conservative Way Forward. He is also Head of Strategy for Parliament Street.
Let’s be honest, we’re all enjoying the Labour leadership race. Labour are finally being challenged internally about what it is the party stands for in the modern era. If polling is anything to go by, then left-wing firebrand Jeremy Corbyn may actually be in with a chance of winning the contest.
Corbyn supporters believe that while they may lose Blairites from the party in droves, they’ll be able to engage ‘millions’ of socialists who have spent years flirting with backroom communist splinter groups. They also peddle the argument that many working class voters will be able to re-connect with the old-labourite rhetoric of his campaign, and come back from either voting UKIP or abstaining.
In his article for the Guardian, Matthew d’ Acona mentioned the view of one Tory Cabinet Minister and his belief that a Corbyn victory will push political debate towards ‘the left’. This, the anonymous insider argues, will force the Tories to respond with their own shift leftwards. This assumption could be feasible, if it wasn’t for the fact that Corbyn’s socialism comprises of a list of niche issues that make little or no difference to most people. This would simply act to create a situation whereby the mainstream of politics would be vacated by Labour and left to be occupied solely by the Conservatives. Corbyn’s dedication towards a ‘Free Palestine’ and to scrapping Trident may be juicy enough to excite left wing students, but they are not hot topics amongst a majority of mainstream voters.
Alternatively, Labour will elect either Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham. Whoever they pick, both will be taking on a party that will be deeply divided.
There’s no doubt that Corbyn’s presence on the ballot has brought with it a collection of leftists that have up until now, been confined to the political wilderness. To these people, a platform has been offered to call on ‘reclaiming’ the Labour Party and it’s unlikely that the genie can be put back in to the bottle – especially if Corbyn puts in a strong showing. The hard left have the bit between the teeth and will be looking to seize the moment and dominate the agenda.
The net result of this will be that Cooper or Burnham will soon find themselves engulfed in having to assert their own control over the emboldened left, spending more time talking to their own membership and wading into debates they had otherwise assumed had been put to bed than speaking to ordinary voters on every day issues.
Liz Kendall, who has positioned herself as Blair’s last outpost, will be confined to the side-lines and left to sigh in disbelief with the bulk of her parliamentary colleagues. It is a sign of just how deflated the Blairite faction of the party has become that she is currently polling in a distant fourth.
Meanwhile, Labour will also be faced with the external threat of a Lib Dem revival. While Tim Farron and his orange brigade have so far received little media attention, there could very well be a political vacuum left by an unorganised and politically divided Labour Party. Farron will not be oblivious to this and they will be quick to position themselves if a weakness does emerge in Labour. If moderate Labour supporters and members give up and jump ship, Farron will be the first to throw open his arms and welcome them. The impact of this would be worse than simply depriving Labour of a few votes – it could begin to hollow out their activist base and remove many who would otherwise keep the party grounded and steer it on a path of electability.
If there’s one thing certain though, it’s that the Conservatives should stay their own course. All of this only benefits the Conservatives if we as a party remain firmly rooted in the mainstream ourselves. We must have our campaign machine well-oiled and ready for 2020. Labour voters are, generally, very loyal to their party and even if the leadership is in tatters, are unlikely to switch to Conservative unless we offer them something very different. That means campaigning hard in the seats that we were lucky enough to take in May and those areas where we only just lost out, as well as mounting a robust campaign in the capital to hold the London Mayoralty in 2016.
Above all, we must stay on the side of hard-working people and avoid seeing Labour’s internal chaos as an excuse to put our feet up and get complacent.