Another brick in the wall? Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Labour need to get real: Jeremy Corbyn isn't the answer

What Labour needs is a competent team capable to winning back the centre ground. Jeremy Corbyn would keep Labour out of power for decades, warns Keiran Pedley. 

Shortly after the general election I wrote an article on this site about how Labour could win again. I was strangely optimistic. 2015 was bad but providing Labour learned the right lessons from defeat, victory in 2020 was possible. After all, the Conservative majority is small. The government has already abandoned plans to scrap the Human Rights Act and the Fox Hunting ban as a result. As long as Labour met its need to re-establish fiscal credibility head on and left no stone unturned in its bid to reconnect with the public a comeback was possible. It still is.

However, right now, all the signs are that the party seems determined to learn entirely the wrong lessons from its defeat in May. Rather than reach out to where the public is, many members have decided that, in the name of ‘differentiation,’ the old ways of unabashed socialism were right all along. Labour doesn’t need a new script, it should never have deviated so far from the old one. The answer lies in renationalising the railways, scrapping tuition fees (and presumably Trident) and completely rejecting anything that can be remotely labelled ‘austerity’.

Such sentiment has manifested itself in the now obvious surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn to be the next Labour leader. He now leads the way in CLP nominations whilst Stephen Bush, writing on this site last week, has seen private polling putting Corbyn as much as 15 points ahead on first preferences. The idea is that the Labour Party membership in 2015 is far to the left of that which narrowly chose David Miliband in 2010. If you have any doubts, just look at the way Liz Kendall has been treated – cynically labelled ‘Tory’ for daring to challenge the orthodoxy of the Labour left.

But is this all such a bad thing? It is clear from Osborne’s most recent budget that the working poor are going to suffer further under this government and that needs opposing. No complaints on that here. It is right to be critical of the Conservatives balancing the books on the back of the poor.

However, Labour’s issue has rarely been diagnosing problems but in providing credible solutions to them that the public see as deliverable. This is why in the 2015 General Election, Miliband policies such as the energy price freeze or scrapping ‘non-doms’ could be popular, the NHS could be the public’s number one issue and Miliband could lead Cameron on ‘understands people like me’ yet Labour still lost.  People didn’t buy that Labour could deliver. Solving this issue is key and a return to the 1980s socialist ideology doesn’t do it.

Being in opposition is hard. I like to use the metaphor of comparing it to playing snooker (stay with me).  Whilst your opponent is at the table there isn’t much else you can do but watch and wait your turn. To get back to the table your opponent has to miss but when they do you have to be ready. The point is the Conservatives are at the table, they are in government and call the shots. But they will miss from time to time and when they do, Labour must be ready. ‘Being ready’ means choosing a leader that the public can credibly see in Downing Street that picks their battles well. Someone that can regain the public’s trust in Labour to manage the economy, with all of the tough decisions that entails and someone that provides imaginative solutions to the critical issues facing the country. It’s about growing the economy, dealing with policy issues caused by Britain’s ageing population, providing the jobs (and skills) of the future and setting out Britain’s place in the world whilst keeping the country together.

Jeremy Corbyn is not that leader.

 

His campaign certainly offers a certain clarity in contrast to some of his opponents. He opposes austerity full stop and is relaxed about deficits and debt. I suspect this clarity is what appeals to many Labour members. He offers a comforting, left-wing, anti-Tory message. That’s fine. But he has offered precious little to convince this writer that his positions would carry the support of the wider public. He might be relaxed about public spending and immigration but they are not.

The reality is that if Labour moves too far left, the country will just keep returning Conservative governments. There is a reason why so many Conservatives want Corbyn as leader. His positions on issues ranging from renationalising industry to the Monarchy would be hung around his neck. The only reason they haven’t been so far is because his fellow candidates want his second preferences – especially now he is doing well – so they don’t want to attack him too much.

Deep down we know how a Corbyn leadership ends up. He would quickly be defined as a radical throwback to times past, Labour’s poll ratings would tank and MPs would move against him. A coronation of someone else would likely follow, much as the Conservatives did when they replaced Iain Duncan Smith with Michael Howard in 2003. Labour doesn’t make a habit of removing leaders but it is hard to see the PLP serving under a leader that they didn’t really want on the ballot in the first place for long.

But perhaps I am jumping the gun. Corbyn’s current momentum could merely be the “vent before the vote”, where Labour activists gather at CLP meetings to nominate the most left-wing candidate but actually vote for someone else in the end. In any case, CLP meetings are not always representative of the membership overall and even if Corbyn tops the ballot on first preferences, he is unlikely to have the breadth of support needed to actually win. A Corbyn victory is still not the most likely outcome.

But whoever wins, what matters most is the impact that this contest has on the Labour Party and its future direction. It is vital that the next Labour leader has the guts to lead the party in the direction it needs to go – with emphasis on the word ‘lead’.  This means making the primary focus of the Labour Party’s pursuit of power to be convincing the public that it deserves another chance. Reengaging with business and tough decisions on spending priorities will be needed.  Once in government it will be trusted to be progressive again, even transformative, but for now the task is to regain credibility. That, above all else, should be the next leader’s priority.

Labour only wins when it marries its core values to the reality of the day, delivering a vision for the country that commands broad support – and yes that means winning over Conservative voters too. Perhaps it will take the Labour membership another big defeat to really get this. I hope not. Otherwise, Labour in 2015 could become the Tories of 2001 – set for an almighty internal fight and an awful long way from being in power again. Labour members need to decide how much they really want to be in power – it’s time to get real.

Keiran Pedley is an elections and polling expert at GfK and tweets about politics at @keiranpedley.

Getty
Show Hide image

Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

0800 7318496