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9 June 2017updated 01 Aug 2021 8:34am

No, a Labour leader different to Jeremy Corbyn would not have won

It was his policies and the way he campaigned that made Labour surge in the election.

By Anoosh Chakelian

It’s tough being wrong, but that doesn’t mean you have to carry on being wrong. Unfortunately, a number of Corbyn-sceptic commentators cannot accept the fact that Jeremy Corbyn ran a very effective campaign. The idea is emerging that, had there been a different Labour leader, the party would have won the election.

I’ve seen it cropping up a bit, and I think it’s what a lot of people who cannot handle the idea of Corbyn doing something competently are thinking.

The obvious point is that this election wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Corbyn and his abysmal personal ratings. It was an opportunist decision by the Tories, who thought they could easily beat him.

Part of the reason Corbyn had these bad ratings is that he was not playing by the “rules” of an opposition leader – not communicating properly with the press, failing to unite his party, leading an often shambolic leadership operation and announcing left-wing policies that he refused to compromise on.

No other candidate the Labour Party could have chosen would have done this, and so this election probably wouldn’t have happened.

But aside from that, none of these imaginary more competent candidates would have run this kind of campaign. Corbyn’s big, old-fashioned rallies and bypassing of the usual channels to get his message across – he did very few print interviews, and shunned the wheel-out-the-spouse sofa interview – appealed to voters in a way that Theresa May’s stage-managed, distant approach did not. What kind of style would a more “moderate” Labour candidate – say, Yvette Cooper or Keir Starmer – have favoured, do you reckon?

And even if they did try the rabble-rousing route, they wouldn’t be as good at it – campaigning and rallying a crowd is Corbyn’s finest political skill.

His style of campaigning particularly appealed to young voters, whose unusually high turnout (estimated by some to be as high as 72 per cent) underpinned Labour’s surge in this election, and most likely denied the Tories a straightforward victory.

Lastly, he had the right policies. A more “moderate” or traditionally statesmanslike politician simply would not have had the audacity to put such a bold, progressive and hopeful (some have argued idealistic) manifesto together – in the fear that the electorate would have a spooked “Red Ed” response.

But clearly his policies resonated; most of them were popular with the majority of voters when polled. His straightforward opposition to austerity – never quite braved by Ed Miliband and co – struck a chord with people who are fed up with their wages stagnating, benefits reducing, the cost of living rising, and public services failing. Even the ashen-faced Tories who have been doing the media rounds today are admitting that austerity was a factor in this election.

And his Brexit policy topped it all off. Striking a fine balance, Corbyn risked putting off young voters and his own supporters by deciding not to block Article 50 and refusing to let Labour appear as an anti-Brexit party. Would an alternative candidate have been able to do this? Let’s not forget Euroscepticism is a genuine principle of Corbyn’s – he believed it, and he went with it. The one Labour politician to try to challenge him, Owen Smith, was calling for a second referendum when he ran against him. The Lib Dems showed us that this isn’t the way to Remainers’ hearts.

I’d take a leader who has put Labour in a position to win next time over an imaginary one we conjure up just to excuse past mistakes.

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