Whenever there is a general election, almost as soon as the result is announced it’s now assumed that the losing leader will quit.
In fact, you have to go back as far as 1987 – when Neil Kinnock failed to dislodge Margaret Thatcher from Number 10 – to find a leader of one of the two major parties who carried on through to the next election.
The jungle drums are already beating over what Jeremy Corbyn should quit when/if Labour fails to wrestle the keys to Number 10 from Theresa May’s hands early next month.
Much has been read into the anonymous briefings from those apparently close to Corbyn that he’d be staying on regardless of the result when they emerged last week. This weekend, Tom Baldwin, who spearheaded Ed Miliband’s failed election campaign in 2015, suggested in the Sunday Times that Corbyn should ‘have the good grace to clear his desk the next day’ if he fails to increase the number of seats Labour have in the House of Commons.
This is despite admitting he tried to convince Ed Miliband – the man who oversaw the reforms to leadership elections which pretty much created the environment in which Corbyn could be elected in the first place – to stay on for a few months to steady the party.
In all this naval gazing inside the bubble one important group of people are being forgotten: the voters themselves. Politicians treat polling day like the final round of the X Factor when they decide that if you don’t come first, you’ve failed.
Millions of people did believe in Ed Miliband. Millions of people voted for Ed Miliband’s manifesto as it was the manifesto their local Labour candidate stood on. Many of those millions of people will now be deciding whether they can vote for the Labour Party led by Corbyn, which is a significantly different proposition to one Ed Miliband asked people to support.
The moment Ed Miliband quit as leader, he effectively set fire to the votes that had been cast for his party. The millions his party had spent getting people to put their cross next to the rose symbol was written off. But most importantly, he effectively disenfranchised all those who put their faith in him.
Of course, he’s not alone in doing this. David Cameron did the same after the Brexit vote. Sure, he might have lost – just – but does really being on the wrong side of the argument mean you have to quit – especially, in his case, as it had been made clear he’d be doing no such thing?
As a result, for the last year, we’ve had a Conservative Party pursuing an agenda no-one voted for going toe-to-toe with a Labour Party whose policies no-one had voted for publicly.
So Jeremy Corbyn, billed as a man of principle and morals (presumably to explain why he has rebelled against his party as a backbencher more than any other MP), can’t quit if he fails to win power, or even fails to shut down the Tory lead on polling day.
He – and every political leader – surely has a moral obligation to try and deliver on the policies they put forward. In Corbyn’s case, that would mean trying to stand in the way of the Tory policies he opposes, and of continuing to use his position to push the agenda he got millions of votes for.
If he gets a couple of years in and isn’t making much progress, or the party wants to change direction, then that’s the time to arrange to move on, in an orderly way (if, indeed Labour is capable of doing anything orderly these days.)
Looking at the survey data the newsrooms I work with have been collecting, there could well be a lot of shy Labour voters. There are also, as scenes on the Wirral showed yesterday, lots of very vocal Corbyn supporters. In the data I’ve seen, voting intention sways massively towards Labour among 18-24s. The big question is whether they will vote.
That’s why Labour have been hammering their email databases with appeals to encourage people to encourage other people to make sure they are registered to vote. And as the huge surge in membership of the Labour Party has shown during Corbyn’s time, he is quite capable of getting people engaged in politics in a way others can’t.
So say he loses (which he probably will), but has managed to get millions of votes, including many from people who otherwise wouldn’t have voted, or who are voting for the first time. What does it say to those people that it’s now accepted procedure for a political party to ignore that vote and try something different.
This isn’t Eurovision, where swapping from rap one year to cheesy dance the next year might curry favour. It’s not Bake Off, where failure is everything if your sponge cake has a soggy bottom in the final. It’s about voting for things we believe in, and the voices we want heard in parliament.
This blog isn’t an endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn. I’m one of those people who is struggling with the idea of him being allowed to run our country. This blog is attempting to encourage those who breathe the refined air of the Westminster bubble to remember that the most important thing a politician can have is a mandate from the public to make a difference. Quitting because you came second is not the way to respect that.
Naive? Maybe. But it’s what I’m thinking. As a voter.