For the first time in more than four years, Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the Labour party. The veteran backbencher, to quote the phrase, is returning to his preferred seat. Or at least he will be once coronavirus lockdown is lifted.
I think I was less aghast than the average pundit when Corbyn beat the likes of Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham to become Labour leader back in September 2015. Being less knowledgeable than most pundits I didn’t appreciate what an upset it was, and unlike some I wanted a genuine change after Ed Miliband.
Before that leadership race it could easily be argued there was little to separate Labour and the Conservatives. As the muckrakers went to work it became clear that there was a lot to separate Corbyn from David Cameron: his politics for a start, but also his career and temperament.
British politics is better for offering a genuine choice to voters who went to the polls in June 2017 and December 2019. It would be better still if we had a proportional voting system, but picking between two distinct parties is an improvement on the Blairite consensus that prevailed before.
There was therefore something to like about Corbyn right from the start. But I found plenty to dislike.
One feature of British politics that distinguishes it from the American variety is that we tend not to put idiots into high office. Corbyn always struck me as dull, and perhaps even stupid. His advocates found his intellectual inflexibility over decades in politics commendable; I found it evidence that the man read little and thought less.
The leftist writers making decent points about inequity in Britain in the early 21st century are all better qualified than Corbyn to deal with such problems. James Bloodworth, who chronicled casual work in his book Hired, is perhaps the most noteworthy, but even Corbyn’s cheerleader Owen Jones has more of relevance to say about modern Britain.
At the risk of taking my own hobby horse for a ride, combatting our era’s economic inequity will involve a confrontation with meritocracy: in other words, overturning the view that material wealth should be bestowed on the skilful. This is a different fight than the notions of class warfare that Corbyn was steeped in.
Even so, I would not have been heartbroken had Corbyn and his chancellor John McDonnell been able to make the economy more equal. What made it impossible for me to vote for Corbyn (and would have made me vote Conservative in a straight contest) were his anti-Western foreign policy views.
If unthinking patriotism makes people support their country in right or wrong, then unthinking anti-patriotism makes them oppose their country for the same reasons. Corbyn’s list of acquaintances over his career suggests any opponent of the West was fine by him. That alone should have made him unelectable.
That Corbyn came close to becoming prime minister in June 2017 should give everybody doubts about who can’t win a general election. While he failed in this respect, the country and the Conservatives seem to have more appetite for state intervention than before. Whatever his successor Keir Starmer does next, Corbyn can claim that much of a legacy.