Is Corbyn Labour’s saviour or suicide note?

UK politics enters unchartered territory

Wherever one stands on the ideological spectrum, or indeed whether one regards that spectrum to be a distraction from our goal of making money via betting on politics, we should all be able to agree about one simple fact. Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader of the Labour Party has just made UK politics a whole lot more interesting.

Take this week’s party conference. These annual gatherings have become infamous for their boredom – stage-managed, on-message affairs, ignored by pretty much everybody besides activists and political journalists. An echo chamber if ever there was one.

Instead, we have a deliberately unspun conference. Under the slogan of “Straight Talking. Honest Politics”, Corbyn’s transformation of the party involves a markedly different tone and set of policies from the New Labour era. Much more power to the grassroots, boosted by 250,000 as a direct result of Corbyn’s candidacy. A swathe of bitterly angry MPs, who opposed and disagreed with Corbyn from the outset, and regard him as a catastrophe in-waiting.

My view is that these are unpredictable times and it is far too early to draw conclusions – to start striking confident bets. There are five years until the next General Election, but I am considering markets relating to both his time of departure, and his successor. For now though, lets consider the two sides of a fascinating argument.

Suicide: Corbyn is totally unelectable, out of touch with mainstream opinion. Labour have conceded the 2020 election already.

The doom-mongers have a lot of evidence on their side. Labour have never had a leader with such left-wing views on domestic matters, let alone a record of opposing just about every foreign policy decision of the last 30 years. The Tories already have a compelling line that he is a ‘threat to national security’ – that will play well with an electorate largely opposed to Corbyn on retaining the Trident nuclear deterrant.

At 66, Corbyn is considerably older than any of his Tory rivals. He dresses like a 1980s university lecturer and seems completely oblivious to media management. Within days of being elected, rather than discussing his new agenda, the media were obsessing over his refusal to sing the National anthem.

To win next time, Labour need to win lost voters in the marginals from UKIP, along with a massive swing away from the Conservatives in the South. His policy agenda – on welfare, immigration and foreign affairs – is toxic with these voters. He starts with the lowest approval rating of any new Labour leader ever – even 22% behind the hapless Ed Miliband.

Without clear evidence of public approval, Corbyn has next to no chance of uniting his MPs. The public hate divided parties, and the next five years will be torturous for Labour, at least until the leader is changed mid-term. On this basis, odds of [1.42] about the Tories winning most seats next time is a money-printing job, considerably likelier than the current 70% rating.

Saviour: This genuine grassroots revolution is an essential part of Labour’s renewal, that will yield long-term success.

Before believing all that conventional wisdom, consider the fact that the UK political mainstream totally missed two other recent earthquakes – the rise of UKIP and total domination of Scotland by the SNP. Nobody in the Westminster Village gave Corbyn a prayer of becoming leader. I took 24/1 in a four-horse race, at a time when his bid was treated as a joke. Why should we believe these ‘experts’ now?

A reality check is in order. By the morning of May 8th, hard-headed analysis of the election result suggested the 2020 poll was already beyond Labour. The idea that any of Corbyn’s rivals – all New Labour stalwarts, espousing a slightly different version of the heavily caveatted, retail policy agenda that had comprehensively lost the last two elections – were future PMs, was for the birds.

The only game in town is a long one. There is a mass of politically active, generally younger, liberal, online savvy army of would-be Labour voters out there. Unlike his predecessors, Corbyn’s straight talking radicalism inspired many to join the party. Nobody alive in the UK can remember a time when politicians were selling out venues every single night – even in constituencies where Labour has literally no chance. There are clear parallels with the sudden popularity of various other leftists – the SNP, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Bernie Sanders in the USA.

The result is Labour has reinvented itself as the ‘Peoples Party’, with more members than all their rivals combined. Next time they won’t be hampered by appalling turnout from their own natural supporters – Corbyn is building a formidable army on the ground who can get their voters registered and, via social media, render the Tory press irrelevant.

Moreover, by changing the policies and the faces, Labour can now shed itself of the terrible, economically incompetent image so brilliantly manufactured by the Tories ever since the 2008 financial crisis. After seven years of being labelled ‘Tory-lite’ by the Left and ‘deficit deniers’ by the Right, the party now has a clear anti-austerity brand and are willing to lay out a different economic vision. Already Corbyn has a team of specialists with substantial worldwide reputations.

In any case, Corbyn’s personal weaknesses need not be a problem in 2020. If Labour want to change leader mid-term, they can, but next time there will be a different set of candidates and policies, more in tune with the mass membership.

On this latter analysis, 3.3 (30%) about Labour winning most seats at the next election is at least a good, cheap long-term trade, which will offer the chance to bank a profit at some stage throughout the parliament.

Which view do you take? I make no apology for sitting on the fence, at least until conference season is over and parliament resumed. Better to play the long game, waiting for a great value betting option to appear. It will. For now, just sit back and watch this fascinating episode in UK political history play out.

Follow me on Twitter @paulmotty


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