28 Sep 2016
Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election marks the demise of the Labour party as a credible UK political force.
His victory last year could have been written off as a spasm. But yesterday’s result has confirmed the fact that the unelectable hard left has now assumed a lock grip on Britain’s main party of opposition.
For a party which once commanded the heights of British politics, is a truly staggering turn of events. And it offers a cautionary lesson for all politicians.
I am among the generation whose political consciousness was shaoed during the years of Labour hegemony in the late 90s and 2000s. The centre-right had been vanquished. It seemed that the New Labour project, crafted by Tony Blair, would dominate politics for my entire political life. Now, just a few short years since Gordon Brown walked out of Downing Street for the last time in 2010, that election-winning machine has been obliterated.
And, instead, it turns out that the heir to Blair really is Jeremy Corbyn: a man with a threadbare leadership CV, who only stood because his coterie of hardcore left-wingers thought it was ‘his turn’, who only got on the ballot to ‘broaden the debate’, and who now can be expected to carry out a purge of moderate Labour MPs who dare to oppose his views.
If a young Tony Blair was today trying to rise through the party ranks, he would be abused on social media, harangued as sell-out, and told to get lost. The awesome machine, the centrist, inclusive, election-winning juggernaut is gone.
As a Scottish Conservative the prospect should perhaps delight me. But in truth, it doesn’t.
Mr Corbyn’s re-election will leave thousands of people – moderate, centre-ground voters – feeling utterly disenfranchised. Many of those voters are here in Scotland. And the big question now is: who will speak for these decent, moderate Scottish voters who once looked to Labour for leadership, but who no longer recognise the party they once knew?
The departure has already begun. Over the last year, opinion polls in Scotland have shown support for Mr Corbyn’s party falling to as little as 15%. Labour is being deserted by its long-term supporters and traditional heartlands, and it’s not hard to see why.
I know these people: many are my friends. They’re people who don’t want to be made to feel ashamed for having ambitions for themselves and their family. They’re not attracted by the pursuit of great wealth, far less material greed. Rather they have a simple wish to get on in life.
They want the chance at a good job and fair pay for a fair day’s work. They rightly want the reassurance that if people fall on hard times, help will be there for them. But they don’t, however, agree with Jeremy Corbyn that there should be no upper limit to the amount of benefits any one person can claim.
And perhaps most importantly, they are people who appreciate that the United Kingdom works as the bedrock of our economy and history, and is a symbol of the solidarity we have for one another across Britain. They have noted that Corbyn’s ambivalence on this most vital matter jars with their economic and emotional interests.
They care not a jot for the ossified, student politics that Corbyn represents. They note that this is a man who still can’t bring himself to stand up and unequivocally condemn terrorism.
Put simply, they just know in their guts that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t understand them, isn’t sympathetic to their concerns and that he will never really go into bat for them. In summary, in light of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, people across Scotland who backed New Labour’s vision of economic common sense matched with social justice no longer know where to turn.
I am therefore determined to build a moderate Scottish Conservative party which appeals to the same people who supported Brown and Blair: one which knows that economic growth only has value if it works in tandem with social progress.
Labour may be increasingly divorced from its traditional support, but under my leadership the Scottish Conservatives will be there to speak up for those decent, moderate voters.
And at the heart of our ambition to speak for all Scotland will be the promotion of a socially just society.
In the coming weeks, Scotland faces the first debates about how we use new powers over income tax, council tax and more. Welfare is now devolved, and the SNP will have to move beyond carping about Westminster, and set out its own choices. Much works needs to be done on improving education, the impact of the SNP’s disastrous police force merger continues to be felt, and the NHS in Scotland creaks at the seams after 10 years of inertia.
So responsibility for household budgets and public services now lies squarely in Holyrood.
These are the issues that matter to most Scots: they are the issues that particularly matter to those people who took Labour to successive general election victories. My role, and that of the Scottish Conservatives, is to scrutinise progress, hold the SNP to account for their failures – and to develop a positive, realistic and progressive alternative.
1997 will stick in the mind for an entire generation. But for many who voted Labour, that election night now feels a long, long time ago.
Labour has left them.
It is no longer capable of representing them or their views.
My promise, as Scotland enters a new phase of its history, is that I will.