Far be it from me to dismiss as unimportant or irrelevant the context that contributed to yesterday’s historic defeat for Labor in Britain’s election. Brexit was the most immediately obvious contextual component, but the larger political landscape was also important. I refer to the slew of liberal democracies, including the United States, in which during the last several years working class voters shifted their allegiance from left of center to right.
However, the most puzzling part of recent British politics is that the Labor Party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been able for four long years to cling to his leadership post. Puzzling why exactly? Because for the duration of his tenure as leader of the opposition, Corbyn has been unusually thoroughly disliked and unusually widely distrusted.
His policies have been too far to the left. His personality has been too off-putting. His biases (especially his anti-Semitism) have been too frequently on open display. His track record has been too spotty. And his leadership has been as incompetent as unethical. (For example, his precise position on the critical issue of Brexit remained to the end unclear.)
What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong is what’s always wrong with bad leadership – it’s so damned difficult to correct! Over and over we see the same syndrome: a bad leader assumes one or another post or position. A bad leader is widely recognized and openly criticized for in some obvious way being bad. A bad leader who manages, nevertheless, to remain in place.
Corbyn was widely known to be hugely unpopular. What then made anyone in their right mind imagine he had a even a chance to beat Boris Johnson? Johnson who for all his significant faults made his position on Brexit clear – thereby promising a way out of the Brexit mess. Johnson who for all his significant faults infused British politics with energy and verve – thereby promising a way out of the doldrums in which Brits had been trapped since 2015.
No, the only way the Labor Party would have had a run at yesterday’s elections would have been with someone other than Corbyn at the helm. And this – dumping bad leaders – was something it was unable effectively and efficaciously to do.