I wouldn’t want to be in Jeremy Corbyn’s shoes right now. With the media pouncing on every sign of weakness, a disgruntled and deeply divided electorate, and an uncooperative parliamentary Labour party, it’s hard to see how the Labour leader is going to survive in office, let alone win an election. The latest controversy to hit the party centers around Corbyn’s comments on immigration. Initially hinting that Labour would be open to restricting freedom of movement, Corbyn has since backtracked, stating that he doesn’t think immigration numbers are too high.
The problem with Corbyn’s stance on immigration is that he doesn’t seem to have one. By attempting to please everyone, Corbyn’s comments have managed to isolate them. Traditional working class Labour voters, who are concerned about immigration, see a lack of commitment to reducing numbers. On the other hand, many of Labour’s progressive supporters are committed to freedom of movement, and any attempt to pander to the UKIP vote risks losing them to the Lib Dems. Either way, Corbyn’s indecision on this matter has played into a media narrative that he is incapable of leading, a narrative that is far more damaging to him in the long run than one particular stance on immigration.
This indecision on Corbyn’s part is hardly new. His support for the Remain campaign during the referendum was completely unconvincing, especially given the fact he voted to leave the European Economic Community when he was a backbencher in 1975. He also appeared to flip flop on a wage cap for the richest among us, quickly replacing the policy with a maximum wage ratio. Whether or not Corbyn is actually backtracking on these policies is irrelevant, the problem is that people perceive him to be doing so. A recent YouGov poll showed that 17 percent of people see Jeremy Corbyn as PM material with 45 per cent of people in the same poll choosing Theresa May.
Whether or not you like Theresa May’s increasingly restrictive position on immigration, at least she has one. Tim Farron, capitalising on Labour’s disarray, also seems to have clearly staked out his political ground, one which very much stands in contrast to May’s. What both Farron and May have in common though, is that they are looking to build a bedrock of support amongst the electorate. Although both are open to attack from those who disagree with their position, the two-horse nature of UK politics lends itself to this adversarial sort of debate. Corbyn, however, is reluctant to play this game and in the process is loosing valuable political ground to his rivals.
Labour is screaming for some real leadership. The fact that many in the Labour party are getting nostalgic over Ed Miliband (a man who decreased Labour’s shortfall against an incumbent David Cameron by 26 seats) really illustrates how unelectable Corbyn has become. Whether we like it or not, politics in a world of clickbait and soundbites is about image. Tip-toeing around salient issues such as immigration is a sure way to retain the image of seeming unelectable.