As Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor, rightly put it, albeit in a sympathetic context, “to understand Jeremy Corbyn, you need to understand Holloway”, his core territory. The Labour leader has spent the decades acting as a campaigner and social worker, dealing with the problems of his constituents, many of whom are migrants and refugees. He cannot comprehend or accept that Holloway’s needs, interests and views are not those of the rest of the nation. Even when he leaves his constituency he surrounds himself with like-thinking ideologues, and attends identikit rallies.
“The Corbynites can only see suffering and pain, victimisation and persecution, and are blind to all of the good things in Britain”
There are, of course, crippling problems throughout British society: crime is too high, as is poverty, ignorance and prejudice. Millions of people struggle. Cancer survival rates are too low. But there is also much that is great: we are the fifth largest economy; our GDP is now 5.9 per cent above where it was prior to the crisis; real disposable income is up 3.7 per cent year-on-year; and happiness measures are improving. People are living longer than ever, our society is one of the most open in the world and we are enjoying myriad new goods and services.
Yet the Corbynites can only see suffering and pain, victimisation and persecution, and are blind to all of the good things. They don’t get aspiration and self-reliance; they don’t understand that not everybody needs rescuing.
Mr Corbyn is not just far too negative about British society; he is also deluded about the strength of support for his brand of politics. The most obvious reason, once again, is that he represents one of the UK’s most “progressive” enclaves, one of just 10 local voting areas (out of 440) that voted Yes to changing our electoral system at the 2011 referendum, a sure sign of ultra-elitist Leftism. Human nature is flawed: we tend to think that the people we know and interact with are representative of the overall population. Scientists call this “selection bias”.
“Since the dawn of history, in virtually every human society, there are some people who are given a great deal and many more people who are given little or nothing”
But it was his Labour Party leadership election victory that has most emboldened him and fooled him into believing that he somehow represents a silent majority: few politicians ever receive 251,417 votes; most only ever get a few tens of thousands in their constituencies. It is even rarer for an outsider to take over a party, signing up tens of thousands of new members. But all of this is immaterial: just 0.55 per cent of an eligible electorate of 45,325,100 voted for Mr Corbyn. It would be just as irrelevant to the outcome of the next general election had one million people joined Labour to back him.
Social media’s rise has given Left-wing activists an outlet they felt they lacked, and they now dominate Twitter, where all too many specialise in virtue-signalling and tweeting abuse to anybody with the temerity to disagree. But millions of hours narrowcasting in this way achieves nothing. Just as Mr Corbyn assumes that the country is like Islington, his complacent young allies are convinced that it thinks like Twitter. Both premises are wrong. The Twitter echo-chamber has been a catastrophe for the Left, further disconnecting it from its original supporters and from mainstream opinion.
For millions of middle-class people who save and skimp and plan ahead, being told by the Leader of the Opposition that “since the dawn of history, in virtually every human society, there are some people who are given a great deal and many more people who are given little or nothing”, is insulting and patronising. Mainstream Britain must work for its money; it hasn’t just been handed out to it, like manna from heaven. It resents those who get something for nothing.
Corbyn’s big sell was that the public “don’t have to accept what they are given”, as if he had stumbled on something new. Today’s individualistic electorate is far from helpless, and already believes that its destiny is in its own hands. To add insult to injury, Mr Corbyn’s words are hollow: when it comes to health, education, the utilities and transport, he wants to strip consumers of choice. He wants to decide what they can have, and when, and force them to pay through much higher taxes.
There is a beautiful symmetry in politics: leaders who don’t understand or like the public inevitably discover, sooner rather than later, that the public neither likes nor understands them.