Once again it strikes me that Jeremy Corbyn would be a much better leader of the Liberal Democrats than of Labour. He could bring some much needed spine and backbone back to the LibDems – the party, unlike Labour, is small enough and flexible enough to take on the character of its leader.
And the LibDems would relish that type of leadership. He’s outside the political establishment, stands on principle and is willing to be a witness to the truth as he sees. He connects instinctively with whatever is left of that old Radical tradition and the non-conformist Reform spirit. All of this is what used to be LibDem territory, until Nick Clegg turned up and moved turned them into Tory-Lite.
And Corbyn’s policies are really no further left than David Steel’s were in the 1980s. Much of his political thought owes more to the Levellers and Tom Paine than to Marxism – no matter what the Tories might try to say about him. It’s true that Corbyn’s pitch and rhetoric seem quite far to the left, but we must not overlook the difference between position and motion. Corbyn does want to move Labour a long way to the left. This makes him look like a leftwinger to those who are still fighting the battles of 1979-1997. The intended the destination of that movement, however, is to somewhere like where the Liberal-SNP alliance were in 1983. It’s quite clear that if Corbyn got everything he wished, he would not be trying to turn the country into a Soviet Socialist Republic. In policy terms, he’s a centrist, moderate social democrat, not a revolutionary communist. He only seems so radical because he’s actually willing to take a stand and try to move things in that direction, rather than allowing the oligarchs to set the policy agenda and then just triangulating with it, which is what the Blairites did and do.
Corbyn could be the most successful Liberal Democrat leader since Lloyd George. He could easily win more than 60 seats as LibDem leader. As such he could influence policies even without being in government – by changing the terms and the territory of the debate, and by setting out a clear democratic challenge to which governments of either Tory or Labour stripe would have to respond.
Instead, he’s stuck in the Labour Party, the political Titanic, and he’ll sink with it – which is, for all of us, a great tragedy.