Abraham Lincoln famously said that it is ‘better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt,’ advice which the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition would have done well to heed this week. After a Christmas period in which he remained curiously absent from the public eye despite the ongoing turbulence surrounding Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn finally broke his vow of silence with a so-called ‘relaunch’ of his beleaguered leadership, but as the day unfolded it soon became clear that the Labour leader would have been better off extending his Christmas holiday rather than returning to the political frontline.
This failed relaunch certainly wasn’t down to a lack of effort; indeed, the whole of the day’s news cycle seemed to be devoted to Mr Corbyn, who kicked off the day with an appearance on Good Morning Britain before going on to give several interviews and finishing with his first major speech of 2017. Where Corbyn fell down was on the substance of his two flagship policy proposals, and before the day was out it had become all too clear that any hopes that the Labour leader could rebrand himself as a left-wing populist were futile. Corbyn’s main problem isn’t that he is too radical or too far from the political mainstream, qualities which are popular in this anti-establishment era, but that he lacks the competence and the nous required in a successful leader.
Initially, the general understanding was that Corbyn’s flagship proposal would be an end to Labour’s unconditional support for the free movement of people in an attempt to reach out to those working-class voters who backed Brexit last June. Labour moderates have been pushing for a such a change for months, recognising the damage that the party’s immigration stance was having on its electoral hopes, and with a crucial by-election looming in a constituency that overwhelmingly voted Leave it is crucial that Labour starts to reclaim its alienated former supporters. However, Corbyn dashed these hopes yesterday by reaffirming his commitment to uncontrolled immigration, declaring in an interview with the BBC that he did not support any new border restrictions whilst denying that current immigration levels are too high. Time will tell how damaging these words will be for the Labour Party, but one can be assured that Corbyn’s words will be printed on every Conservative and UKIP leaflet in working-class, pro-Brexit communities over the coming months.
Corbyn instantly condemned his relaunch to failure by performing such a spectacular u-turn and doggedly refusing to recognise the legitimate concerns that surround immigration, but never one to miss an opportunity to inflict maximum damage on himself and his party, the Labour leader went on to make matters even worse. Addressing the issue of income inequality, Corbyn initially floated the idea of a national ‘maximum wage’ whilst lambasting the high earnings of professional footballers, bankers and company executives, but within hours he was forced to perform yet another embarrassing u-turn, ditching the idea for a more moderate set of proposals.
The idea that the state should cap wages was met with almost universal condemnation – even the left-wing economist and former Corbyn advisor David Blanchflower described it as ‘a totally idiotic, unworkable idea’ – and by the end of the day Corbyn had modified his position, instead calling for the introduction of pay ratios at companies receiving government contracts whilst also hinting that he would increase taxes on the country’s highest earners. Nevertheless, the damage had been done, and one can expect the Conservatives to take full advantage of this hare-brained proposal. A wage cap is not just economically illiterate and regressive, but it would also hit the poor hardest and inflict untold damage on the British economy.
The Conservatives soon jumped on the confusion generated by Corbyn’s u-turns, labelling the relaunch as a ‘day of chaos’ for the Labour leader, whilst angry moderates within Corbyn’s own party took to social media to vent their frustration at their hapless leader. Ultimately, yesterday exposed the muddled thinking and incompetence at the heart of the Labour leadership, as well as proving Corbyn’s inability to restyle himself as an authentic voice of ordinary people. His immigration flip-flop alienated both sides of the debate, with the pro-immigration left shocked that he would even consider abandoning the cherished principle of free movement, whilst his ultimate decision to double down on open borders will continue to widen the gap between the Labour Party and many of the constituencies it represents beyond the metropolitan confines of the M25. Corbyn’s relaunch demonstrated that his leadership is out-of-touch, incompetent and beyond redemption, as well as confirming the trouble that Labour faces across the country for as long as he remains in post.