The nearest historical precedent I can think of for our upcoming election on 12 November is the ‘Khaki’ election of 1900. That was fought between a worn-out but jingoistic Conservative party and a divided Liberal party, with the burning domestic issues of the day being overshadowed by the ongoing Boer War, which was starting to go badly then, and was provoking extreme language and violence in the streets comparable to what we’re seeing today. The Tories thought they could win with the ‘patriotic’ vote, and did win overall, but not as decisively as they had hoped, and with their chickens coming home to roost in the following election, which gave the Liberals a landslide victory, and the infant Labour Party its first substantial bunch of MPs. By this comparison ‘Brexit’, of course, is our ‘Boer War’. I’m not suggesting we draw any lessons from this.
It might go OK for the Left if Labour offers a new Brexit referendum in its manifesto, after negotiating a new ‘deal’ – which should be easier than most people seem to assume, if it lifts Theresa May’s and the ERG’s ‘reddest line’ against staying in the single market: Corbyn knows he can do that; and if people can see through (a) Boris’s baseless bluster and (b) the smears of the Daily Mail. I’m not sure that any other Labour Leader wouldn’t also be subjected to that. Look at poor Ed Miliband.
Yes, I’d feel more confident with a more ‘charismatic’ Labour leader. But charisma has its dangers – viz. Boris. Corbyn is – and has always been – right on most things. He’s been far more consistent on Brexit than we’re generally told. (Not coming down on one side or the other – ‘in’ or ‘out’ – isn’t a mark of irresolution, but of good judgment.) His polite, honest and empathetic style of politics is what we could do with more generally just now. And – I must admit – as someone with absolutely no charisma myself, I rather identify with him.
‘The meek shall inherit the earth’, says the good book. Wouldn’t that be great?!