Recently, Jeremy Corbyn attempted a political stunt by releasing his tax return and challenging the chancellor to do the same. On paper, it was a smart move, especially as Labour was in need of something to distract media attention away from its devastating loss in the Copeland by-election. This being Corbyn, he scored something of an own goal when the numbers did not appear to add up. As it transpired, the money to which he was entitled as leader of the opposition had been put under the wrong heading, giving the impression he had not paid tax on it. My issue is not with the possibility that he was engaged in tax avoidance. Even his worst enemies are unlikely to believe he would ever be guilty of that. My issue is that to pull off this kind of political stunt, those tax returns needed to be watertight. Corbyn claims to have had them looked at by an accountant, as he should have done. Be that as it may, any smart politician would have also shown them to a spin doctor. Even the impression of the possibility of a scandal can cost votes. Corbyn should have anticipated that the media would go through those tax returns with a fine-tooth comb. His failure to do so rendered the entire stunt utterly pointless.
There is no doubt in my mind that Corbyn is a good man. It is unlikely that there will be many people, regardless of their political stance, who disagree with me on that point. The problem is that politics is a dirty business. Precious few people have ever won an election by playing fair. Call me cynical if you want to; that does not make me wrong. There were many things New Labour got wrong, but general elections were not amongst them. All Corbyn’s Labour ever does is keep to the moral high ground, powerless to aid the suffering masses stretched out below them. Is that really the best the Labour Party can do? Corbyn strikes me as the kind of plucky underdog who is happy to lose if he knows he tried his best and goes home proudly clutching his participation trophy. That would be all well and good if so many were not suffering, because of his ineptitude, at the hands of the Tories.
Corbyn does have my respect as an intellectual champion of socialist ideas. His skills as an orator, provided his audience is sympathetic, are also not to be denied. These two traits have helped him to do the unthinkable: the man has actually managed to get young people interested in politics. If everyone over thirty were denied the right to vote, Corbyn would be swept to power in a landslide. This is obviously a fantasy. To gain power in a democracy you need to convert the faithless. What the Labour Party needs is a valiant missionary, not a country vicar preaching to the congregation. If Labour are ever going to win a majority, they will need to persuade Middle England that paying higher taxes is in their best interests. Corbyn must know his supporters will always be quick with the excuses. They will list a dozen reasons why Labour lost the safe seat that was Copeland. They will list a dozen reasons why his tax stunt backfired. They will list a dozen reasons why, by every measurable standard, he is failing to win over centre-right and even centre-left voters. Why else would he continue on as leader when it must be plain to him that he is not fit for the role?
(Image courtesy of Coffee House)