As Andrea Bocelli stood aloft in the Leicester City centre circle performing Nessun Dorma, I, like many a football fan, was hit by the sheer enormity of Leicester City’s achievement. A team who after 31 games in the 2014/15 season lay four points adrift of safety. But they survived…
As the curtain has fallen on the 2015/16 Premier League season Leicester City are champions of England. Not at 50-1, not 500-1, but 5000-1 outsiders for the championship the day the season kicked off back in August 2015. Over the course of the season, Claudio Ranieri transformed a relegation-bound squad into title winners. An unfavourable and unknown club to many global football fans, into everyone’s second team.
This comes against the sheer dominance of the ‘big’ clubs, their financial clout and global appeal which dwarfs that of Premier League minnows like Leicester City. Yet Ranieri made the impossible, possible. The ridiculous, plausible and the underdog, dominant.
Like many who delve into both politics and football there are striking analogies abound. None more so in my opinion than that of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and the predicament that the Labour Party finds itself in at present. Destroyed in Scotland, wobbling in Wales and holding its own in England… just…
So is it possible that the Labour Party, under Corbyn’s leadership, could possibly regain power in 2020? It is unlikely… but we did think the same about Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City.
The Political Reality
The odds are well and truly stacked against Jeremy Corbyn. Internally, he is fighting off the Blairite wing of the party who are intent on undermining him, whilst leaking and smearing him in the Tory friendly press. The UK media establishment has been virulent in its castigation of Corbyn since his election as leader. Labour MP’s are fuelling the fire and Corbyn has to bring his ‘dressing-room’ under control here… like Ranieri did.
Throw in the mix Labour’s complete decimation in Scotland and impending boundary changes you can see the galling reality for the Labour Party. Labour has 34 more seats than the Conservatives had in 2005, but is oddly in a much less favourable position. Boundary changes will increase the Tories’ majority to around 50 on 2015’s vote pattern.
The SNP’s dominance in Scotland magnifies Labour’s task in England, where there are just 25 marginals (23 Conservative-held) with majorities below 3,000. The Greens and the Liberal Democrats compete for Labour’s left-leaning support whilst UKIP is mopping up disgruntled and disenfranchised working-class voters where immigration is their biggest concern.
Combine this with Corbyn’s less than impressive performances at the despatch box you have a pretty toxic mix. A recipe for inevitable electoral disaster?
Much of the Conservative Party’s optimism for 2020 comes not from their own strength but the apparent weakness of the Labour Party. They have much to be worried about, most notably the result of the EU Referendum. The Referendum campaign, on both sides has been fractious and you can be sure there will be some open wounds afterwards. Europe is their kryptonite and divisions amongst the warring factions will make John Major’s government look homely.
Then of course there is the small issue of the impending leadership contest. George Osborne has had six years to butter-up his allies with positions in the treasury and using his influence with Cameron to shoe-in others elsewhere. The small issue of Boris Johnson, waiting in the wings will undoubtedly unsettle Osborne looking for a smooth coronation, whilst the likes of Sajid Javid and Theresa May also await Cameron’s eventual departure.
This leadership contest could get nasty. Combine that with the scars of the EU Referendum result, it could cost them electorally.
Likewise, the confidence the Conservative’s had in portraying their ‘Long Term Economic Plan’ during the 2015 election campaign is running out of steam, much like their ‘Northern Powerhouse’. Despite selling more state assets in six years than Nigel Lawson did under Thatcher, Osborne cannot meet his own deficit targets and the UK’s debt stands at a staggering £1.5 trillion. His target was to bring the deficit under control by 2015, now 2020 is the target. Even that is now doubtful.
If you lose economic credibility, you lose elections.
David Cameron has already switched to ‘legacy mode’, which, in the light of the Tories first Queen’s Speech since the election has received blistering condemnation from Michael Portillo:
After 23 years of careful thought about what they would like to do in power, the answer is nothing. There is nothing they want to do with office or power. The government is in total paralysis, because the only thing that matters to the government now is the saving of the Prime Minister’s career. And the saving of the Prime Minister’s career is dependent only on one thing, which is winning the Referendum for the Remain campaign, and that majority that he secured last year – it’s all for nothing. The government has nothing to do, nothing to say and thinks nothing.
Harsh but viable words…
Perhaps this deeply ideological government will not have it so easy after all. Amazing how things change one year after an election. They may even follow the same trajectory as Chelsea. Seemingly impenetrable under Jose Mourinho as they were crowned champions in 2015 only to go from champions to mid-table mediocrity in the space of months…
To be replaced by Leicester City.
The Challenge Ahead in 2020
Despite the vitriol you hear in the British press under the stewardship of Jeremy Corbyn Labour has regained the Mayor’s office in London and Bristol and consolidated its presence at local level despite predictions of huge losses in the local elections. Corbyn’s response to the Panama Papers, the housing crisis, junior doctors strikes, tuition fees, cuts to tax credits and disability payments have resonated with the public.
Can this possibly transfer to electoral success in 2020? Never say never. We live in politically unstable times. Consensus politics has been consigned to the dustbin of history not just in the UK but in the US and Ireland too. The Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump phenomenon have gripped the US Primaries and Caucuses, whilst after a decade of relentless austerity Ireland’s established parties struggled to gain a combined vote share of 60% culminating in the near wipe out of the Irish Labour Party.
Rising income inequality and crumbling public services will undoubtedly be major issues in 2020 but Corbyn’s greatest challenge is uniting the Parliamentary Labour Party behind his economic alernative to austerity. Labour has to be relevant in 2020, it has to be united.
In fact the only way to overcome a Conservative Party that can form a majority government on 36.7% of the vote may well come in uniting the UK’s progressive parties in the case for electoral reform (The SNP, The Green Party and the Liberal Democrats strongly advocate PR). Proportional representation could be achievable via a ‘progressive’ vote pact which could deliver a Labour led government in 2020 and deliver what ‘Make Votes Matter‘ want… PR by 2021.
These are all ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ of course but the chemistry is there for the most fascinating and unpredictable era of British politics since the early 1990’s.
I may have missed out of placing a punt on Leicester at 5000-1 and Corbyn for leader at 100-1… I think this time I might sneakily place a few nuggets on Labour in 2020.
In today’s political climate, you just never know.