Under Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn was a tolerated and ignored backbencher. Today, he is denied even that freedom. And yet his followers have behind them the force of a simple argument. The Labour Party’s last year and a half is a familiar episode in the long decline of social democracy, in which leaders demobilise their supporters and see their vote shrink. But as recently as four years ago Labour was able to increase its support faster than at any time since 1945. Many of Corbyn’s supporters are young, black or Muslim, and these are social constituencies in which the Labour Party is now losing support sharply. If Labour wants to appeal again to those voters, it will need to make some sort of compromise with Corbyn.
In May 2020, one of my clients asked the local authority – her landlord – when essential maintenance work would start at her home. Damp and mould had made her daughter’s bedroom uninhabitable. ‘It seems to us that you have not given a moment’s attention to present realities,’ the landlord responded. ‘Staff are low in numbers across many of the council’s departments due to personnel self-isolating.’ I told her not to be disheartened, everything was slower in the lockdown. The works would be delayed but they would happen. I was less sanguine when I saw the same excuse being given in letters written in August and September, when even bowling alleys and casinos were open.