Life has occasional narrow windows, tests to pass, hurdles to overcome, beyond which wide horizons open up. Births, marriages and deaths, of course; job interviews; for me General Elections. A Level students last week went through one such. Fifteen years of effort at school are focussed on that moment of opening the envelope. Did I get the grades I need? Will I be able to go to the University I wanted, get the apprenticeship I need? Those few seconds, those few words on a piece of paper have a perhaps disproportionate consequence for the rest of one’s life. It’s a bit like Andy Warhol’s ‘15 minutes of fame.’
Chippenham-born and Kington St Michael-raised Jeremy Corbyn and the other Labour leadership candidates are facing something similar. A massive effort persuading up to 750,000 voters (most of whom are newly arrived in the Labour Party) of their worth as Leader, an election and a month from now their future is known. Either greatness follows, or perhaps obscurity. Irrespective of who wins, it is hard to imagine the Party recovering from this battle for a long time to come. And if Corbyn becomes Leader and brings in even some of the wackier notions he has been espousing throughout his career and during the campaign, Labour will become wholly unelectable.
Now that may seem on the face of it good news for we Tories. But is it really? It would be bad for democracy, which depends on an effective Opposition. It would enable factions within the Conservative Party to amuse themselves arguing internally knowing that there is no threat from the left ; and it might well give new credence to an otherwise discredited Liberal Party, who could once again become the natural home for mildly disaffected anti-Tory voters. Perhaps the Labour Party would split, join the Lib Dems or the Tories, form a new centre-left social democratic alliance of some kind. Who knows? The 15 minute window on 12th September when the result is announced could have dramatic consequences for Labour, for Parliament and for the future of our democracy.
Something similar could occur with the EU In/Out Referendum. All minds are focussed at the moment on the arguments on both sides. But let’s think beyond the referendum itself. Let’s imagine, for the sake of the argument, that the ‘Yes’ vote (to stay in the EU) wins by, say, 60/40. That will mean that around 20 million, probably very largely Conservative-minded voters will be bitterly disappointed. They voted to leave, yet have been thwarted by the electorate. That effect may be worse if, thanks to the way in which the votes are counted, we can tell which way particular constituencies or areas of the country voted. Will they just accept the outcome, and go quietly home? Not if the Scottish Referendum is anything to go by.
So the next General Election in five years’ time could be dominated by a wrecked or lefty Labour Party, a possible resurrection of a Social Democratic party, and a Conservative Party whose old tectonic splits over Europe will once again be to the fore. Interesting political times could lie ahead, and a series of narrow windows and events, the outcome of which is impossible to foretell.