So it happened. Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour Party with a massive majority of 59.5%. A bigger share, let's remember, than Tony Blair won in 1994. But here's my question: is this our Scotland moment? Or our IDS moment?
Is it our IDS moment? In 2001, the Eurosceptic hard right of the Tory party elected Iain Duncan Smith leader of the Conservative Party, over the much more affable, centrist, and fairly likeable Kenneth Clarke - with 60.7% of the vote, a strikingly similar share to Corbyn's. I imagine the Eurosceptic hard right told themselves that secretly the British were hard right Eurosceptics and all IDS would have to do is say what he believed and the people of Britain would rise up as one and acclaim him as the conscience of the nation. It didn't work out like that and IDS remained stubbornly resistible. He was a man whose most celebrated speech as Leader of the Opposition ('do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man') was one basically apologising for being a bit shit. He was probably the least likeable leader the Tories have had in over a hundred years (which, considering the competition includes Michael Howard, William Hague, Ted Heath and Bonar Law, is quite an achievement). IDS was elected through a mixture of self-indulgence and delusion. Is that what Labour has just done?
I don't know, but at least I know that I don't know. There have been a lot of people saying Jeremy Corbyn is 'unelectable'. First, in this year of all years, let's not be too confident about our poll predictions. In May, the Tories got a clear majority, despite all the poll predictions of a hung parliament. Yesterday, Sadiq Khan was selected as Labour's London mayoral candidate against the polls that called it for Tessa Jowell. And when the candidates were announced for the Labour leadership, no one seriously predicted a Corbyn victory. The fact is no one actually knows whether Jeremy Corbyn has the ability to reach out across the electorate. All we have at the moment are hunches and guesses. Corbyn has surprised us all and he may do it again.
Second, he may not be electable, but I look at the other candidates and I don't see anyone more electable. Not Andy Burnham, not Yvette Cooper, not Liz Kendall; none of them strikes me as having that instant electoral magnetism that Tony Blair once possessed. I don't say this scornfully: in fact, all three have impressed me through the course of the campaign. Yvette Cooper has authority and poise, a real toughness; Andy Burnham has articulated the case for government intervention and nationalisation with real force and feeling; even Liz Kendall, whose policies I feel least enthusiastic about, had conducted the campaign with good humour and steel and her Twitter putdowns are a thing of beauty.
Third, it's a truism that I think is partly true that most of the time parties don't win elections, they lose them. In other words, in 1997, it wasn't so much that Labour were compelling for the electorate as that the Tories had been a five-year shambles: deep divisions over Europe, a string of sex and bribery scandals, a Prime Minister who had to resign as leader of his party and put himself up for election in a failed attempt to secure the loyalty of his party. The Blairites' apparently cast-iron argument that they know how to win may actually be a misrecognition of the fact that in 1997, 2001 and 2005, the Conservative Party had perfected the art of losing. Blair could have won in 1997 on 1983's manifesto, and you know that's true. You need a Leader of the Opposition who can embody and articulate what is wrong with the Government, who can change the narrative; the Blairite tendency aren't fundamentally opposed to this government and can't honestly make the case against austerity.
Fourth, it's been a constant claim that Corbyn is an extreme leftist who will drag the Labour Party back to the unelectable 80s. But is he an extremist? There are some positions where he is to the left of public opinion: particularly on withdrawing from NATO and his (hopefully fleeting) interest in reopening the coal mines. But some of his very left-wing positions - nationalising the railways, for example - are very popular. And his commitment to public investment hardly makes him an extremist. The current Tory government are economic extremists who have passed themselves off as moderates. This is why the Blairites are no use right now: you can't oppose the Tories while accepting their basic argument.
So is it our IDS moment? I don't know. I'm sure there is some delusion and self-indulgence on the left; why wouldn't there be? There's some self-indulgence and delusion everywhere. But I don't find the case compellingly made.
...Or is this our Scotland moment? By which I mean, at the beginning of the independence referendum, no commentator thought the Yes campaign had a chance. The entire media and political establishment was ranged against independence. The polls all had the No vote safely in the high 60s. But through the campaign, the Yes campaign ignited a big, open imaginative debate that has - it is no exaggeration - transformed Scotland and its politics. The press and the media tried to impose their view: Scotland has turned against them. The English political establishment united to argue for No; Scotland has turned against them. When people say the only thing that matters is winning, they forget Scotland. Yes lost the battle, but they are winning the war. A series of polls are showing support for the Union dwindling. Because voting day isn't everything; it's what happens on the way.
Let's remember that when Thatcher was elected leader of the Conservatives in 1975, Labour rejoiced and thought she was unelectable. But think tanks and commentators and political circumstances conspired to shift the debate rightwards - and Labour simultaneously perfected the art of losing. We need to drive the debate leftwards.
Labour won in 1997, 2001 and 2005, but with dramatically declining mandate. In 1997 they got 43.2% of the votes cast and 30.8% of the entire electorate. In 2005, they got 35.2% of votes cast and 21.61% of the entire electorate. They lost 4m votes in eight years. Because the smoothness of the Labour machine made them seem a safe alternative in 1997, but by 2005 it had profoundly alienated the electorate from politics. In the last election, nearly 4m people voted UKIP. because they're all mad racists? I doubt it. Perverse though this might seem, might a left-wing Labour Party win back UKIP voters by once again standing as the party that stand up for the marginalised working class?
Corbyn faces some major challenges. The press will be united against him, but remember Scotland. The press don't have the power they think they do. The Tories will bray about Labour having selected an unelectable leader: but imagine Corbyn debating with Cameron. Is it not possible that an elder statesman, talking normally and reasonably, will throw into sharp relief the empty phrasemaking of the puffed-up posh boy? Cameron has many many weaknesses. He's no Tony Blair. He's lazy, a bit dim, clearly associated with wealth and privilege; he's put himself on a very high perch and is ready to be knocked off.
The most serious problem will be Corbyn's own MPs. The vast majority didn't vote for him. They - reasonably enough - wonder why Corbyn should expect their loyalty when he has so often voted against his own leader. They will brief against him, vote against him, plot against him. So Corbyn really does need to reach out the party, allow some dissent, stress the things he has in common with his MPs. But today's result is the best possible for him. He has the immense authority of a popular mandate over a quarter of a million votes. And he has there an army of inspired, engaged, quite young activists and supporters who, if the party can retain their engagement, will become a formidable army in support of the party's task of dragging the debate to the left.
So then we get to Jeremy Corbyn. Let me say at once, there's stuff I don't like about Jeremy Corbyn. I think his support for including Hamas and Hezbollah in Middle East peace talks steps naively over a line into seeming to tacitly endorse violent anti-semitism. He seems at one point to have had some sympathy for the ludicrous unscientific bollocks that is homeopathy. And, for the sake of the environment, Jeremy, let's not open the coal mines. But, with all these misgivings and doubts, I voted for him. Because if you can't vote for the person whose beliefs you share, what's the point of voting? The Tories are pretending to jubilate, but they have reason to fear, because maybe the ground is moving beneath them.
Still wish Stella Creasy had got deputy though.