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(Illustration by Michael Daley)


There are always special circumstances that make it possible for an extremist political party to acquire power. Lenin said that all the Bolsheviks needed was having the majority at the right place, at the right time. They engineered this majority in 1917 in Petrograd with the help of the sailors of the Russian Navy. Hitler’s rise to absolute power was thanks to the Reichstag fire, although his elevation to Chancellor occurred by the will of the German people. If Jeremy Corbyn comes to power that is also due to specific circumstances but those specific circumstances were not created by him. They were formed by random forces which we may justifiably call accidents. We might say that to have one favourable accident may be good luck but to have many such accidents can only be down to divine intervention or extreme luck — the equivalent to winning the lottery. So what are those accidents?

For the first one we must go back to the 2010 election, when David Miliband nominated Diane Abbott for the leadership. Neither he nor anyone else thought that she had a chance of becoming leader. It was a gesture justified by saying that having a wider range of candidates could only be a good thing. Very few of those 33 who nominated Abbot intended to vote for her. In fact, only six of them did so (she received seven votes, the seventh being her own).

Accident number two was the election of Ed Miliband. Nobody thought that he had a chance when he was first mooted. Had David Miliband, the favourite, been elected, Corbyn would have remained on the sidelines as an ardent, anti-imperialist firebrand. Under Ed Miliband the Labour Party took a turn to the Left. He introduced reforms aimed at making Labour a mass movement. Among them was the three-quid rule: anyone willing to fork out £3 could vote in the leadership election. This was a clear affront to longstanding members of the Labour Party who had paid their dues for decades. It was an obvious encouragement for extremists to join. How likely was it that any political party would ever introduce such rule? Very unlikely. We may count this as accident number three.

Accident number four would not have come about without accident number one. If a no-hoper like Diane Abbott could be put on the list of candidates in 2010 then why not nominate another no-hoper in 2015? Corbyn was nominated by one more than the minimum number of MPs required. Many of them, other than a few far-left fanatics, signed his nomination paper only to have a wider choice of candidates. Most of his supporters could go to bed with a clear conscience, confident that their choice would never cause any trouble. (That reminds me of Keynes’s judgment when he visited the Soviet Union in 1925: “Russia will never seriously matter for the rest of us, unless it be as a moral force.”)

The local elections in the spring of 2017 were a disaster for Labour. Conservatives gained 563 seats, Labour lost 382. Corbyn’s leadership was shown not to work. It was only a question of time how soon after that fiasco he would have been deposed. But he was saved by Theresa May, who had boldly called a general election for June 8. There was no time for Labour to elect another leader. Corbyn remained at the helm.
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