On Tuesday, Tony Blair admitted he was ‘baffled’ by the rise of Sanders and Corbyn, proclaiming again how ‘unelectable’ Corbyn is:
selecting someone who is electable is really important because otherwise you can’t help people; you’re powerless.
This is a totally unsubstantiated claim from Blair. ‘Electability’ is a floating signifier, which means it does not have a concrete definition. Therefore, it can be arbitrarily used to attack anyone whose views differ from one’s own.
Moreover, calling someone ‘unelectable’ does not really make sense because public opinion is not static and thus neither is electability. In fact, public opinion is fluid and can change at the rise of a single photograph. We saw this with the photo of the three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi who tragically drowned during his family’s attempt to reach Greece.
Beforehand, public opinion on the refugee crisis was quite hostile. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown compared the shift in opinion to a photo of a girl fleeing napalm bombs in the Vietnam war, saying it
turned American public opinion against that terrible war.
After the photo of Aylan Kurdi emerged, the hashtags #refugeeswelcome and #PeopleNotMigrants started trending heavily on Twitter, with the former gaining an additional 74,000 tweets. A petition calling for increased support for refugees saw a swift surge in signatories, gaining 150,000 in a single day.
That single photograph would significantly increase the electability of a candidate standing on a pro-refugee platform, in just one single day. Meanwhile, we have commentators, like the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, forecasting doom and gloom for the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn in an election that is more than four years away.
Actually, pandering to public opinion is how Labour will lose the general election. As we have seen, public opinion is fundamentally malleable. The working public do not have time for an in-depth look at different policies, so it is up to politicians to inspire them, to show them why policies will work.
The path to victory lies in ignoring whatever public opinion may be today and instead being the one who changes it. Corbyn must lay out his policies clearly and show how they will benefit the British people.
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