Ballots go out for the Labour leadership contest today and the time is upon us to decide which leader can take the party forward. The current favourite appears to be veteran back-bencher Jeremy Corbyn, much to the displeasure of leading Labour figures. And for many voting in the leadership contest the overriding question is – should you vote Corbyn? While the Labour leadership contest appears to be one fought on values, the real question isn't anything to do with values. As leading figures in the Labour party have said – it's about finding a leader who can win.
In the eyes of most leading figures in the Labour party, a leader who can win is one who can make marginal improvements. Pick off Tory voters in the marginal seats and bring them over to the Labour party. In theory, taking these voters from the Tories is the only way to win.
Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall all subscribe to that theory. But can you really take votes away from the party in power by mimicking them?
Jeremy Corbyn's viewpoint, and that of his supporters, is very different. They point to low voter turnouts and left wing Labour voters who have switched to other parties. In theory, if you galvanise enough of these people you can gain enough support to win.
But are the non-voters really feeling alienated by politics or do they just not care enough to vote? For those deciding how to vote, the thought first and foremost is usually whether you agree with the candidate. But many within the Labour party have suggested this is wrong and you should only vote for someone you think is capable of winning the election.
Marginal gains seem to be the preferred method for any kind of improvements – whether in politics, business or sport. Tweak enough little things, drive small improvements and, when you add them up, you'll notice huge improvements in your results. But does it really play out that way – are all elections won by conforming to the political norms of the time and making enough marginal gains to win the election?
One election victory which doesn't conform to that theory is Margaret Thatcher's in 1979.
While I am certainly not a supporter of Thatcher, one thing is for certain – she offered a stark alternative to the other parties. The post-war consensus of Keynesian economics, the mixed economy and the welfare state was starkly opposed by Margaret Thatcher. If elections are always won at the margins – you'd expect that she wouldn't be able to win.
But she tapped into a well of right-wing support, which wasn't catered to by any party conforming to post-war consensus politics. She also acknowledged the dissatisfaction that people felt towards the trade unions, which no-one – not even the Conservatives – had been willing to do in the past.
While it is true that elections have been won on the margins – as in 2010 and 2015 – it is not always the case. When the political landscape is as close as it is today – as it was in the 1970's, sometimes a better strategy is to offer something radically different. The left wing is as neglected today as the right wing was in the 60's and 70's. Plus, neither party has acknowledged the dissatisfaction many feel towards the actions of the financial sector, as happened with the trade unions in the 1970's.
So, in answer to the question: “Should you vote Corbyn?” My answer would be an emphatic yes – if you agree with what he has to say. Sometimes, taking the long shot is a much better option than finding marginal gains. #Government