Oh Snap

The Great Election Commentary Humble Pie Taste Test

Political pundits called the election dead wrong, but who apologised best?
June 13, 2017, 12:50pm
Photo via Beckymann's Bakery on Flikr

For two years now, the slow sad creatures of centre-left comment journalism have been telling us that Jeremy Corbyn was impossible. He has nice ideas, sometimes, but he's a loser; the British people hate him, they'll never vote him into office. His supporters were just a tiny fringe cabal, a social-media bubble. The columnists know what the real world is like.

However, after the election, it turned out that whatever real world these columnists inhabit is actually substantially smaller than the Corbynista bubble. They've run out of lines. It's time, finally, to grovel.


All the big names are starting to admit that Corbyn was perfectly electable all along, that they have spent the last two years busily sniping and backstabbing at the only thing that could have possibly saved the Labour party, not just making a principled objection to the politics of good from the standpoint of evil like the right-wing tabloids did (that, at least, would be understandable), but opposing and sabotaging what could have been a powerful and effective opposition for no good reason whatsoever.

But there's a problem.

Given that all these commentators were deafeningly, catastrophically wrong about the biggest political turnaround in living memory, why should anyone ever listen to anything they have to say again? What's the point of a comment journalist who represents the views of basically nobody, and who has slightly less insight and acumen than the shaved chimps behind typewriters they all tend to resemble? They were supposed to represent the mainstream – but as it turns out, that mainstream mostly consisted of themselves and a few of their friends. So when the comment pieces roll out, sheepishly declaring their authors to have been wrong all along, there's always an extra "but". An "I was wrong – but please don't take away my job, I still have so much more to give." Each one of these pieces is a pitch for continued relevancy. They're not just eating humble pie, they're dishing it out, begging us to try a forkful and see if we like what we eat.


This situation calls for a supermarket taste test. It's not about sticking the knife in: nobody can predict the future, we all fuck up sometimes. But if anyone is going to listen to these writers ever again, we need a good reason. Here's what's on offer.


Before the election, Matthew Goodwin tweeted that "I do not believe that Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn, will poll 38 percent. I will happily eat my new Brexit book if they do." Afterwards, he actually did it, live on TV. No, he didn't eat the whole book. No, he didn't even appear to swallow it. Yes, it was a piece of shameless self-promotion. But so what? The higher his profile, the more reckless things he'll say; eventually he'll be wrong again, and we'll get to watch him eat. Soon, we will witness the birth of a new form of justice: for everything that comes out of Matthew Goodwin's mouth that does not accord with reality, something else will have to go into it, so that the earth is not poisoned by excess untruth. Goodwin will eat the sins and contingency of the world, scarfing down his pencils when he's wrong about the government deficit, re-ingesting his falsehoods on foreign wars in the form of unpublished manuscripts and rubber bands. It will be worth it. Let him be wrong in public for as long as he likes. Let him eat.


In late June, Nick Cohen decided that, even if Labour were roundly defeated in the election, the Corbynite cabal would still refuse to do the decent thing, drop its deathly stranglehold over the party and go away. "The far left will never willingly let go of the Labour party, however loudly the electorate tells it to leave," he wrote. "The normal way of democracies is not the far left's way. Why should it be, when the far left never believed in democracy to begin with?" It's not about sticking up for what you believe in; it's about an instinctual hatred of democracy. Nick Cohen, of course, loves democracy: therefore, he should be announcing that he'll renounce his Observer column – or at least his wreckerism – for good.

No such luck. Here he is this weekend, under the headline "I was wrong about Corbyn's chances, but I still doubt him." He writes: "I don't know about you, but my conscience does not swing with the polls." He keeps on nipping at Corbyn's heels, worrying if he has "moral courage or political competence", trotting out the same tired old lines about Russia and Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas. Keep reading me, Nick Cohen pleads, and I promise to never learn a single new thing.

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John Rentoul, at least, is honest. He doesn't pretend to be a frustrated socialist who's come to accept that a better world is actually impossible; he's very happy living in injustice and misery. And actually, his mea culpa is strangely bloodless. There's no admission that maybe Corbyn was right, that our economic recovery has been a sham, that our class society is a disgrace, that our country is crumbling while the ruling classes pick off the last remaining chunks for themselves – instead, John Rentoul didn't calculate the numbers properly.

But he's honest. "I underestimated Corbyn's appeal," he writes. "I allowed my disagreement with his policies to colour my assumptions about what other voters would think about them." It won't happen again: "The important thing for me is to understand my mistakes and to learn from them." He will do better. And he will stay. Because you need him; you might not even realise it, but you need John Rentoul as much as he needs you.


I was wrong. In September last year I wrote that "as things stand, Jeremy Corbyn has roughly zero chance of becoming Prime Minister, and it's hard to imagine anything other than a crushing Tory victory in the next general election." I was wrong. After the Article 50 vote, I bemoaned "one old man's doomed attempt to lead a toxic political party that always hated him". I was wrong. After the election was called, I wrote that "the real divisions in British society are not represented in Parliament; elections are just how Tories reproduce". I was wrong.

I was cynical; I would cheer on Corbyn as he tried to battle the assembled monsters of the British political deathscape, but there were times that I didn't really think he could actually do it. I was stuck in the belief that politics is about nostrums and certainties and laws, and not people, and what people want. I was wrong.


Top image via Beckmann's Bakery on Flikr