I am incredulous at their incredulity. The reaction of many on the Left to the publication over the weekend of an Observer poll showing a 19% Conservative lead tells us something important about the bubble thinking that has so toxified our political life.
On my Twitter feed at least, the explanations for the ‘inexplicable’ Tory lead include: they (voters) are stupid, they don’t care, the polls lie, the wicked Dominic Cummings has the BBC in his pocket, and, of course, the now go-to explanation for anything that one doesn’t understand politically – that it’s all down to the Russians. The idea that the Russians are conspiring to keep someone out of Downing Street who would refuse to fire back in the event of a nuclear attack is a peculiar strategic intervention on their part.
But the most common reaction I have seen is simply a lack of belief. And this, it seems to me, speaks to the commonly-made claim that Corbynism has become some sort of cult. For the defining feature of cults is that they hear nothing outside of themselves. It is not just that cults believe themselves to have some unique access to the truth, they also believe that those who do not recognise the truth are in some way blinded or wicked. Cults purchase strong internal solidarity at the expense of openness to a world beyond themselves.
And they generally react to rejection by questioning the purity of belief of those who are tasked with evangelism for the cause – in this way they eat themselves. If Boris wins as big as this poll suggests, or even if he just wins a simple majority, the Left has a choice between maintaining their good and evil Manichaeism, conspiracy theories and electorate-resenting denial, or they can open themselves to the creative potential that occurs when faith has to accommodate painful reality.
The Labour movement has developed an impressive digital communications strategy. Momentum feels like it has won the election on Twitter. But — and here is its weakness — it is set permanently on broadcast mode, and is absolutely terrible at listening. Because listening means taking one’s opponent seriously — and in the mind of the true believer, that suggests a lack of faith. Unless the left resolves this weakness, it will keep on losing elections.