I was in the green room at ITN’s Gray’s Inn Road headquarters on the night of the 2017 General Election and I wasn’t enjoying myself, not least because Owen Jones was there, whooping with delight every time a constituency was called for Labour. After it became obvious that Jeremy Corbyn had had a better-than-expected night, he couldn’t resist coming over to rub my nose in it. “Your ‘Tories for Corbyn’ campaign doesn’t look so clever now, does it Toby?” he said.
That was a reference to a bit of fun I had during Labour’s 2015 leadership contest when I urged conservative-minded voters to join the Party and vote for Corbyn. Thanks to Ed Miliband, you could become an ‘associate member’ with full voting rights for the princely sum of £3. The only other hurdle was an online form you had to fill in explaining why you wanted to join and I made the mistake of saying, “So I can vote for Corbyn and consign Labour to electoral oblivion.” That was enough for my application to be blocked, although – typical Labour – my £3 was never refunded.
In the end Corbyn won by a landslide, polling more votes than the other three candidates combined, so if any Tories followed my advice it didn’t make any difference. But since then I have experienced occasional pangs of regret nevertheless. When Owen button-holed me on election night, my rejoinder was that if Yvette Cooper was leader, Labour might have actually won, but the words rang hollow. With 40% of the popular vote, considerably more than Tony Blair polled in 2005 (35.2%) to secure his third parliamentary majority, it was only thanks to the collapse of the Lib Dems (7.4%) that Corbyn didn’t end up in Downing Street. Knowing that Tim Farron was the only thing standing between a minority Tory government and full-on socialist Armageddon wasn’t a good feeling. (To read more, click here.)