He was like all men of imagination, who fall in love with their projects, and who expect them to succeed on all occasions, as if wishing hard was all that was necessary to change their dreams into realities.
Émile Gaboriau - L'Affaire Lerouge (1866)
Many games of chess are decided by the accumulation of small advantages. Politics is played the same way. A knighthood here, a peerage there, a favourable headline, a covert briefing, a policy filched from the other side, a judicious lie, a stab in the back, an innuendo, a speech to the converted are politics played like chess.
To play the game well, politicians must respond to events and opportunities, they must spot small advantages whenever they crop up. They cannot afford to be doctrinaire or inflexible unless that happens to be an advantage too, when a principle is worth dusting off and waving around.
David Cameron and the Tories know this. Tony Blair knew it very well indeed as did his groupies but Team Blair has been disbanded. Even though they are not particularly good at it, the general election suggests the Tories were better players than Labour. The Lib Dems tried to play with a broken king.
On whose behalf the Tories play the game is another issue, but they play it. As with chess, the political game is about winning. It is about picking up those small advantages, weighing one against another, bad publicity against good, a move into opposition territory against the risk of upsetting stakeholders. It is about being adaptable.
The nature of the game cannot be decided beforehand, strategy cannot be written in tablets of stone, opposition moves cannot be ignored merely because the agreed plan doesn’t cater for them. The political game is a game of skill, strategy and opportunist tactics. It has features of a game because it is a game. Principles, however moral, are no guide to winning.
In which case, Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters may have a steep learning curve to climb. They have to learn the game and poor old Jeremy has to play it.
At this early stage when the 2020 clock has barely begun ticking, any number of unforeseen events could swing things his way. The mood of the electorate could be behind him for some fairly obvious reasons - greedy bankers for one. That’s hoping for the best though. It is not how professional adjust the odds in their favour and the game is all about winning against professional players.
Cameron and his Tories may not be stars, but I don’t think Corbyn even has a taste for the game. We’ll see.