UK Politics: the rise of Jeremy Corbyn

by George Hatjoullis

The aftermath of the recent UK general election has produced a healthy response from some of the electorate. They have decided to invest £3 or more in acquiring a vote in the Labour Party leadership election. For the frustrated youth of today that do not come from privileged backgrounds (i.e. the vast majority) this is a sound investment. Finding it difficult to distinguish between Conservative, New Labour and Liberal Democrat they have been forced to either opt for extremes (Ukip or Green) or create a bit more choice in the opaque centre of politics. They have chosen the latter in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn.

Anyone familiar with the history of the Labour Party will recognise Corbyn as heir to Tony Benn. No one ever seriously considered making TB leader of the Labour party but needs change. The young seek something other than fiscal orthodoxy and a market-led economy. You cannot blame them because they are doing rather badly out of this political economy. The third age is doing rather better and thus is probably not investing £3 in creating an alternative political philosophy. This is precisely what the rise of Jeremy Corbyn is about: an alternative.

The advent of Tony Blair and New Labour changed the face of UK politics. The main parties now all occupied the centre ground which blurred into shades of grey. Elections were decided on personality and judgements of competence rather than policy because policy differences were hard to find. The extremes did relatively better in this context with UKip and Green constituting a kind of political fat-tail. Scotland was first to rebel against this structure. The SNP obviously gained many voters that did not vote for independence. In voting SNP they voted for a different political economy. A significant proportion of the English and Welsh electorate, notably the young, is now choosing to force Labour to offer something different. To do so they need to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.

The cry that under Corbyn Labour is unelectable is irrelevant and disingenuous. Those members of the parliamentary Labour Party that make this claim reveal their true political colours. They are in politics for power not principles. The young are saying politics cannot simply be about power (at any price). The party must stand for something and cannot deviate too far in pursuit of power, otherwise it stands for nothing and we are back in a world of pure personality and competence judgements. The latter criteria are pertinent but should not be the only criteria for choosing a party. The unelectability of a Corbyn Labour Party is irrelevant. It is also untrue.

The argument is that Corbyn represents a shift to the left and the country rejected Miliband because he was too left wing, so a further shift is unlikely to prove successful. This argument came up in the selection of Michael Foot as Labour leader. It was correct in the case of Michael Foot. The country, in choosing Thatcher, had made a clear choice on political economy and it was away from the union-dominated old Labour. Michael Foot was unelectable. Kinnock was also unelectable. The next electable leader was the late (and great) John Smith. The untimely death of Smith brought Blair into play (and darkness entered everyone’s future). Corbyn is not any of these leaders.

The rejection of Miliband was not about being too left wing. It was about personality and competence. Miliband’s Labour offered very little in contrast to Cameron’s Tories, especially when ameliorated by Clegg. Miliband et al were just deemed less competent. In Scotland Labour was ejected for not being left wing enough! There has not been a seismic shift in the political preferences of the electorate, unlike under Thatcher. To the extent that there has been any shift it is probably to the left. The evidence is Scotland and the fact that so many have taken the trouble to stump up £3 to vote in this leadership election and are favouring Corbyn ( I do not subscribe to the view that it is some gigantic plot to make Labour unelectable).

This is not to say that Corbyn will sweep into power at the next general election. Cameron still has a few tricks to play. There is boundary change and English Votes for English Laws. Both could favour the Conservative Party retaining power. However, this has nothing to do with Corbyn or his being too left wing. Indeed, despite these advantages, the Tories may still not hang onto power. The EU debate could yet split the Tory party. Corbyn could be an ideal Labour leader to form an alliance with Farron, Salmond and the Green party and return a left leaning coalition. The two-party system in the UK is dead and coalition politics may prove the norm despite a first-past-the-post system. Corbyn may be the ideal candidate for such a structure and at this point in time.