At the beginning of the summer it was only to broaden the debate. An outsider, who threw his hat into the ring in order to gauge the mood of the party. A few weeks later, it became ‘what if…?’ Now it’s real. Jeremy Corbyn is the Labour Leader. What now? His first challenge is how to unite the party; in the longer-term will be the more important question of whether he stands a chance of being elected at the next election.
There have already been five key resignations following the result, and more strife is likely before the dust can settle. Arguments over whether Cooper, Burnham or Kendall can now be put aside – for now. In the immediate moment, Corbyn can point to the huge swell in numbers of Labour members, and at least a part of the electorate that has awoken from its apathetic quiescence to join or re-connect with the party. The parliamentary members maybe less important for Corbyn’s future than the wider sympathisers of Burnham and co.
What is clear that for many Labour party members – the 100,000+ who voted for Corbyn as members and countless more who were ‘wait and see’ – will be the opportunity, the first in over a generation, to take part in the electoral process by positive engagement: no longer will a vote for Labour be about ‘anything but the Tories’, but as an act of endorsing a set of values that they agree with. Labour have for too long relied on a core set of voters who will not abandon them at the critical moment, the raison d’être of post-millenial Labour, simply by ‘not being’ the Tories. These stockpiling of laurels that they have rested on for so long, meant that the heavy election defeat of 2015 and Corbyn’s coming was almost inevitable – especially as the British left have looked on and been emboldened by the ground gained by Syriza in Greece, and the Podemos movement in Spain.
Whether Cooper, Burnham or Kendall would’ve been ‘electable’ is now a hypothetical question – none of the three demonstrated any difference in their personality or their solutions to Labour’s ills; beneath the platitudes they likely would have offered tepid policies that kow-tow to big business while offering vague promises about striving for a ‘fairer society’ – as Miliband, Brown and Blair did before – the very thing big business has sought to inhibit with its zero-hour contracts, reliance on welfare to make up the shortfall in earnings for its lowest-paid employees, and its tax avoidance. Tory HQ already had a slander and a caricature awaiting Cooper et al and assuming they would get any easier time from the fifth estate and the kingmaker, the press – is to give a lie. The electorate in 2020 would doubtless endorse a further term for the Tories. After all – why vote Tory-lite when you can have the real thing?
Playing a game in which the Conservative Party set the rules and parameters is equally as dicey as electing a left-wing leader. The press, of course, are the most insurmountable of Corbyn’s hurdles – while the other three candidates could easily be put through the rinser by the conservative press, the Corbyn ‘Citizen Smith’ caricature will be easy beer for writers, ideologues and opinion-formers at Murdoch Towers. How Corbyn handles his public image being torn to shreds for the next five years will be as good a pointer as any as whether he is fit to lead the country. The Tories under Cameron are aggressively pursuing their agenda – as is their art: They succeeded in portraying Ed Miliband as a marxist, a lightweight and untrustworthy with the nation’s purse. They’ve wasted no time in setting out how they are going to undermine Jeremy Corbyn ad infinitum over next five years:
The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) September 13, 2015
The Conservatives will spend the next five years referring to the opposition leader euphemistically, as a terrorist – irony meters have exploded nationwide -so the only chance he’ll have is by aggressively attacking ideological austerity, attacking the idea of the Conservatives as ‘the working party‘ (are there any irony meters left?) and by focusing on how the Conservatives have created massive national debt while taking away public jobs and services.
Is Corbyn electable? The chances are slim in the face of right-wing press behemoth who will spend half a decade assassinating the caricature they have created rather than the policies and beliefs that make him a radical alternative – but there is a possibility, and that likelihood rests on the following things:
- £30bn worth of cuts are due in the next parliament – as spending is not due to increase until 2019 (a coincidence?) there will be more pain for anyone reliant on public services, including healthcare. This is Labour’s biggest handle and their biggest mistake in the run up to the last election. Their message was too weak in the past two elections
- The EU referendum – leaving the EU would cause plenty of consternation among pro-Euro Tories and business, as well as those in the centre and left. The financial pain of an exit could also begin to be felt by 2020
- How far the prevailing stock market wobbles in China continue and what the aftermath is for global economies and trade
These are things that Corbyn-led Labour Party can only react to. If he is to aid his chances, he’ll almost certainly have to win back Scottish Labour voters from the SNP and convince the disenfranchised English working-class voters flirting with UKIP that he is listening.
The Corbyn administration needs to demonstrate to the UK public that a living wage will tackle working poverty and in the long-term be a way of significantly cutting the benefits bill to the taxpayer. Solutions to the housing crisis and making the information/digital economy offer more for people outside London should also be major priorities, if fairness is to be the driver of a Labour government.
Is Corbyn a likely Prime Minister? Probably not. Is it worth the risk? Absolutely. Labour has rediscovered its soul. He’s reawakened the hopes of a significant number of people with the offer of an electoral choice – one that has a genuine chance of power, unlike the Greens who offered a far more radical manifesto than Labour did in the last election, but were marginalised. Corbyn’s greatest battle will obviously be PR over politics. However, the balance between being assertive with economic reforms (and repeals?) and approaches of diplomacy with business will be pivotal to Labour’s advance.
Offering the electorate a clear choice and distinction other than the colourings of a rosette or tie can only be good for the political system in this country and Labour has taken a bold step indeed.