Sunday, 25 September 2016

Another interesting twist in British politics

Mr Corbyn has been sensationally re-elected leader of the Labour Party at this year's Party Conference in Liverpool. The article below was originally written in September 2015 and published in THE FAT DUBLINER,  following last year's leadership election.

Photo: BBC

Last weekend Jeremy Corbyn (pictured above) was elected the new leader of the British Labour party. He beat off three Labour MP’s – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall – despite being a rank outsider when the leadership campaign began in June. His challengers were considered part of the ‘mainstream’ Labour party while he, in sharp contrast, has spent his entire political career (32 years) on the backbenches.

The outcome of the leadership battle sees Corbyn turning from poacher to gamekeeper. For years he has been a thorn in the side of the establishment unlike Blair and Brown, who were happy to move Labour in a more right wing direction. The new leader will now face British Prime Minister David Cameron and the former will have to rise to the challenge. It is a challenge not only for him personally but also for the Labour party, many of whom oppose his political views.

Since the leadership result was announced, a succession of Labour MP’s have resigned from the shadow cabinet. This makes Corbyn’s job considerably more difficult to conduct. But what took the MP for Islington North to the top so soon and how has this new scenario emerged? What follows is an attempt at answering that question.

To get a better understanding of the Corbyn victory we have to go back thirty years to 1985. Neil Kinnock was the Labour party leader at the time. At the party’s conference, held that year in Bournemouth, the Welshman made a speech in which he ferociously attacked the hard left. Labour’s radical fringe had been flexing their political muscles ever since Mrs Thatcher came to office six years previously.

Kinnock laid much of the groundwork for his successors. If he hadn’t hit out at the ‘militant tendency’ within the party, it is quite possible that he would not have been able to impose the discipline needed for Labour to effectively oppose the then Conservative government (this is despite the fact that they were unable to win a general election until 1997).

During the 1980’s the main opposition party was entrenched in a battle between ideology and pragmatism. The latter form of political strategy won out over the former and this ultimately returned Labour to government once again. However since the New Labour project ended, following Gordon Brown’s defeat at the 2010 general election, the balance has shifted in favour of a more ideological position. This may help to explain why the Corbynites are now in the ascendency.

Corbyn – rightly or wrongly – appeals to a much smaller section of British voters than Cameron. Despite the strong endorsement, last week, by the Labour party membership, the new leader is in a minority among opposition MP’s. The journalist Matthew Parris recently spoke on Channel 4 News. He made the point that the Corbyn issue could become a recurring problem for Labour with conflict between the party’s MP’s and the wider membership. Indeed some say that the new leader may only last a matter of weeks in the job.

Whatever way one looks at this, it is clear that Corbyn was democratically elected and must therefore be taken seriously. The Labour party now has a leader of real principle and that cannot really have been said of the organisation’s most recent leaders. The party's leadership have for too long neglected core ideology and this has positioned them closer to the Conservatives than ever before. Now the ideological wing have their man in the top spot as Westminster politics takes another interesting twist. This battle isn’t over yet.