So, apparently the ‘unthinkable’ has happened. In shock news, the polls (and YouGov in particular) were absolutely spot on and Jeremy Corbyn, maverick socialist, was by some distance elected leader of the Labour Party. It’s clear, given the massive margin of victory, that his views and general way of ‘doing politics’ resonate with many. It’s also obvious that a number of others, not least in his own party, do not see things his way. Yet I want to argue that whether or not you happen to personally approve of ‘Corbynism’, his arrival into the upper echelons of UK politics is good news.
First and foremost, it’s abundantly apparent that Corbyn and his team (not least his left wing firebrand friend John McDonnell, now shadow chancellor) will vociferously challenge the neo-liberal consensus that has dominated the middle ground of British politics since the mid 1990’s. That is, Tony Blair, through his New Labour project embraced and promoted policies that quite simply would have been unheard of in the Labour Party before the mid 1990’s – epitomised through, for example, PFI and New Labour’s various economic policies. Corbyn and his team, who comprehensively reject this way of doing things, will offer an alternative to the British electorate. It won’t be unbridled communism (despite what some commentators say) but it’ll be genuinely different from what we’ve been offered by the major parties in the past 20 years or so.
This presence of an alternative (not just economic, I hasten to add) isn’t just good in itself; it’s good for democracy and it has the potential to reignite what for many UK citizens has become an increasingly stale, boring and irrelevant political and policy process. In other words, the arrival of Corbyn will give the British political process a kick up the proverbial. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying what Corbyn is offering is necessarily better than what we have now, but it’s an alternative that could engage people and get them thinking about politics in a way they haven’t before. This has to be good for British democracy.
Corbyn has already shown that he intends to do things his own way, and that he won’t be corralled by Westminster hacks into presenting himself in ‘the right way’. This is apparent through his shadow cabinet selection, his refusal to commit to doing TV and radio interviews, and his commitment (confirmed by his first appearance today) to approach parliamentary institutions like Prime Minister’s Questions differently. Out with the theatrics and Punch and Judy pantomime style hectoring and in with more reasoned, fact based and sensible debate.
Further, many seem to underestimate the pronounced anti-establishment and markedly left wing mood present throughout much of Europe at the moment. As such, lots will baulk at the prospect of Corbyn winning in 2020, but who could have predicted what has happened in Greece with SYRIZA and what is happening in Spain with Podemos? It would be wrong of course to blindly assume what has happened elsewhere in parts of Europe will happen here, but present events around the continent is showing politics to be an increasingly unpredictable beast. As such, it would be unwise to rule anything out come 2020.
Secondly, even if (as I suspect) Corbyn doesn’t win in five years time, his leadership won’t have been for nothing. No, as well as the reasons already given, Corbyn’s promotion may finally force Labour to have a tough conversation that in all honesty it needed to have since its defeat to Cameron’s Conservatives in 2010. Namely, what does its future look like? Does it go back to the centrism that gave it power for 13 years under Blair and Brown, or does it carve out a new direction under a new leader? One got the impression that Ed Miliband tried to do this under his own headship but couldn’t quite pull it off, whereas a more fearless Corbyn may force Labour to confront its divisions front and centre. Yes, this might mean a Labour loss in 2020, but such an approach could reap dividends in the longer term as Labour is compelled to carve out a new direction, with or without Corbyn as its leader. This is both good for Labour supporters and has the potential to win back those previously unimpressed with what they’ve put forward in the past.
Others also seem to forget how dull as dishwater the Labour leadership election was before Corbyn turned up. Let’s not kid ourselves, neither Burnham, Cooper or Kendall would have (barring a massive economic catastrophe between now and 2020) stood a real chance of leading Labour to victory in the next election. In light of this, why not use this time to both take a calculated risk (which could very well pay off) and give Corbyn a go and try and come up with a new direction to give the Tories a real fight? Again, this is good for those who identify with the left, those hoping for an effective opposition against the Conservatives and those as yet unconvinced by Labour. It is also worth mentioning that this process may have already begun via Corbyn’s apparent willingness to include the more centrist MP’s in decision making regarding party policy.
In closing, Corbyn’s leadership is good news, regardless of whether you agree with him, for two key reasons. First, and most importantly, Corbyn’s comparatively fresh approach to the political process has the potential to shake up politics, engaging those who have lost interest in recent years. This has both wide democratic benefits and may encourage those previously disenfranchised and uninterested in politics to take a greater interest. Second, Corbyn’s win may force Labour to engage in an honest conversation with itself about how it moves on from Blairism, a conversation which up until this point it had patently failed to have.
Hence, Corbyn’s arrival is likely to include a fair number of thrills and spills, and represents the most major political event in recent years. As such, you’d be very wise not to take your eyes off this one!