Jeremy Corbyn triumphs over New Labour

JOEL GOODMAN UK OUT

Re-elected Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn (R) greets his contestant Owen Smith (L) at the Labour Party leadership declaration in the Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre ahead of the party's 2016 Conference, in Liverpool, Britain, 24 September 2016. Corbyn has won the Labour leadership election between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith at the Leadership Conference in Liverpool.

But, is Labour a government in waiting?


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Jeremy Corbyn has been reelected as a leader of the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn stronger

A mutiny in the Labour parliamentary group has resulted in leaving the Labour leader stronger within the party.

Theoretically, Jeremy Corbyn is the strongest Labour leader ever to be elected. Over 500,000 people went to the polls, of whom a resounding 61.8% voted for Jeremy Corbyn, and even that may not reflect the true extent of his victory. 130,000 party members were ruled out for procedural reasons as not eligible to vote. If they had been eligible, Corbyn would have come out stronger.

By any count, this was a larger margin of victory than a year ago. In September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn was running a four-candidate race, securing 59.5% of the party member vote, surpassing Tony Blair’s 57% in 1994.

On Saturday, his supporters were chanting “Jez we can.”

A foiled mutiny

Labour’s parliamentary group failed to oust their leader in July, not in September.

As Jeremy Corbyn did not enjoy the endorsement of 51 MPs, the hope of the mutineers was that they could disqualify him from running for office. That battle was lost when the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee ruled with a narrow 18-to-14 vote that Corbyn should be allowed to be on the ballot even without the endorsement of 20% of his MPs.

Most analysts knew then that no contender had a chance against him.

Owen Smith was not a prominent figure when he decided to run against Corbyn. His only claim to fame was running against Corbyn, securing a respectable 38,2%. On Saturday, the Welsh MP moved to congratulate Corbyn for his “decisive” victory, but made clear the onus for uniting the party rests with the winner.

A classic social democratic agenda

Corbyn represents classic Social Democratic principles, abandoning the New-Labour/Third Way consensus of the 1990s. He advocates a boost in welfare spending, tax-and-spend redistribution, and the nationalization of strategic sectors of the economy, such as energy and railways. Corbyn, 67, spent over three decades as a New Labour backbencher.

The substance of his campaign is a classic social democratic mixture of state intervention in the market economy, spearheaded by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Corbyn’s followers are motivated, but not mainstream. 300,000 people joined Labour to vote for Corbyn, but the question is whether they can bring Labour to power. Regarding membership, Labour is the largest Social Democratic party in Europe.

Time for reckoning

In his acceptance speech, Corbyn said the party remains united against the Conservatives. Corbyn insists the leadership encounter was not personal. But, the grassroots movement that effectively mobilized for his election and reelection (Momentum) demands a decisive reckoning.

Labour’s parliamentary group reflects the political consensus of the New Labour period. Corbyn will need to fill his shadow cabinet from the ranks of MPs, which will be difficult as many will continue to refuse to serve under him. The parliamentary mutiny suggests he cannot lead against his parliamentary group.

Many urge Corbyn to work with the party’s opposition, again. Amongst them is the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Challenged to address the question ‘what happens next,’ Corbyn said on Saturday that MPs have nothing to fear because “we are all democratically accountable to our party and to our constituents.”

On Sunday, he spoke of a “democratic discussion” to be had. Because constituency boundaries will change by 2020, for many MPs Corbyn is clearly warning about “deselection.” Many Labour MPs fear that if Corbyn pointed towards anti-establishment candidates to replace them, he could win.

Purging Labour and the others

Would a purge empower Corbyn or the Labour Party? The standoff between Labour and New Labour is fiercely political. Corbyn says there is also consensus on a message of anti-austerity and, in theory, on public ownership.

In effect, that is not true. Liberal Democrats are calling on the 172 Labour MPs opposing Corbyn as too far to the left to join them.

Similarly, the far-right UKIP see that Corbyn will on one hand respect the Brexit vote but, on the other, will not take an anti-immigration stand. Therefore, UKIP appealed on Saturday “to those who want to see immigration cut.”

The question for the rest of Europe is whether this is the beginning of a new kind of opposition in Britain or the end of the social democratic – Conservative political pendulum that has dominated British politics since World War II.

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