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Dhaka Tribune

Well done, Labour

Update : 17 Sep 2015, 06:45 PM

Hip hip Jeremy Corbyn! A man long considered to be languishing in the dormant fringes of the Labour Party in the UK, now finds himself in an enviable position in British politics, who’s authentic appeal and straightforward style of communication got his hat tossed into the ring for the Labour leadership by virtue of a tiny socialist campaign group of MPs within Labour. He scraped through to a nomination for the leadership battle with one extra vote over the requisite 35 MPs support needed to be put on the ballot.

Corbyn, an activism-based back-bencher in British parliament for long, has never been put in any position of real political authority. He has, despite his seniority, never held any ministerial post or equivalent. He has been constantly considered an old-guard socialist, with known friends in the world such as the Hamas and the IRA, with stated political positions which most mainstream European parties, including senior ranks of his own, consider an embarrassment.

If he had his way, Britain would not be fighting in wars in the Middle East or anywhere else, would have scrapped the Trident Nuclear System altogether, made education free, nationalised large swaths of British industry, bring unions into larger play, and left the EU for good. The Tories even went to the extreme extent of calling him “a national security threat.” His positions are controversial for the mainstream. He has, as such, always been considered unelectable to high office because of the political impracticality of his belief system.

On the flip side, Jeremy Corbyn was never considered a real threat for leadership within Labour. Always an outsider to manoeuvrings of mainstream politics, even the bookies had his chances pegged at a poor 200-1 for winning the leadership battle. It’s been revealed, no one at the time of the nomination, in their wildest dreams, including Corbyn himself, ever imagined that he would win in the way he did. Very few, if any, could predict that Labour national voting members, old and new, would rally behind Corbyn with such vigour, resulting in a surge of renewed grass-roots energy, fight, and unity rivalling, or as some would say even, eclipsing, that of Corbyn’s nemesis Tony Blair.

The meteoric rise of Corbyn stems in part from Labour’s inability to distinguish itself from the Tories in many respects. As the Tories positioned themselves to a more centrist-looking agenda over the last few years, Labour members have found it hard to reconcile their leadership identity and look to have moved further left for definition as they did with Ed Miliband. It is, therefore, not a surprise that the Labour National Membership, in voting for a leader, chose an outspoken, charismatic, old Labour personality, in a historic mandate to lead them into the future. All other candidates on the ballot were centre-left, and not that distinct from Tory leaders today.

The Tories, post their incredible second term victory in parliament, had successfully cast Labour into the shadows for at least five more years -- leaderless and rudderless, or so they thought, having dealt with the immediacy of the Miliband challenges by defeating one brother and causing the other to leave politics altogether. Ed Miliband himself retreated into a holding pattern post-election defeat to perhaps re-group for a future strike at the national leadership, choosing to stay away from what they deemed was a reconciliation period for Labour, and it is widely thought that reconciliation leaders within the party never actually make it to the general elections as party candidates.

This moratorium of silence was only broken a few weeks prior to the party leadership battle where the former leader, Ed Miliband, refrained from picking a side while David Miliband, like Tony Blair, chimed in to urge party voters to refrain from voting for Corbyn or face sure defeat to the Tories in the next election.

It is a curious thing in a democracy, that, while Mr Corbyn has the unquestionable majority support of the party voting membership, 90% of Labour parliament members do not support him at all. This is the bunch he will have to lead to fulfill his vision. A lot of whom are reportedly having back-room conversations for a party coup, facilitating the return of David Miliband to parliament via election to a safe seat so as to set him up for leadership in the 2020 general elections.

So, the road to 10 Downing Street is fraught with many obstacles, and open pits for Mr Corbyn, not in the least that the Tories would malign him as a communist, while Labour itself would smear with what they consider to be 80s politics that they abandoned decades ago, as it only leads to defeat. He has detractors on all sides, all vocal and a gunning for his head. So, where does this leave Jerry, as Corbyn is affectionately called? Will he be able to hold onto the party post until 2020 and unite its leadership for national victory? Will he be able to moderate his beliefs without alienating his support base? Will he be able to mount a real challenge to the Tories? Will he be able to mould himself as a national leader and capture the national imagination?

A lot of these are very important questions, the answers to which will play out in the coming months. Early indications are that, despite the opposition from his own party colleagues, he’s approaching his first few days with great care and dialogue. Choosing the best people amongst his practical, but shallow, pool of MP supporters to fill up the shadow cabinet posts. He is reportedly listening to all sides, but mostly reversing the top-down approach to a bottom-up method to leadership. This style of leadership could keep him in good stead, going forward.

What cannot be discounted, however, is the Corbyn mandate. It is historic. Built from the ground-up, the freshness in his rustic approach left intact will only attract more supporters to his cause. His un-rehearsed style of politics and populist positions are magnets to fame. If he can continue to keep up the momentum and keep beating the odds, and the Tories, the coming years could see a tectonic shift in the style of politics in Britain. I, for one, would love to see that happen. 

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