Well that was an interesting weekend. Apparently the newly elected leader of the Labour is a threat to national and economic security, and while we’re at it our very own family’s security, so said our lovely government this morning.
But with so many people in the Labour party busy sulking because their new leader is apparently “unelectable” it seems a tiny bit premature to make such scaremongering claims about Jeremy Corbyn, so I’m well and truly confused.
The thing is, love or loathe Jeremy Corbyn, he won fair and square. Not only did he win the majority of available votes but he managed to galvanise support from quarters of the population who don’t usually engage with the political process; he spoke to people who’d given up believing that politicians had something to say to them.
None of that can or should be overlooked, and Corbyn’s critics are missing that critical point. His rivals, on the other hand, are watching with fear so their next steps are simply to instil a bit of terror in everyone else.
When I first heard that the chance to vote for the next Labour leader would be opened out to anyone who was willing to pay £3 for the privilege, I was delighted. I’d always thought it was a bit strange that while we are able to vote for our local MP we really don’t have much of a say on who can become a contender for prime minister for the parties we support.
I fully intended to participate. But then the candidates revealed themselves and I was thoroughly disappointed. I didn’t see any evidence that Labour had really learned any lessons from the past. Then of course, some outsider backbencher entered the race, and to be honest I didn’t really pay much attention until it all became a bit hysterical.
I’ve been loyal to Labour all my adult voting life but this leadership election truly turned me off. It signalled to me just how much of a mess the party was, and is, in so I didn’t ever submit my £3.
And then Yvette Cooper gave a speech that turned my head. Here, were both values and policies that could create a vision for a Labour party I would vote for and a Britain I want to live in. She unpicked the idealism of Corbyn and presented credible alternatives that were deliverable. And of course she has demonstrated some genuine leadership potential and passion throughout the refugee crisis.
But it was all too little, far too late. The deadline had passed for registering to vote, and my vote would have made little difference anyway. By this point Corbyn had the lion’s share of support, and as yesterday’s results revealed, it was a one-horse race.
Corbyn deserves to be Labour’s leader. He offers the identity and passion the party has been lacking ever since the New Labour era. His first action as Labour leader was to join the refugees march in London. How often do you see senior politicians doing that?
He is also making the right noises about building a broad-based shadow cabinet, and wants to go back to discussing policy as a party rather than having a select few devise and present policy proposals as a fait accompli.
For the naysayers who fear a return to the politics of a different era, or who worry that Corbyn’s extreme views in some areas mean a party in turmoil, it is entirely possible that their new leader will seek to find common ground, and may shelve some of his more controversial opinions in favour of party unity. We’ll see.
Is he a potential prime minister? Based on decades worth of voting patterns a left-of-centre Labour party is unlikely to win a UK general election. But were Cooper, Kendall or Burnham likely to achieve a general election win either? I seriously doubt it, if I’m being totally honest. With any of those three at the helm Labour would have continued to tread water for another five years (although I still would have liked to have seen what Yvette Cooper could have achieved as leader).
What Corbyn achieved that the others failed to do so spectacularly was to connect with an electorate, and that is why he’s now become powerful. He isn’t actually offering particularly radical or progressive ideas – most left-wing parties or campaigners have been saying this stuff for decades – but what he has done has brought left-wing politics to the mainstream, and successfully tapped into a mood in this country that has been simmering ever since the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition entered into power. How far he can take things remains to be seen.
I predict that he won’t last a full five years as Labour leader but his tenure will be the catalyst for the change that is needed to take on the Tories. Whether that comes from Labour or a newly formed party or a coalition of smaller parties is anyone’s guess but I’d like to think we’re on the cusp of something new and something different in terms of the political choices we have and how we make them.
I am also hoping he will lead a strong opposition to the Tories, and with some important votes coming up imminently, we’ll quickly learn whether or not he’s up to that job.
Above all, he’s earned his place as leader of the opposition as a direct result of genuine support from large numbers of British people. How many others sitting on those Westminster benches can claim that? Corbyn’s win is a victory for democracy so I think it’s time to give the man a chance and get behind this new phase for the Labour party.