Britain’s left-wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn kept his title over the weekend, winning nearly 62 percent of the vote against centre-left Labour hopeful Owen Smith. It was the latest leadership election since Corbyn stood for leader this time last year.
The election was forced following a 172-40 no confidence vote on Corbyn’s leadership abilities by Labour MPs back in June. Critics have slammed Corbyn for being too idealistic, not media-savvy and unlikely to appeal to the wider UK electorate in a standoff against Conservative leadership.
There are also rumors, which Corbyn has denied, that he plans to deselect MPs who do not agree with his policies. Fears abound that the battle between Corbyn and his detractors may even cause Labour to split into two parties.
The leadership campaign has been rife with accusations of “rigging” from Corbyn and his supporters, with the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) barring over 3,000 full members and registered supporters (the latter of whom paid £25 to take part in the election) from voting.
Those disqualified included a sitting Labour Party councillor who was deemed “rude” at a meeting, a man who had shown support for the Green Party on Twitter over a year ago, and a woman who posted a tweet with the “F” word in it expressing her love of the Foo Fighters.
In his victory speech at the live results announcement event, Corbyn insisted: “We have much more in common than that which divides us. As far as I’m concerned, let’s wipe that [leadership campaign] slate clean, from today, and get on with the work we’ve got to do as a party together.” He added, “Elections are passionate and often partisan affairs and things are sometimes said in the heat of the debate on all sides which we sometimes later come to regret.”
Smith, however, was a little more harsh in his response speech, telling those assembled that “I entered this race because I didn’t think Jeremy was providing the leadership we needed, and because I felt we must renew our party to win back the voters’ trust and respect.” However, he said, “I have no time for talk of a split in the Labour movement – it’s Labour or nothing for me.”
Where From Here?
Harinder Lawley, a grassroots Corbyn campaigner and director of the UK firm Diversity Works, attended the results announcement and told Occupy.com: “The atmosphere was great, with quiet but positive expectation that Jeremy would win and real joy, hope for the future and pleasure when the results were announced. Many of us there were active campaigners, volunteering for the phone banks, raising money through events, talks and rallies.”
Lawley objects to the terms often applied to Corbyn supporters. “We are not ‘newbies’ or ‘entryists.’ Many of us have supported the Labour Party all our lives and have returned to try and reclaim our party from the elitist, professional career politicians who have led it over the last 20 years,” she insisted.
“We know it will be an uphill struggle. If anyone had asked me a year ago whether I would be willing to campaign for a politician, I would have laughed at them. Corbyn has inspired me to get involved and do something positive to challenge the status quo, that’s what I’m doing.”
Another Corbyn supporter, Kevin is a graphics professional from Kent and told Occupy.com: “I’m 54 years old and have voted Labour all my life. But in the run-up to the last general election I found myself despairing about Labour policy. I was going to vote Green, but what if the Tories got in and I hadn’t voted Labour? I thought about getting involved with my local community or helping out at a food bank. The only thing that didn’t cross my mind was joining the Labour Party. Then along came Jeremy. I went to one of his rallies and he was saying the things that needed to be said about inequality, about investment in infrastructure, about the NHS – and unlike many other politicians, he came across as if he actually meant it. I joined the Labour Party on the day he was elected.”
Kevin said Corbyn is the only person for the job, as he is creating proper political distinctions between the Labour and Conservative parties again. “We need an effective opposition and until a year ago we didn’t have that. The Labour Party was trying to be a lite version of the Conservatives because that’s what they thought would get them elected. Corbyn may not be the person who leads us into the next election but for now he’s all we’ve got. He brings me hope and he is moving the conversation back from the right-wing dogma that has dominated.”
Ruth Sanderson, a teacher and Smith supporter from London, expressed different feelings. “I don’t think Corbyn has what it takes to be a leader,” she said. “He doesn’t seem to be able to make decisions and then take people with him.”
Sanderson is suspicious, too, of some of Corbyn’s affiliations. “I think his work for Press TV and Russia Today marks him out either as someone who is very unworldly and naïve or as someone who doesn’t much care that he is being paid by Iranian State TV or by the mouthpiece of Putin. As a woman and an ally of LBGT+ people, neither of those regimes strike me as ones I want to associate with that much.”
Sanderson said that while a number of Corbyn’s policies might be commendable, they will alienate him from the electorate. “I would love to see the end of selective and independent education, the nationalization of the railways and a number of other industries too, the abolition of the monarchy, support of the NHS, narrowing the gap between the haves and have nots. But the reality is that many of the things I want will not get us elected,” she added, saying Corbyn sounds hypocritical to talk of party unity.
“Having voted against the Whip over 400 times, I think Jeremy Corbyn has a nerve to talk about loyalty to the party. If [he] means what he says about unity, then he needs to make sure there is no purge of MPs who disagree with him on some issues. The Labour party has always been a broad church and it needs to remain so if we are to be elected as a government again.”
A significant source of support for Corbyn came from the majority of the UK’s 42 workplace unions. Keith Richmond, a spokesperson for ASLEF, the UK union for train drivers and operators, told Occupy.com: “The original decision to back Jeremy during his first stand for leader last year – not just by ASLEF but by many unions – was because there was distinct feeling that he was the one candidate who best represented not just the interests of our members and of the 6 million trade union members in the UK, but an opportunity to build a better Britain fit for the 21st century.”
Union support of Corbyn, he said, began during last year’s leadership election, when “the other four candidates were all representative of the failed Blairite past.” This latest election, he believes, “also brought a feeling that Jeremy has been undermined enormously by the parliamentary Labour Party – not by trade unions, not by the third sector or voluntary organizations, and not by the members.”
Smith, on the other hand, was never a serious candidate, Richmond said. “Apart from anything else he is hardly a household name even in his own household. Jeremy, by contrast, is thoroughly electable. He’s risen to every challenge – whether you look at the by-elections, whether you look at listening to people who might otherwise not be engaged with politics or the council elections as well – so there was never a question of not backing him.”
Corbyn’s second leadership term promises interesting times ahead for British politics. But it remains to be seen whether “Jezza,” as his fans affectionately call him, can bring about change on a large enough scale to get him elected to run the country in 2020.
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