New Labour is dead, long live the Labour Party!
Except not really. Not yet.
Following Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership race victory his party has been deemed unelectable and on the verge of collapse so frequently that it has turned into a conventional wisdom. The Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon even claimed that the Labour Party ‘is now a serious risk to our national security, our economic security and to the security of your family’. His understatement clearly goes to show how the right of centre are not at all scared of Mr Corbyn’s prospects as the opposition leader. Maybe they just like to scaremonger.
Jeremy Corbyn has now reached the next phase, the second act. During this next step he will need to be able to transform his hopeful words and leftist pledges into deeds.
But in order to accomplish that he will need the whole party’s support, and what we have learned from the reactions of the Blairites is that people who are obsessed with power and victory over principles make sore losers. Several prominent Labour MPs have already stated they will not serve under Corbyn, including Tristram Hunt, Rachel Reeves, Chris Leslie, as well as his leadership race rivals Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper. Shadow Health Minister, Jamie Reed showed real maturity and publicly resigned a whole minute after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory was announced.
To me this whole ‘Labour is now unelectable because it will not have our support any more’ scene, sounds much like blackmailing. The only thing the austerity-light wing of the party had to offer for months was scare tactics and blame game, which is why it’s not surprising that Mr Corbyn won with an even larger mandate than Tony Blair did in 1994. With 14,500 new members on the day of Corbyn’s victory, this was an even quicker membership growth than that generated by Tony Blair’s election.
While the Labour Right was too busy having fits over its loss, the Conservative Right was joyously celebrating their 2020 General Election victory. But whether or not Corbyn is unelectable cannot actually be proven before the 7th of May 2020, and before that the Conservatives must also figure out something more to say than the same old ‘we’re not finished with our long-term plan yet’ argument that got them into government this time. If Labour would’ve chosen otherwise, then that might have still worked in five years’ time.
Another Blairite leader would have just continued to follow the Tories further to the right just to stick to the ‘Third Way’ in the perceived centre, because in the two-party state of mind, where Labour is on the left no matter what, it doesn’t matter how much room there actually is on the left of the political field after the Labour Party. This was clear in the red ‘Controls on immigration’ campaign mug and in the austerity policies of the two Eds during the last election campaign – the party didn’t offer anything different. Labour turned Tory-light.
However, in Jeremy Corbyn the right-wing doesn’t have another Labour leader who follows the free market dogma as blindly as they do. His republican, pacifist agenda and anti-austerity heresy don’t fit in the free market dominated discourse of neoliberals.
Unlike what we have all heard from the right, ‘Corbynomics’ might not turn Britain into Zimbabwe. In fact, Corbyn’s economic policies were first backed by 35 economists in a letter sent to the openDemocracy website, followed by 42 more in a letter sent to the Guardian. Similarly, the Nobel Prize winners Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have spoken against austerity measures, as has Thomas Piketty, the most recent Messiah of left-wing economics.
Thus, Corbyn’s opponents might not be scared of his electoral chances, but they might want to re-estimate his impact on current political discourse, which has been ruled by right-wingers for decades. The election of actual left-wingers, Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan, to important opposition positions can finally shift the centre field back towards the political centre from where it has steadily shifted to the right during the last 35 years.
I’m not by any means a part of the core Corbynite demographic. I’m a cynical pessimist who, when presented with a full glass, can only think of the inevitable moment when the glass is half-empty again – and that is something Mr Corbyn’s hopemongering minions haven’t changed with their grassroots rallies and slogans. However, Britain deserves a principled competition between the right and the left, and that’s what Jeremy Corbyn can bring to the table.
After all, what is the use of a left-wing party if it’s not on the left? Something for the Blairites to answer, perhaps.