Since he came to power Jeremy Corbyn has faced some serious criticism from party members and the public alike, and yet, Labour has a rare chance to reinvent itself, will they see it through?
New Labour, the Conservatives and even the Liberal Democrats were considered to be one and the same. Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron graduated from the same breed of the Oxford elite which has come to determine leaders in UK politics. They were portrayed to be out of touch with the ordinary electorate, most noted when the leaders did not know the price of everyday items such as a loaf of bread and the cost of weekly food bills. Although, the YouGov poll did demonstrate that 68 per cent of the British public shared Cameron’s ignorance of the price of a loaf of bread, with most believing it cost more than 80p. However, the consensus remained that politicians are unable to comprehend the daily challenges faced by the general public.
The Conservative Party’s astounding if somewhat unexpected victory and Labour’s inability to secure seats in Scotland led to a revolution in politics by the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn. Young people were said to be disillusioned with politics, and yet, Labour’s extraordinary leadership contest where a relatively unknown left-leaning backbencher became the head of New Labour’s central moderate party was in part due to the enthusiasm of the younger supporters. Undoubtedly, the grassroots movement and the rule allowing any member of the public to vote for a candidate with just a £3 fee aided in him gaining almost 60 per cent of the votes. There was also the threat of infiltration by opposition parties to block Corbyn’s election and the general fear that he would ruin Labour’s electoral chances in the future. Indeed, support from Corbyn’s fellow Labour MPs was thought to be relatively low.
And now, three months after the victory and the press continues to declaim Labour’s oncoming doom and the breakdown between his allies and rivals within the Labour Party — the most recent example being his failure to convince 66 Labour MPs to vote against the airstrikes in Syria.
However, despite these supposed obstacles, Corbyn has certainly brought new life into a dull political system with more people taking an interest in politics (even if it is not necessarily to support but to berate him and his ‘outdated’ policies). In fact, Corbyn’s arrival has raised some intense debate within Parliament striking at some key issues such as the ethical soundness of financing defence programmes like Trident.
In the recent debate over Syria, though Corbyn could not overturn the decision to launch airstrikes, he did at least present an argument for not blindly supporting the Prime Minister’s policy, which is arguably a main function of any opposition party. To appreciate this, just remember that concerning the war with Iraq in 2003, the Conservative Party supported Blair’s ambitions without much hesitation.
Moreover, though the Trident nuclear submarine is believed to be a significant part of UK security and a durable demonstration of our military dominance in the world, this standard justification should not hinder opposition leaders from debating and highlighting a different opinion. Opposition leaders should challenge mainstream thought and offer alternative objectives. This tendency has been lacking since the Blair and Brown years, as both Labour and Conservative were seen to share many policies and ambitions.
The enthusiastic young Corbyn supporters demonstrated that the disillusioned and disheartened can certainly be brought back into politics, they simply need a candidate who understands their ideologies and ambitions.
The debates within Parliament should represent different perspectives and allow the public to judge the merits of a case from various sides, so they can decide for themselves which cause is the worthiest. Moreover, the said ‘death’ of the Labour Party allows it time to decide on its vision for the future, giving it a chance to reinvent itself after 18 years. The same has been true of the Conservative Party, which began to promote more centralist policies after its loss to the Blair leadership.
Following the general election, Labour is at a crossroads; some people believe it must promote leftist ideas and others think it must return to centralist policies. Labour has the opportunity to forge a new path to its future and should consider very carefully just what that will be.