Not long ago, Jeremy Corbyn drew in one of the biggest crowds Glastonbury has ever seen. He inspired the politically disengaged to become interested in politics. He empowered others to believe in equality. Corbyn’s legacy will never be defeated.
Labour suffered a crushing defeat on December 12th, leaving supporters up and down the country feeling like they’d been punched in the gut. The party’s divisive leader might be on borrowed time, but, a world apart from the brutal critiques that equate Corbyn to the party’s worst ever leader, his legacy, aka Corbynism, lives on.
Not only has Corbynism, namely the quest for a fairer society, changed the political and social landscape forever, but, without anything now holding the Johnson administration back, Corbyn’s timeless legacy is more important than ever.
Step back to 2015 when, in the wake of a disappointing election result, Ed Miliband resigned as Labour Party leader and a hotly contested leadership race ensued.
Despite only being put on the leadership panel to create a more ‘broad debate’ for the party’s future, there was something about the bearded, bespectacled 66-year-old ‘leftie’ and his uncompromising socialist beliefs that inspired Labour party members. So much so, that Corbyn won the race in a stunning victory, dwarfing even Tony Blair’s leadership landslide in 1994.
No-one seemed more surprised than Corbyn himself when he was named party leader and forced to give a victory speech under the glare of hundreds of TV camera lights.
For those hoping for a more centrist leader to take Miliband’s place, such as the ‘Blairite’ candidate Liz Kendall, lessons from 2010 had not been learned, when Ed Miliband — labelled ‘Red Ed’ by some sections of the press — pipped his more centrist brother David to the leadership post. Grassroot Labour members still craved the more radical left-wing platform Ed Miliband had introduced.
Akin to many a Blairite’s reproach that blamed Miliband’s shift to the left under his 2010-15 leadership for Labour’s worst defeat in more than two decades, Corbyn’s significantly more crushing loss in the 2019 election has whipped centrist factions of the party into a finger-pointing, ‘I told you so’ frenzy.
In the wake of two disappointing general elections for Labour in the space of less than five years, divided by a near-breakthrough in 2017 when Corbyn’s party garnered an unexpectedly good result that squandered Theresa May’s plans to gain a majority, it could be easy to contend that Labour needs to revert back to its former ‘New Labour’ glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Though, getting in the way of a centrist reformation is Corbynism, a term coined to describe the powerful leftist ideology that Corbyn preached; namely, a commitment to democratic socialism, an opposition to privatisation, an anti-war rhetoric and devotion to equality.
During his 32 years as a Labour MP, including the four and a half years as party leader, Corbyn’s politics never wavered. He deeply opposes Blair, regarding him as a Thatcherite capitalist and an instrument of US imperialism. Defining himself as democratic socialist, Corbyn is a huge advocate of reversing austerity cuts to welfare funding and public services.
A long-standing anti-nuclear and anti-war activist, Corbyn has never kept his support of a foreign policy of military non-interventionism a secret — which together with other past associations, has become a favourite subject of harassment from the right-wing media.
Labour membership surges
Such doctrines centred on creating a more equal society, undoubtedly struck a chord with the people of Britain, as, during his tenure as leader, membership increased from 201,293 on the day of the 2015 general election, to around 485,000 members today.
This compares to the relatively smaller Conservative Party membership of just 191,000.
Not only had the principles of Corbynism inspired tens of thousands to join Labour, but they also awakened a political spirit among young people. The 2017 election witnessed a surge in young voters, with the election’s ‘youthquake’ reportedly being a key factor in Corbyn’s advance in the polls.
In the 2019 election, Labour still dominated the youth vote, with the party winning all but three of the 20 constituents with the most 18–35-year-olds.
Energising the politically disengaged
Corbyn’s pledges to do more to stamp out Britain’s growing homelessness, improve the country’s rapidly deteriorating public services and to make Labour the ‘party of equality’, grabbed the attention of compassionate listeners. People who had previously been disinterested in the same-old elitist politics suddenly sat up and listened.
Previously apolitical Generation Xers, disengaged millennials, and even baby boomers realising there could be something in making the country fairer for everyone, began to take note.
A record-breaking Pyramid Stage appearance
It could be said that the peak of Corbynism fervour was in June 2017, when the Labour leader walked on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, a platform reserved for the greatest, most legendary of figures. The then 68-year-old managed to pull in one of the biggest crowds at Glastonbury of all time, as he spoke of unity and creating a fairer world to the deafening roar of supporters.
Reasons for the party’s collapse in the 2019 election are complex, arguably founded by a ruthless blend of past associations coming back to bite, right-wing media manipulation and harassment, and a Tory-made Brexit mess.
Corbyn might not have won the votes at the polling stations. But his resolute politics founded on equality, did, however, inspire a generation.
Sealing the majority the Tories’ craved, Johnson now has nothing to hold him back. Consequently, the concept of Corbynism and the plight to invest in people to achieve a more balanced economy and fairer society, will be more important than ever.
Labour’s next leader has big shoes to fill.