In a stunning victory, 100-1 underdog and old school leftie Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour party leadership contest with an astonishing 59% of the vote. It was the biggest electoral mandate of any political party leader in British history, and a clear endorsement of Corbyn’s socialist platform.
The Labour party establishment is reeling from the resounding rejection of centrism after a sustained campaign to discredit Corbyn. The Blairites will be particularly dismayed with the result and must now contend with the definitive end of their control over the party. A hapless Tony Blair pleaded with the party to prevent Corbyn before the election, penning an article in the Guardian titled “Even if you hate me, please don’t take the Labour party over the cliff edge”. Hardly an inspiring message, and the party’s vote reflected their discontent with an establishment deeply wedded to corporate power and foreign militarism.
Corbyn is the political equivalent of Bernie Sanders, a throwback leftie who has spent his political career fighting for social justice, peace and poverty. His re-emergence into the political mainstream represents a major shift in the status quo, and at the very least will force the political center to shift away from the ever rightwards trajectory it has been on for the past 30 years.
It may well be true that Corbyn is unelectable as prime minister – the Tories handily beat Labour in the general election four months ago proving their grip on the national psyche is still strong. Britain has deep conservative roots and it may take a decade for the left to mount a serious challenge. Ed Miliband’s disastrous leadership and the total abandonment of Blairism by party activists has proven the Labour party needs to change dramatically if it wants to be politically viable. It was all very well to argue that the party had to return to the center to become electable, but without support from the base it would be completely meaningless. You can’t win a general election if your own party doesn’t support you – a fact Tony Blair and his descendants appear to have ignored.
Corbyn’s everyman appeal isn’t sexy, but his straightforwardness and refusal to participate in negative politics has provided a breath of fresh air to liberals sick and tired of media spin and kowtowing to political conventions. Said Corbyn in his victory speech:
During this amazing three months our party has changed. We have grown enormously; we have grown enormously because of the hopes of so many ordinary people for a different Britain, a better Britain, a more equal Britain, a more decent Britain. They are fed up with the inequality, the injustice, the unnecessary poverty; all those issues have brought people in, in a spirt of hope and optimism.
So I say to the new members of the party or those who have joined in as registered supporters or affiliated supporters, welcome, welcome to our party, welcome to our movement.I say to those returning to the party who were in it before and felt disillusioned and went away, welcome back. Welcome back to your party, welcome home.
More than attracting support from the party’s base with leftist policies, Corbyn has challenged the political and media culture in Britain that has successfully turned off an entire generation of potential voters. He told his supporters:
The media and maybe many of us simply didn’t understand the views of many young people within our society. They had been written off as a non-political generation. They were simply not interested, hence the relatively low turnout and low level of registration in the last general election. They weren’t. They are a very political generation that were turned off by the way in which politics was being conducted and not attracted or interested in it. We have to, and must, change that.
Corbyn may never be prime minister, but if he reengages young people with politics and brings the Labour back from the bland wasteland of corporate centrism, he may well represent the huge shift British politics so desperately needs. And while convention dictates he has no chance of making it into Number 10, Corbyn has shown that odds don’t mean all that much.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.