Labour Elects a Leftist Robespierre as Leader as Odds on Brexit Shorten
In one of the most dramatic movements in European politics so far this century, Britain’s Labour Party, one of the world’s oldest, and most successful left parties of government, has chosen as its leader a 66 year old man of the hard, unflinching left.
After 13 years of leadership by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, two classic rightwing social democrats, pro-business, pro-EU, pro-American and against emotional leftism Labour has massively endorsed a man who is their opposite in every imaginable way.
The women who hoped to become either leader or deputy leader were swept to one side as Corbyn’s Number 2 is a middle-aged, middle-rank Labour MP, Tom Watson.
Most of Corbyn’s key aides, including the young leftist journalist and writer, Owen Jones, his economic advisors, and other close associates from leftwing campaigns dating back to the 1970s are all men.
Many leading women Labour MPs announced they would not serve under Corbyn and the Labour Party is now firmly controlled by middle-aged and older men thus defying the insistence that women should have leadership roles in modern centre-left politics.
Corbyn won 60 per cent of all the votes cast, a bigger share than Tony Blair obtained 21 years ago when he was elected leader. He went straight to address a rally in favour of allowing refugees into Britain, in contrast to the more cautious approach of the British and French and many other European governments.
Europe will now have to digest as leader of the Labour Party a man who in Greece would be in Syriza, in Spain, Podemos, in Germany Die Linke or in France le Front de Gauche.
Corbyn is a moralist not a Marxist, a preacher not a party factionalist, a signer of petitions not an intellectual ideologue, a man who sees injustice everywhere around him.
That leads him to positions where he is sympathetic to Hamas and to Hezbollah, to Hugo Chavez, to IRA terrorists, and to militant trade unions without any real examination of what they stand for and what they might achieve.
Only about ten Labour MPs actively supported him. This is not because he is disliked. On the contrary, Corybn is the most polite of men who will disagree with his political opponents but not seek to make personal points or disparage them.
I have known Jeremy for three decades and cannot remember an angry exchange even if I disagreed with many of his views.
He was anti-European in the 1970s and 1980s. His reflex anti-Americanism is that of the 1968 generation of which he an exemplar marching against the Vietnam War. He would like Britain to leave Nato, dump the Queen to become a republic, and give up its nuclear weapons.
He empathises with Latin America anti-US leftism and his last two marriages have been to a Chilean and then a Mexican political activist he met while campaigning on Latin American solidarity issues in London.
He has not spoken out in favour of quitting the EU but he is strongly critical of the orthodox austerity politics favoured by the dominant centre right EPP politicians in charge of the Commission and the EU Council. He says he wants a Europe that drops austerity and upholds workers’ rights.
In fact, the EU may provide Corbyn with his first big ballot box test as Prime Minister, David Cameron, has to hold a referendum on Britain leaving the EU by 2017.
No one expects Corbyn to campaign strongly for an institution he has always regarded with suspicion as being more in favour of big business and money-making than social solidarity and syndicalist trades unionism.
In addition, there will be many on the left who would like to trip up David Cameron by forcing a humiliating referendum defeat which would almost certainly mean his resignation as the Prime Minister who isolated Britain from Europe.
The temptation to see Cameron defeated will hover in the Corbyn camp to the dismay of pro-European Labour MPs.
Most political observers in Britain see the Corbyn victory as making Brexit more, not less likely.
But none of them have come up with an adequate explanation of how this outsider from the far-left fringe of Labour politics has triumphed so completely.
But they should look at history. Marx once wrote that history repeated itself first as tragedy then as farce. In Britain’s Labour Party history simply repeats itself. The extraordinary hysteria in British political circles over Jeremy Corbyn as if Lenin, Trotsky, and Hugo Chavez had taken over the Labour Party and consign it to oblivion forgets the first lesson of Labour Party history.
This states that when Labour goes into opposition it always turns left, often sharp left to begin with and usually elects as its leaders or leading spokespersons politicians who appeal to the party’s gut instincts not voters’ needs and aspirations.
This summer that phenomenon has been exacerbated by the decision to allow 200,000 people join the Labour Party if they paid £3 (€5) just to vote in the election and nothing else. The defeated Labour leader, Ed Miliband, resigned straight after he lost the general election and initiated a leadership contest which had never been tried before and which allowed no time for serious candidate to emerge.
Scores of thousands joined up to vote against the establishment Labour MPs, former protégés of Tony Blair or Gordon Brown who offered themselves as leadership candidates and who were seen as not true echt Socialists with a capital S.
There is always an anger on the left against an outgoing Labour government which is accused of selling out to the establishment, sucking up to America, or forgetting about the workers and the poor.
And when ex-Labour ministers go into the private sector and become very rich, the charge made against Tony Blair and other ex-Labour cabinet ministers there is a puritan desire to find a pure, incorruptible – a Labour Robespierre to lead Labour and Britain towards socialist purity.
In the 1930s, Labour elected as its leader a long forgotten politician called George Lansbury, a religious pacifist as leader in the hope Hitler, Mussolini and Franco would be converted to democracy.
In the 1980s, when Labour went into opposition after Margaret Thatcher’s election Labour had Michael Foot, another unelectable followed by Neil Kinnock, elected as party leader in 1983 as an anti-war, Eurosceptic, anti-American Labour MP.
To be sure, Kinnock changed but he remained unelectable losing elections in 1987 and 1992. So in opting for Corbyn, also is anti-American, anti-business, anti-military, anti-Israel and soft on Latin American socialism of the Venezuela/Cuba variety Labour is just reverting to type.
But at some stage Labour will self-correct as it has done in the past. How long and what form this self-correction will take is now the important question. Labour today has a new generation of politicians elected in 2010 and 2015 who are modern, smart, reformist. Most Labour MPs are horrified at what has happened as are thousands of municipal councillors, and intelligent union leaders even if they disliked the top-down control exercised by Tony Blair, and his two successors as Labour leaders, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.
In 1992, after a fourth consecutive Tory election victory, it looked as Britain would live under Tory rule forever. It didn’t. Labour will regain electability but as in the 1980s or the 1950s it may have to lose some elections before it starts to be attractive to voters. And with the best will in the world no-one can imagine Jeremy Corbyn becoming Britain’s prime minister, least of all himself