As I See It
Corbyn will create a new left wing battle in Scotland
According to popular belief, soapbox politics died a generation ago. If that is so, then someone forgot to tell the 2,000 folk who packed the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool to hear Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday.
Mr Corbyn is defying every pundit, political scientist, psephologist, and anyone else who thought he was in the election just to make up the numbers.
He is backed by 152 constituency parties, some distance ahead of Andy Burnham with 111, Yvette Cooper with 106 and Liz Kendall on 18. Nominations do not carry any weight in terms of votes, but they give us an indication as to the mood of Labour supporters. He also has the backing of two trade unions.
So, in an era when politics has increasingly been fought over the centre ground, what is going on?
Well, this concentration on the centre is exactly one reason why Mr Corbyn is becoming increasingly attractive to a wide constituency of voters who feel disenfranchised from ‘soundalike’ politicians. Cameron, Clegg, Blair, Brown and even Miliband may have squabbled a little over the details of defence, monetary policy and the NHS, but they have been barely distinguishable in terms of broad policy, let alone ideology.
Mr Corbyn offers an alternative: nationalise the railways, scrap Trident and raise the higher rate of income tax. He spoke to his Liverpool audience of the “grotesque” unfairness in modern Britain.
His critics, including many in the media, have demonised him, but what they fail to understand is that, like Tony Benn before him, he touches a nerve with the ordinary voter. He is the everyman, an unpolished, unreconstructed politician in the mould of Chris Mullin and Michael Foot. He is giving voice to those who see greedy bankers and other corporate under-performers go unpunished, and who resent the apologists for the aristocratic arrogance of Lord Sewel. Mr Corbyn speaks their language and gives them hope.
It is, of course, an unashamedly left wing agenda. Britain has often flirted with left wing politics, but apart from electing a government under Clement Attlee committed to nationalisation it is has never fully embraced it. The Attlee government was also of its time, ushered in with an emergency agenda to rebuild a Britain shattered by six years of war.
Corbyn, on the other hand, is asking Britons to sacrifice their modern love of consumerism – arguably a more logical step for Labour to take. As such he ‘risks’ – as one of Labour’s business donors warned – splitting the party. However, trying to stop the right and left from engaging in internecine warfare will not be his only challenge.
A shift to the left also moves Labour back on to the territory it has lost in Scotland to the SNP. This is also risky.
A Corbyn-led Labour party has a good chance of rekindling its links with traditional Scottish supporters, and thus offer a real challenge to the nationalists.
On the other hand, voters may feel that an agenda built on a social agenda is no longer enough. As well as a return to its roots, many of those who switched to the SNP may also demand that it loosens its allegiance to the union. This is where the 2016 election could be fought.
It also suggests a further leftward lurch in Scotland which will not be popular with businesses and external investors who will be fearful that it will become a high tax, welfare driven country run to a statist rather than an enterprise agenda.
Mr Corbyn could be about to make his mark north of the border.