As I See It
Britain takes yet another turn after Corbyn’s election
Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader is the fourth leg of an extraordinary political journey for the British electorate. Since last year’s referendum campaign Britain has voted for the union, nationalism, consumerism and neo-marxism.
Each step, from the indyref through the SNP landslide and the Conservatives’ unexpected majority at the General Election, has taken the country in a different direction. Throw in the rise of UKIP, and even the Greens, and British politics has never been so pluralistic.
What is now so interesting is how these factions will interact. Political pundits are salivating over Mr Corbyn’s appearance at his first Prime Minister Questions next week which is expected to command a full house. He has added some spice by saying his colleagues may be invited to ask questions.
Undoubtedly, attention will concentrate on his intention to move Labour sharply to the left, to reclaim its roots in defending the weak, the underprivileged, and those he regards as having been abandoned by the political – and commercial – system.
As I stated in earlier commentaries, this will open up a new battleground in Scotland with a hugely popular nationalist party which succeeded partly because of its appeal to traditional Labour supporters who believed their party had turned its back on them.
It was my view in the run up to the General Election in May that Scottish Labour was a busted flush and that its salvation may come by forging alliances with other lost causes in Scottish politics to create a new party of the centre. Despite the SNP’s overwhelming victory, there remains a substantial anti-SNP, anti-nationalist vote in Scotland. Galvanising these people into one opposition party would give them a voice and a chance of challenging what is fast becoming a one-party state.
This is also a risk. By reopening this battle for the left, it will be abandoning those Labour supporters who were drawn to its representation of a more aspirational working class that believed in consumerism and wealth creation.
Just how Corbyn will unite these hugely differing wings of his party may be the biggest test of his leadership. That is assuming he wants to unite them. Nationalising the railways and the energy companies, binning Trident, raising taxes on the rich – these are the policies that have persuaded at least seven members of the shadow cabinet to fall on their swords in the past 24 hours. The divisions are already manifesting in a party split far more profound than that which led to the creation of the Social Democratic Party in the early 1980s.
In Scotland, Mr Corbyn will need the party – or what is left of the party – to unite behind him to win back vital seats that are crucial to its success at Westminster. It cannot be a coincidence that the SNP leader has announced today that she is setting out new conditions on achieving independence. For the first time since assuming the party leadership, Nicola Sturgeon may be concerned that Labour might just pose a threat to the party’s dominance.
Mr Corbyn is telling us not to forget those elements in society that still need the old Labour. There are local pockets of poverty where food banks are the norm and consumerism has passed people by. At the other extreme, Corbynism embraces an international, humanitarian politics. The new leader might just have timed his election perfectly in a year when we are faced with the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, the renewal of Trident and the fall-out from the global financial crisis. All of these – from impoverished neighbourhoods to worldwide peace and equality – play into his and the left’s hands.
Mr Corbyn wants his own version of New Labour which is a recreation of Old Labour. Let him get on with it, and let the public decide if that is what they want.