The Corbyn conundrum

The new Labour leader is a nobody elected by a desperate party, but his victory is a warning on the state of British politics.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 21 Sep 2015

You couldn’t, as they say, make it up. If before Saturday’s Labour leadership results, David Hare had drafted a play about a surprise new leader of the old British Left who had even half of Jeremy Corbyn’s hardcore credentials, he would quickly have filed the idea in the bin. In the aspirational 21st century - we’re all middle class now, remember - who would have believed it?

And yet here we are, and her majesty’s official opposition has at its head a man who has never held office or been so much as a shadow minister, a political outsider who has defied his party’s whip over 500 times, who invited Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams into parliament only days after the Brighton bomb, and who is so uncompromising in his beliefs that he divorced his second wife for refusing to send their eldest son to the failing local comp.

At a stroke, half of the British two party system appears to have consigned itself to the ranks of the unelectable loony fringes, to the horror of most of the party’s senior figures, and the ill-concealed delight of many Tories.  

But fully 60% of the 400,000 or so who voted, chose Corbyn. Even allowing for a few three quid mischief makers from the other end of the political spectrum, that’s a hefty mandate any newly-elected leader would be proud to have. He has, so his supporters claim, ridden a wave of surprise popularity with disillusioned young party members fed up with the status quo.

So what’s going on?  Has a desperate post-Miliband Labour party really gone loco, stripped off the Blairite designer suit that chafed so badly, grabbed a load of red flags and run naked into the wilderness for a spot of primal screaming?

Well, you can certainly read a dollop of existential angst in the result. A disastrous defeat in a general election where many of the ingredients for a resurgence of new, New Labour appeared to be present has asked questions of the party that it is struggling to answer. Corbyn may be part of that process, although it is hard to see how adding another post-Blair un-leader to the ignominious tally of Brown and Miliband is going to help much.

But his unprecedented success also hints at a deeper malaise, a generation of voters so fed up with Westminster clones indistinguishable save the colour of their rosettes, that they prefer an authentic nobody like Corbyn. Someone who talk his own brand of rubbish like he means it, rather than spouting a clumsy script from party HQ like a bit-part player in a daytime soap.

Unsullied as he has been for his 32 year career by the compromising realities of office, Corbyn can look, if you squint hard enough, like the real deal. Especially to jaundiced twentysomethings who see those in power of whatever stripe pandering to the privileges of the middle-aged and pensioners whilst failing to address their needs ‘because the young don’t vote.’

Well, some of them have voted now, and although it was only to elect a leader who may well prove to be a shortlived dead end, their choice is a warning to the rest of British politics. If they just keep on kicking the kids forever, then sooner or later the kids are going to start kicking them back.


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