The Corbyn Phenomenon: A Flash in the Pan or Here to Stay?
By Malathy Sitaram
A party in search of a leader
Reading the acreage of words about the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Labour Party in the Tory press in the last few days, I conclude that the gloves are off and the battle to decapitate Jeremy Corbyn is on in earnest. The same ploy as the one that sent Ed Miliband packing will be in operation from now on. Will it succeed this time? It certainly played a part in bringing about the crushing defeat of the Party in the General Election in May. The tactics employed were a clever use of constant ridicule, derision and even disdain aimed at Miliband through words, cartoons and photographs. It was the slick choreography of soundbites, gossip and derogatory views that did for him. After the shambolic results of the election, Miliband resigned as party leader.
Enter Jeremy Corbyn
In the last few weeks we have followed the fortunes of the four candidates who were standing for election as leader of the Labour party and making the usual round of speeches and appearances around the country in the battle for votes by Party members. Two women and two men were standing. The women were Blairites and the men were supported by the unions. The term ‘Blairite’ can be seen as either criticism or praise depending on a person’s political viewpoint. We heard that the surprise announcement of Corbyn’s candidature led to a sudden surge of applications to join the Labour Party. Membership suddenly shot up and we heard that the rules were so lax that the applications by some members of the Conservative party were successful. We read about the enthusiastic support by new and young members for Jeremy sweeping through the land. Who was this man who had so much popular support? We learnt that he lived in the well-known left wing London suburb of North Islington and had been an MP representing that borough since 1983. The papers swooped on his leftist sympathies. We read breathless accounts of his left wingery. He has been linked with anti-Jewish factions, he was pro-Russia, anti-American hegemony and NATO, Capitalism, the EU and good grief, he was anti-monarchy! He even wanted an end to Trident, the guarantee of our national security. What sort of creature was this? A Trotskyite perhaps?
Could this slim, mild and professorially benign looking man, grey haired and with a neatly trimmed grey beard be such a villain? Surely he must be a grandad. Why were thousands of youngish people paying the £3 membership fee to join the Labour Party to vote for him? A new word was coined overnight: Corbynmania. And in true British style, the papers referred to him as Jez. The ex- Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, Tony Blair whose three electoral victories have given him a boastful tendency, dismissed Corbyn out of hand by saying that anyone supporting Corbyn needed a head transplant; the equivalent of saying such a person needed his head examined. Blair is the only person unaware of the fact that nobody is listening to him. Blair’s government was one that began to seem Conservative lite. Corbyn is proud to be a socialist, his main preoccupation being to reduce the gross inequality he perceives in Britain as well as in the world. He believes in true democracy and is a teetotaller, a vegetarian and a passionate supporter of the Trade Union movement. We heard again and again from the Blairite faction that if Corbyn were elected leader of the party, Labour would never win an election in the foreseeable future! It would be out in the cold. The prophets of doom even went so far as to say if he won there would be a move to topple him as soon as possible. Could they really be members of the same party? War has been declared.
A Seismic Result
The voting process started on 10th August, closed on10th September and the result announced on Saturday, Sept 12th was as expected, a sweeping victory and mandate for the outsider, Jeremy Corbyn. Shortly after meeting his team of cheering supporters and making a short speech he was off to join the Refugee Solidarity march. Those members of the party who were against him immediately announced that they would not serve under Corbyn because they would not agree on policies. How will he survive with so much animosity within his own party? He is seen as “Hard” Left and it seems his brand of Socialism does not tally with some of his colleagues who were shocked at his choice of the far-left MP John McDonnell for the post of shadow Chancellor. He faces criticism over his failure to appoint any women to top posts and the Tory press has lost no time in throwing brickbats at him. The existing members of the Parliamentary Labour party are hostile to Corbyn and did not clap on his appearance at their first meeting, preferring to sit in hostile silence.
A Tough Time Ahead
It looks like Corbyn faces a tough time with enemies within, apart from the Conservative Party and the media which will subject him to intense scrutiny and tear him to bits if possible. His opponents within the party must accept his huge democratic victory and Corbyn must put ideology aside and concentrate on policy and work to bring about changes that will improve people’s lives. In order to bring about change he will need to win the hearts and minds of the moderates in his party. If not, his triumph will be cut short.