UK Labour's hysterical power struggle


Jeremy Corbyn These are seriously exciting times in British politics. I am of course referring to the furore within the opposition Labour Party and the mounting success of an unlikely contender for leadership, Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour Party was sent reeling last May when their Conservative rivals again took power in a general election that saw them winning the support of over eleven million voters. Whilst not entirely unexpected, it unleashed something of a power struggle within Labour as the party attempted to take stock of what exactly had wrong.

In the resulting scramble for nominations to the recently vacated post of party leader, Corbyn rushed in for a last minute bid that saw him surge ahead in the polls, causing a veritable panic among his opponents inside and outside the party.

So what's all the noise about? At a glance Corbyn comes across as more of a social democrat than revolutionary firebrand. His policy platform, as much as has been revealed, stands upon a somewhat inoffensive endorsement of state ownership, anti-austerity politics and trade union support, alongside scrapping the UK's nuclear deterrent and questioning our continued membership in NATO.

But what's interesting here is that such rhetoric has prompted such considerable alarm within the establishment. The reason, it seems, is that the entire political edifice of British politics has shifted so far to the right that even the above can appear as dangerously radical.

Take the hysterical reaction of certain other contenders for Labour leadership. Liz Kendall, herself constituting the favoured 'Blairite' candidate (who is, incidentally, dead-last in the polls) hasn't been shy about hopping onto the bandwagon of right-wing opinion that believe Corbyn will 'take us back to the 1970s'. Whilst it remains unclear how the 66 year-old vegetarian may be capable of travelling through time, let alone dragging all sixty two million Britons with him, it does speak to their own agenda, that being a genuine fear of a return to the days of trade union clout, organisational freedom and political gusto.

Neil Kinnock, himself leader of the Labour party from 1983 to 1992 has subsequently weighed in, blasting Corbyn for allegedly being supported by 'malign Trots'. Corbyn's success in the polls, so the argument goes, is due to 'hard left' elements flocking to his banner, rather than any real base of support among Labour supporters.

Yet this seems to have more to do with Kinnock's own political past than possible infiltration by a few supporters identifying with a long dead Ukrainian revolutionary. Whilst there are indeed myriad Trotskyist groups within the UK, like their counterparts in the US and Australia they tend to suffer from both disunity and low recruitment. Even if the entirety of the British Trotskyist left suddenly attempt to emigrate into the Labour party (an astonishingly unlikely scenario) it would most likely not amount to more than a thousand new recruits. At best.

And the current membership surge is far beyond such a paltry figure. Tens of thousands of recruits are thought to have flocked into the party in recent months, many of which are more than likely to back Corbyn. In an alarming turn of events, this has caused panic among certain Labour tops, who are even thought to be entertaining the possibility of either stopping the election, refusing to serve under a Corbyn leadership or actually deposing him should he succeed.

'I can’t see any case for letting him have two minutes in office, let alone two years,' said John McTernan, himself a Labor party political advisor, in an interview for The Spectator.

'In the unlikely event Corbyn wins, (it matters that) something is done swiftly and quickly to restore the party to its sense,’ he argued.

What about party members who disagree? Not a concern, at least for Mr McTernan, who has his own interesting take on how a democratic organisation should function.

'Who cares about the grassroots?', he said, 'the leader is one who determines the saleability of the Labour party. How the Labour party in the twenty first century, at a time when Putin is at his most aggressive, can consider electing a leader who would take us out of NATO I have no idea, genuinely no idea.

'Why is that acceptable for the Labour party and why party members of all sorts think that is acceptable to the electorate I have no idea,' he added.

It's certainly one thing for a political advisor to have 'no idea' on so many important questions, but quite another to hold democratic procedure in such evident contempt. Whatever the case may be, the Conservative victory last May could be about to meet a serious challenge. If Corbyn wins the leadership of Labour and goes on to strike a chord with the broader public, a further shift in the European political climate, already in evidence in both Greece and Spain, may become a reality.

Daniel ReadDan Read is a UK based journalist and blogger with an MA in human rights who is studying global politics at Southampton. Tweets @DanielTRead.

Corbyn image: Wikimedia Commons

Topic tags: Daniel Read, austerity, EU, UK, politics, Labour movement, Jeremy Corbyn



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Existing comments

Daniel, Thank-you for your informative article. All we seem to hear out of the UK is that Jeremy Corbyn is an extreme left wing socialist, primed to destroy not just the Labour party but the UK if elected. How could such an individual be the front runner for the Labour leadership they ask......Well a quick look at his biography on Wiki describes a committed individual who stands up for his beliefs and is willing to challenge those in authority. He is heavily involved with his local constituents in Islington North and has been there representative since 1983! What struck me most was that during the 2009 expenses scandal it was shown that he had claimed the smallest amount of all 650 MPs. He stated that he needed to be careful with his expenses as it was public money! – now that’s a novel idea for a politician in Australian or the UK. So for those who cannot understand his popularity have a closer look at the man. You might even start to get the idea that he could be a genuine politician as opposed to the various processed and packaged versions we seem to have today in odious numbers today.

Andrew Teece | 17 August 2015  

I think Corbyn's views admirable, though I can see how the ghost of Michael Foot seems to standing right behind him. We need a younger person - Corbyn will be 70 by the time the next election comes around - and a new way of getting those ideas across. As for John McTernan ... he became Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's advisor, and we all know how that turned out. (Why does anyone listen to these people?)

Russell | 17 August 2015  

Most enlightening article. The Blairites are vilifying this man so thoroughly that I have been trying to find out why they hate him so much. Basic Labour policies seem to enrage the Blair camp as they contradict the prevailing ruling class neo-liberalism and free market heresy. It would help save the UK if he became PM instead of the venomous Tories who belong in the past with the Stuarts and their pretensions.

Bilal | 17 August 2015  

Far-leftist Jeremy Corbyn supports terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah; is a throwback to 1950s socialism—he wants to re-nationalise British railways and energy; and his economic policies are a blueprint from Greece—he opposes any austerity notwithstanding debt. In the 1980s communist China threw out its Marxist-Leninist economic blueprint, embraced the market economy, and by 2014 overtook the USA as the world’s largest economy. By 1986 Vietnam suffered from endemic poverty, chronic rice shortages, and 700 % inflation. So it too ditched its failed socialist economic policies. Result: from 1993 to 2004 the percentage of people living in poverty dropped from 60% to 20%; Vietnam became the world’s second-largest exporter of rice; and in 2013 the Vietnamese economy grew by 8.5%. It makes one wonder if these rusted-on old socialists (Corbyn is 66) can possibly be so obtuse. Or are they really just opportunists preaching populist politics—like the late Hugo Chavez, whose family owns 17 country estates totalling more than 100,000 acres, in addition to liquid assets of $550 million stored in various international bank accounts, according to Venezuelan news website Noticias Centro—while ordinary Venezuelans suffer growing food shortages and 68% inflation as at December 2014.

Ross Howard | 17 August 2015  

The housing (and used vehicle) market is so exponentially steep that certain unforseen consequences are effecting life. Children are being brought-up without the lived experience of home-making with Mum and Dad. The founders once suggested a fridge-dial managed by the eldest child to indicate atmosphere of household, especially whether parents showed joy in each other. Persons are victimised by merely transactional-style moral behaviour. The mooted preferences of a future buyer only dictate to those with much time & dough to burn-through.

Louise O'Brien-Jeffree | 17 August 2015  

Really interesting. The financially insecure UK electorate is moving leftwards , but the power structure in both major parties is firmly locked into the Anglo-American strategic alliance and support of U.S. global hegemony, with the UK as the nuclear --
armed but (very) junior partner. This is all that is left of the former British empire, and much of the British establishment and educated class clings desperately to this shadow from the past. Corbyn, to his credit, does not. He would have a lot in common ideologically with Nicola Sturgeon's triumphant SNP in Scotland. His leadership of Labour, if it comes to pass, could yet save the United Kingdom. The idea of a reinvigorated people-friendly UK which left NATO and abandoned its pipsqueak but dangerous nuclear deterrent is tantalisingly attractive. But it is hard to see it happening. Too many powerful people on both sides of politics (witness McKernan's comments) - and powerful outside forces that I do not need to name- will strive strenuously to derail
Corby 's campaign, or his party leadership should he win that uneasy crown. I wish he could win: he is no Trotskyite, but an old fashioned decent British Labourite like Michael Foot, Richard Crossman, Hugh Gaitskell. But I fear his foreign policy will be his undoing.

Tony kevin | 18 August 2015  

It is true that (especially in a country with, putatively, a five-year parliamentary term) a man in his mid-sixties is not a very likely full-term leader for the British Labour
Party. But that's not the reason for the extreme comment. The reason is that (as in Australia) the professional class have got used to owning the political power in Britain -- the distasteful likes of John McTernan. Blair, the epitome of self-serving insincerity, is, justifiably, unpopular in Britain -- so the comments of his acolytes (presumably just a touch self-serving) can be disregarded for what they are.
The irony for Britain (as also here in Australia) is the calibre of the leadership on the other side of politics. My own observations, whilst in Britain, have persuaded me that the old-Etonian, Cameron is one of the least impressive political leaders" I have seen over me politically-observing lifetime.
But, at least, Corbyn seems to be a "conviction politician" (notwithstanding that Ross Howard finds him to be so comprehensive a sinner). The vitriol directed at him is disturbing not because is is so nasty, or even whethwer it has any truth, but because, nowadays, "conviction" seems to be so readily and comprehensively sneered at by the political classes (though not necessarily be the electors).

Dr John Carmody | 18 August 2015  

McTernan's failure to care about the grassroots probably explains how he managed to destroy the Blair/Brown government, then the Gillard government, then the Murphy team in Scotland, all of whom held to a view that Labo(u)r shouldn't really stand for anything. And look how they all did. We have Cameron, Abbott and the SNP in charge because of his work and that of those like him. Taking advice from them is assured destruction.

Andrew | 18 August 2015  

Couple of days ago John Faine interviewed Greg E., the Australian's editor at large/foreign affairs expert. Slanderously, I suspect, Greg E. stated that Jeremy Corbyn's irresponsible plans included reopening the Welsh coal mines. He didn't sound like he was joking. I didn't know they cared; unless its now convenient to spread fear of the Left causing collapsing slag heaps and ruined lungs of miners. Of course, said Greg, the billions needed to buy back the privatised utilities is quite impossible. Pure coincidence of course but just this morning Radio National had an interview with a chap whose dad and grand dad worked in the mines (not Wales) and their health was ruined and they didn't want him going same way. So he became a high paid social worker, so he said. I think Jeremy Corbyn should be told about this.

Jaq | 18 August 2015  

As a social democrat, I cannot abide Corbyn and would not support him. A social democrat break away party is inevitable if he becomes the leader, like what happened when Michael Foot became leader.

Angela | 18 August 2015  

"We need a younger person - Corbyn will be 70 by the time the next election comes around." I hope no-one shares that fact with Pope Francis!

Dennis Sleigh | 18 August 2015  

''Who cares about the grassroots?', he said, 'the leader is one who determines the saleability of the Labour party'. You have to admire this guy. What a succinct summary of what he believes is important and what isn't.

Joan Seymour | 20 August 2015  

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