Jeremy Corbyn’s rise into the forefront of the British political discourse can only described as meteoric, and like all such unexpected surges, both his supporters and detractors have adopted some extreme positions. To his opponents, Jeremy Corbyn is the Iain Duncan Smith of modern Labour, a 80s throwback rushed into power by interlopers or even false-flag Conservative supporters, and to some of his supporters, in Jeremy Corbyn we see the first steps on a road back to a Labour Party which truly represents the working man, and a culture of renewed political honesty.
As with most situations like this, both sides seek to obscure uncomfortable truths in order to advance their own viewpoint, even if they both draw from factual roots. Corbyn is neither messiah nor Anti-Christ for Labour, or the political Left. As a supporter of Corbyn myself, I do feel a need to voice my reservations about his election to the Labour leadership; while I have high hopes for his tenure as leader, I feel that many in his camp may be expecting a bit much from him.
Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader will not magically change the Labour policy platform. Many of Corbyn’s supporters are firmly left-wing, some even share his self-professed socialism, but the critique levelled against him by his detractors – that his surge of support has come from outside the party’s pre-existing membership – has merit. Corbynites may be more left-wing, but the core membership of the Labour Party remain more centrist. Corbyn’s election as leader will certainly affect the political tenor of Labour’s policy platform in the months and years to come, but he alone cannot dictate policy. In order to achieve what he wants, he has to work with the Blairites he just defeated – the ideological inertia within the party is a mighty force that he will struggle to overcome.
While Corbyn is a veteran politician, and has run an effective and charismatic election campaign, he has spent his years in Labour as a back-bench MP. While his naked rebellion towards the whips (between 2000 and 2005 he defied them 238 times, 25% of all votes) may be a positive in the eyes of those who feel that a principled politician shouldn’t be bound by the party line, it has also served to alienate him from his fellow Labour MPs. While the public dictates his success in the election, his success as leader depends upon support within the elected body of the party itself, and in this he has not yet won his victory. While he has proven himself in winning public support, his mastery of the internal politics necessary to be an effective leader is as yet untested.
Lastly, Jeremy Corbyn may have won the Labour leadership, but he must now of course focus on a General Election campaign. In no uncertain terms, the task is daunting – it would be for any Labour leader in the current political climate – but one thing is clear. Corbyn may win back Scotland from SNP voters, as unlikely as it seems. Corbyn may win over Green voters too. As many have said, he may galvanise non-voters to vote for him. Corbyn’s firebrand style of political rhetoric and bold policies may well attract those groups to Labour. However, in order to be a credible candidate in 2020, Corbyn must attract the votes of those who voted Conservative in 2015, and this is a demographic that he has yet to successfully court. Much as it seems a tired adage, Corbyn may have good policies, but he still has to win the public. And that’s not going to be easy for someone who deliberately paints themselves as outside the political mainstream.
Image: Vaughn Maizer