Leftist Jeremy Corbyn swept to victory on Saturday (12 September) in the race for the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party, marking a clean break with New Labour, and adding to a growing body of resentment against the European Union.
Corbyn, a 66-year-old bearded vegetarian, rode a dramatic surge of grassroots support to win 59.5% of the vote in a result hailed by the Syriza party in Greece, and Podemos in Spain.
The veteran leftist’s decisive victory marks a break with the legacy of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his reformist “New Labour” movement of the 1990s, which emphasised a Thatcher-influenced pro-market stance, and a pro-European agenda.
Corbyn began eking out his shadow cabinet on Sunday (13 September), naming veteran left-wing MP and close ally John McDonnell as shadow finance minister.
Centrist Chuka Umunna announced he would leave his position as shadow business secretary due to differences with Corbyn on policy – in particular over Britain’s upcoming referendum on membership of the European Union, expected by 2017.
“It is my view that we should support the UK remaining a member of the EU… I cannot envisage any circumstances where I would be campaigning alongside those who would argue for us to leave,” Umunna said in a statement.
“Jeremy has made it clear to me that he does not wholeheartedly share this view.”
Corbyn has frequently criticised the EU over labour rights and has remained ambiguous on whether he would campaign for Britain to remain in the 28-member bloc.
‘Death of New Labour’
Concerned over how to shape Labour to win back voters, senior Labour figures have questioned whether Corbyn is too radical for the electorate after a bruising defeat to Prime Minister David Cameron’s centre-right Conservatives in May.
Blair, who won the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections, warned ahead of the leadership vote that a Corbyn victory would be an “electoral disaster”.
The Sunday Telegraph proclaimed Corbyn’s victory the “Death of New Labour” on its front page.
On policy, Corbyn’s ascent signals a hardening of Labour on traditional lefitst policies such as the re-nationalisation of railways, water companies and other utilities. The new Labour leader is also a staunch pacifist who has been involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Corbyn is also well-known for his support of the Palestinians.
Those leftist positions gave ammunition to Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who said Labour had become dangerous for Britain. “The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security,” Cameron said on his personal Twitter account on Sunday, in his first pronouncement on Corbyn’s election.
Some commentators have described Corbyn’s remarkable rise as evidence that British society was turning more progressive. A YouGov poll from 2013 indeed showed that some of Corbyn’s most audacious proposals, such as the re-nationalisation of railways, enjoyed strong public support.
But while British people still endorse those policies, “it is worth remembering that they also support policies so right-wing that no mainstream politician has proposed them,” YouGov remarked. These include, for example, stopping benefits for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment.
Here is an outline of Corbyn’s stance on Britain’s most controversial issues:
- Corbyn has said he is wary of the EU’s “market system” and its treatment of Greece. The Labour leader has not been clear about which side he will take in the EU membership referendum due to be held by 2017.
- The closest Corbyn has come to stating his position on the issue was when he said: “We cannot be content with the state of the EU as it stands. But that does not mean walking away, but staying to fight together for a better Europe.”
- Corbyn is steadfastly opposed to the austerity programme of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, being more aligned with Greece’s left-wing Syriza party.
- He supports traditionally progressive economic policies, and is hostile to the TTIP free-trade agreement currently being negotiated by the European Union and the United States.
- The Labour leader advocates redistributive policies such as rent controls and high taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals, is in favour of renationalising the railways and the energy sector and has called for a “maximum wage” to curb excessive management pay.
- Leadership rivals Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper both criticised Corbyn’s proposals to print money in order to pay for his economic plans, dubbed “Corbynomics” by the press, saying they were “lacking credibility” and would cause inflation.
- However, Corbyn managed to gain the support of 35 economists, who recently wrote an open letter saying his policies were “actually mainstream economics” and not extreme.
- Corbyn is a staunch pacifist and has long been involved with organisations such as the Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
- He is a critic of the NATO alliance and supports the dismantling of Britain’s nuclear Trident submarines.
- “Senior military figures have described our existing nuclear weapons as ‘militarily useless’ and our possession of them encourages other countries to seek a similar arsenal while undermining the efforts being made to advance the cause of international nuclear disarmament,” he said.
- Corbyn has called for dialogue with the militant Palestinian Hamas movement and Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah as part of Middle East peace talks, and has said he will apologise for Britain’s role in the Iraq invasion if he becomes Labour leader.
- “It is past time that Labour apologised to the British people for taking them into the Iraq war on the basis of deception and to the Iraqi people for the suffering we have helped cause,” he said.
- The veteran politician has resisted calls to promise tighter border controls, saying immigrants had made a “massive contribution” to Britain.
- “I think children growing up in a multicultural society have a very good understanding of the rest of the world,” he said recently.
- The 66-year-old said in 2000 that he favoured decriminalising the possession and cultivation of cannabis.
- More recently, Corbyn said he was open to the idea of women-only carriages on public transport to reduce sexual assault and harassment.
- Corbyn is a committed republican but has so far limited himself to calls for new restrictions on the formal political powers of the monarchy, without attacking Queen Elizabeth II herself.
- He has signalled however that reform is not a top priority.