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The Hindu Editorial | Into uncharted waters |15 September 2015

The Hindu Editorial | Into uncharted waters |15 September 2015
The election of avowed socialist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of Britain’s main Opposition party is viewed as being of a piece with recent European movements challenging the established status quo of parties dominated by the Centre-Right. That is true, but only partially. In his entire political career – longer than his 32 years as the Labour Member of Parliament from Islington North – Mr. Corbyn has stood firm with the traditional Labour Left.

His views on privatisation and markets, nuclear disarmament, Europe, and war and peace, have been remarkably consistent over time. Mr. Corbyn, who scraped through the nomination process with the minimum needed number of 35 parliamentary backers, astounded the country and probably himself by rapidly rising in the polls, leaving the three other contenders far behind. His unconventional campaign that broke with the political tradition of stage-managed engagement indeed rejuvenated the ranks.

The Hindu Editorial | Into uncharted waters |15 September 2015
The Hindu Editorial | Into uncharted waters |15 September 2015
He held rallies across the country – drawing audiences in their thousands. And that was buttressed by a lively social media campaign. Sixteen thousand young people signed up as his campaign volunteers. Clearly, Mr. Corbyn tapped into a vein of discontent within the party and the Left, disillusioned by Labour’s electoral defeat in May, and its platform of ‘austerity-lite’.

Despite a 60 per cent mandate from his party, Mr. Corbyn now faces his real test – maintaining his radical agenda and the momentum he has built, while readying the party for the 2020 general elections. This challenge cannot be underestimated. There is a sharp mismatch between his standing among the party rank and file on the one hand, and among the 232 Labour MPs on the other, who worry about the electoral competitiveness of a Labour led by Mr. Corbyn. Only 20 of them voted for him, and several shadow Ministers resigned after he was elected.

His demands to end austerity measures and for a national education service akin to the National Health Service, are among the policies that may win backing from some of the parliamentarians. However, his calls for the re-nationalisation of the railways and the energy sector, and the withdrawal of the U.K. from NATO, his opposition to military intervention in Syria, and most controversial of all, the proposal to dismantle the Trident nuclear missile programme, will meet with stiff resistance. Even some unions oppose the last-mentioned demand.

The election result made it clear that Mr. Corbyn has a huge public backing and has even won over those who were at one time alienated from conventional politics, heralding what many think could be a transformative leftward shift in Britain. These are, however, uncharted waters that Mr. Corbyn is setting out into. It is one thing to command the overwhelming support of the Labour rank and file; reaching out to the larger electorate is going to be a huge challenge.


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