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Simply put: The Corbyn phenomenon

Britain’s new Labour Party leader, is considered too radical even for the left-wing party that he has been elected to lead. The man, his politics, his policies.

By: Agencies |
Updated: September 15, 2015 12:10:25 am
Jeremy Corbyn, UK Labour party, labour party news, Jeremy Corbyn Labour party Jeremy Corbyn after his election as the new leader of the Labour Party. (Source: Reuters)

Who is Jeremy Corbyn?

On Saturday, Britain’s Labour Party got a new leader — Jeremy Corbyn, an MP from Islington North. He is as left as it gets in Britain’s left-wing Opposition party that is struggling to be “electable again”. He is known for his radical views — from referring to the Hezbollah as “our friends” to saying that fellow partyman and former prime minister Tony Blair could face a war crimes trial for his role in the Iraq war. The 66-year-old socialist MP has been in parliament for 32 years, during which time he has voted against his own party leadership more than 500 times and had the lowest expenses for any MP. During his 99 campaign rallies, the bearded, grey-haired politician is said to have turned up wearing sandals and carrying a cup of tea. The Washington Post says he is a man “so ideologically rigid” that he reportedly split with his wife of 12 years after a disagreement over whether their son should be educated at one of the country’s best grammar schools or at a local school. Corbyn had insisted on the local school for their 11-year-old.


Who is afraid of Corbyn?

His outspoken and ‘extreme’ views have earned him few friends even within Labour’s center-left establishment. “If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation,” former Labour prime minister Tony Blair warned in a Guardian op-ed written before the vote. Corbyn’s election has decisively tilted the party away from its New Labour era under Blair and Gordon Brown. The royal family won’t be too happy either. Corbyn had once petitioned Blair to move the entire royal family out of Buckingham Palace into a “more modest” dwelling. After his win, though, Corbyn suggested that he won’t take up that fight. “It’s not the fight I’m going to fight: it’s not the fight I’m interested in.”

What is Corbyn’s policy pitch?

On economy policy, Corbyn says he wants a “fundamental shift” so that Labour can be a “credible alternative” rather than a “Tory light”. He has called for an end to austerity cuts and higher taxes for the rich, including a “maximum wage” to cap the pay of top executives. It’s his foreign policy views that are regarded as ‘extreme’. He wants Britain to withdraw from NATO, abolish the UK’s nuclear arsenal and has said Russia’s expansionism “is not unprovoked”. He once invited the Hezbollah to speak in Parliament and said, “So far as I’m concerned, that is absolutely the right function of using parliamentary facilities.” He has also called for free schools and renationalisation of the railway network and coal mines.

What explains his win?

Analysts say Corbyn’s election is in line with the surge witnessed by left-wing parties in troubled economies such as Greece and Spain, mostly in reaction to the austerity plans in place in these countries. In Britain, the win is seen as a backlash against Prime Minister David Cameron’s spending cuts coupled with a growing disenchantment among Labour voters that the party wasn’t challenging Cameron enough. For Labour voters tired of Labour’s timid reaction to austerity, Corbyn’s powerful rejection of the plan is just what they wanted to hear.

What’s next for Corbyn?

After ‘Corbynmania’ subsides, Britain’s new leader of Opposition has the tough job of allaying fears of centrist Labour MPs who would worry about their place in a Corbyn-led party. Of the 232 Labour MPs, only 35 backed him for the leadership. While Corbyn was still delivering his victory speech, Jamie Reed, a Labour leader, put out his resignation letter on Twitter.

In his new role, he is expected to apologise for the Iraq war and strongly oppose cuts to public services and welfare. Hours after his election, Corbyn addressed thousands of people in Parliament Square, saying he would not join the clamour to “go here, invade there, bomb there, do this, do that”. The Tories reacted by calling Corbyn a “serious risk to national security”. For now, it means Cameron’s ambition to launch airstrikes on Syria may not go through.

His critics warn that he would take the party back to the 1980s, when the shift to New Labour began, but Corbyn says he would go back a decade further, to the Wilson/Callaghan Labour government of the 1970s.

Compiled from agencies

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