What Will be Jeremy Corbyn’s Legacy? | Jack William Smith
On April 4th 2020, it was announced that Keir Starmer, former Director of Public Prosecutions, was elected to the Leadership of the Labour Party. Around a decade ago, if one were to mention the Labour Party, followers of politics would often think about the centre-left party of Tony Blair that was “New Labour”. However, prior to the 2017 General Election, the Labour Party had shifted away from the “Third Way” style social democracy, advocated by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and had adopted a far more radical stance and party policy platform. This shift in policies stemmed from an election in 2015 of a new party leader, one Jeremy Corbyn. This article aims to analyse what led to the Labour Party’s drastic change in policy platform.
If we were to discuss the far-left in Britain, prior to Corbyn’s leadership election, we might have mentioned the Workers Revolutionary Party, perhaps George Galloway and the Respect party, or even Michael Foot, whose Labour Party manifesto for the 1982 General Election, was dubbed “the longest suicide note in history”. Now some commentators describe Corbyn as “far left”.
Who was this man? Why would this man be elected to be the Labour Party’s leader once in 2015, and again in 2016? We can start by answering the latter question. The Labour Party leadership election in 2010 saw Ed Miliband narrowly defeating his “Blairite” brother David. Miliband was believed to be to the political left of Blair and Brown but not close to the far-left. In 2014, under Miliband’s leadership, the Labour Party changed its electoral system for future party leadership elections; this new system, designed to reduce the influence of the trade unions in the contests, operated on a One Member, One Vote (OMOV) basis. However, non-party members were permitted to register to vote in the contests for a fee set by the party’s National Executive Committee. In 2015 this fee was as low as £3.
Over 200,000 people had taken advantage of the affiliate scheme, which was endorsed by Corbyn himself, and this influx of new members was also thought to be particularly left-leaning. It is thought that these factors lead to the landslide election of Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party. Key to this victory was a new pressure group, that would fail to keep a lid on their far-left tendencies: Momentum. It became clear, early on, that the new pressure group was vulnerable to infiltration by former members of radical/far-left political parties, such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). It is here that we can turn to Jeremy Corbyn, the man.
Jeremy Corbyn was born in Chippenham, Wiltshire on the 26th of May 1949. At the age of 18, he travelled to Jamaica to work as a voluntary teacher. It is believed that during his stay in the Caribbean, he would develop his far-left ideas. Corbyn would “suddenly” leave Jamaica and he would fail to explain what happened with him for his missing seven months. Skipping forward to the years after Corbyn’s election as the Labour Party’s leader in 2015, the already controversial Leader of the Opposition would appoint two close advisors with strong links to Marxist and Communist doctrine.
These advisors were Marxists Seumas Milne and Andrew Fisher, the latter of whom would write the Labour Party’s 2017 General Election manifesto that stated plans for mass nationalisation and higher corporation taxation. Mr Corbyn also appointed Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbot for two of the most senior positions on the shadow cabinet. Thornberry, appointed shadow Foreign Secretary, had previously resigned from Miliband’s shadow cabinet, having mocked St George’s cross through a well-known snobby tweet on social media.
Abbot, meanwhile, was appointed shadow Home Secretary. Abbot has been accused of anti-white racism, which lead to an online petition being started on Change.org with its goal being to have Abbot removed as a Labour Party MP. Abbot is not the only Labour MP accused of having discriminatory attitudes; Corbyn himself has been consistently accused of anti-Semitism.
In 2013 Corbyn said that “Zionists” do not understand English irony. An opinion writer from the Guardian, Simon Hattenstone, said that Corbyn was not anti-Semitic, but his “irony comments” were. However, these comments made by Corbyn are not the only instance that suggested that Corbyn was anti-Semitic as in 2012, Corbyn “questioned” the removal of “grotesque”, seemingly anti-Semitic graffiti. Corbyn has also described the book Imperialism, which has arguably anti-Semitic writing in it, as “brilliant”.
Jeremy Corbyn has also been criticised for his associations with terrorist organisations, that have an appalling record of anti-Semitism, such as Hezbollah, HAMAS and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Corbyn has described members from HAMAS and Hezbollah as “friends”. Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has become more and more apparent. Various other Labour Party and Momentum members have also been accused as anti-Semitic. Corbyn avoided apologising for the anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The Labour Party’s new policies under Corbyn, were also thought to be far left; for instance, during the Labour Party annual conference in 2019, the party’s delegations voted for a policy to nationalise all independent schools. What I found particularly interesting was that it seemed a lot of the voters of the United Kingdom had a public perception that the Labour was still a more moderate left alternative to the Conservative and Unionist Party, but the reality was that the Labour Party had become far-left and infested with anti-Semitism.
We can compare the Labour Party, that was led by Jeremy Corbyn, to what happened to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) under the leadership of Gerard Batten. Over his time between 2018 and 2019 as UKIP leader, Batten’s party had seemingly mirrored the “radicalisation” of the Labour Party but, rather than embracing the populist radical left, UKIP had embraced the populist radical right. UKIP’s counterpart to Momentum was a far-right support group known as Integrity.
Personally, I have found it hard to work out what Starmer’s political position is. A step up, in my opinion, from Corbyn, Starmer seems to me as obviously being to the right of Corbyn but still to the left of Tony Blair. Starmer has also vowed to tackle anti-Semitism in his party. A recent opinion poll suggests that, with Brexit done and with Corbyn gone, voters that “lent” their support to the Conservatives in 2019, despite mainly voting Labour, previously, are returning their support to the Labour Party. I speculate that at the next General Election the Labour Party will probably make a net gain of seats, but the Conservatives will still retain a strong majority. It may be way too soon to speculate accurately but the prevention of Conservative losses depends on how well Boris Johnson and his allies handles not only the COVID-19 pandemic but any following economic crisis. The Prime Minister also set a big task, in the 2019 Conservative and Unionist Party manifesto, to end austerity and build up greater infrastructure.
This Coronavirus pandemic has been a major obstacle for Boris, especially if it is followed by a financial crash, as it will be very difficult to deal with the crisis and accelerating the government’s infrastructure project. These are great challenges ahead, but I am thankful that a Prime Minister with the financial and economic incompetence of Corbyn, is not in Downing Street.
Photo by Jeremy Corbyn on Flickr.