The Jeremy Corbyn Phenomenon in Britain


Jeremy Corbyn`s election as the new leader of the Labour Parliamentary Party is a landmark event in Britain’s political development. A back-bencher Member of Parliament for nearly three decades, he overwhelmed the traditional party leaders in a short three months campaign and rode to a landslide victory. The victory is significant considering that Labour Party rules allowed sympathizers who were not enrolled members to vote on a token payment of three British Pounds. It has been reported that some Conservative Party supporters voted in the Labour leadership election by paying this fee. Thus, the mandate for Corbyn includes popular support from many centrist and left-of-centre British citizens, apart from a substantial number of traditional party members.

After his election victory, Corbyn summed up the core elements of his policy by stating that it will be left-wing and anti-austerity, will include welfare reform, will embrace and tolerate views of all wings of the party, will consider re-nationalisation of railways and major utilities, and will endeavour to attain genuine disarmament including the scrapping of the Trident nuclear submarine programme. As of now, Corbyn has not indicated his intention about working to take Britain out of the European Union in the near future. But he has hinted that a more welfare-centric economic orientation in the EU`s policies would be pressed for.

As expected, the governing Syriza Party of Greece led by Alexis Tsipras and the leftist Podemos Party of Spain have welcomed Corbyn`s  political ascendance in Britain. While the British Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon of the Conservative Party, has cautioned that  Corbyn`s policy will pose a serious risk to the country and endanger the economic security of British society and families, virtually the entire shadow cabinet of the Labour parliamentary party under Edward Miliband has resigned showing its disinclination to cooperate with Corbyn. Miliband has, however, publicly advised party members to cooperate with Corbyn. Tom Watson, the new Shadow Deputy Leader of the Labour Parliamentary Party nominated by Corbyn, has, however, demonstrated maturity by stating that he will try his best to dissuade his leader from abandoning the Trident programme.

An indication of the liberal nature of Corbyn`s policies was evident when, after his victory in the Labour parliamentary party election, he participated enthusiastically in a `Solidarity with Refugees` rally in London. The participants were demanding that the United Kingdom and other European governments accommodate to the maximum extent possible the large community of Middle East refugees flowing into Europe owing to persecution and existentialist issues. Earlier, Corbyn had also strongly that all governments should promote inclusiveness of people of diverse communities and from different creeds and uplifting socially depressed people, including in India.

In a significant development, within Britain, Corbyn has received support from Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and first minister of Scotland who had crafted a remarkable victory for her party in the last British general elections a few months ago. Most significantly, Sturgeon has stated that if Corbyn does not effectively succeed in steering the Labour Party to victory in the next general elections and away from austerity measures, the SNP and the Scottish people may have no alternative but to seek independence. The irony of the situation is that, so far as Scotland is concerned, both SNP and Labour Party cater broadly to the same political constituency of workers, middle income groups and those on state subventions. Therefore, Corbyn and the Labour Party under his leadership will have to win the political support of the same classes overwhelmingly in England and Wales as well as in Northern Ireland, and also increase its support among the centrist and self-employed voters, while functioning in a competitive political ambience in Scotland. This may be a tall order, unless the centrist elements within the Labour Party at least cooperate with him. Corbyn will, therefore, have to build bridges with many of the traditional leaders within the Labour Party except perhaps the (Tony) Blairists who will bide their time to undermine him.

Political winds in Europe seem to be blowing in favour of ushering in more socially inclusive policies. However, the political parties promoting such liberal policies have to take the process of liberalisation to its logical conclusion. The events in Greece over the recent months do not engender hope on this account. The policies and measures actually adopted by the Tsipras government in Greece have not been clear-cut towards systematically promoting public welfare through genuine transfer of economic resources to the people and loosening the existing controls on capital and investment within an oligarchical framework. It remains to be seen whether the British Labour Parliamentary Party under Corbyn is able to articulate a genuinely welfare oriented policy and an action plan of sustainable state-run utilities for the economic welfare of the British people without creating unmanageable state debt in the process.

The role of the Afro-Asian community in Britain will also be a factor in the political success or otherwise of the Corbyn leadership. The very nature of his policies, e.g., a liberal approach on immigration and refugees, should logically attract them towards Labour. However, the views of the British people at large will determine the success of Corbyn. Therefore, the immigrant communities in Britain may not, at least in the initial period, be very exuberant about the Corbyn phenomenon.

Commonwealth countries are also likely to wait and watch the evolving British political scene before warming up to the new Labour leadership. India is likely to continue with the present trajectory of its relations with the incumbent Conservative government, considering that the latter`s policies at least in the South Asian milieu and in regard to trade and investment, have been positive. However, select political groups in India may be able to have more empathetic exchanges with the Labour Party under Corbyn. For its part, the Government of India, as per norms, needs to evolve a framework that leads to a reasonable understanding of India`s international and domestic policies by the Corbyn leadership.

(Gautam Sen is a former Additional Controller General of Defence Accounts. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author).

Courtesy:IDSA– The Jeremy Corbyn Phenomenon in Britain

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