Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Corbyn Moment - "Things can...and they will...change"

Jeremy Corbyn MP has been Labour leader for a week. Last week's results were a truly sensational victory. Mr Corbyn won the contest in the first round, garnering 59.5% of the vote. The ranking of candidates was slightly different to how I predicted it. Andy Burnham MP did better than I thought he would. It would seem suggestions of a last-minute surge towards Yvette Cooper MP were campaign-bubble gossip. Despite exceeding my expectations, Mr Burnham was substantially behind Mr Corbyn, and Yvette Cooper was slightly behind Mr Burnham.

As expected, Liz Kendall MP came fourth, at a paltry 4.5%. Mr Burnham and Ms. Cooper represented the soft-left wing, whereas Ms Kendall represented the definitive Blairite faction. The voters were having none of it though. In Mr Corbyn, they saw a candidate who could reverse the social democratic conversion the party had undergone, since Neil Kinnock's leadership began in 1983.

The breakdown of votes is shown below, and shows all three major groupings were Corbyn-leaning. If you can gleam one thing from the results, it's that Jeremy Corbyn has an unquestionable mandate. The 2010 leadership election was predicted by some to be a slim victory by Blairite David Miliband, with his brother Ed just behind. In reality, the affiliates section (unions and other groups linked to Labour) helped take Ed over the 50% finishing line in the final round. The party chose a soft-left person over the Blairite contender by the narrowest of margins. Losing in 2015 has convinced Labour voters that they were not left-wing enough, whereas the 2010 leadership election was an opportunity for the party to reaffirm its attachment to New Labour. The country as a whole has quite likely shifted to the right since 2010 on a plethora of issues (the EU/welfare/immigration) but Labour has moved in the opposite direction.

Data provided by YouGov

It's folly to try and directly compare the 2010 and 2015 results, given the £3 sign-up voters were a whole new category in 2015, introduced during Ed Miliband's reforms of future contests. What you can do is compare the reaction, post-result. Ed Miliband was of an unknown quantity when he won the leadership in 2010. His victory was unexpected, but right up until the 2015 election results flooded in, many believed he could actually win. He had been close to Gordon Brown since the 1990s, became an MP in 2005 and was elevated by Mr Brown to the post of Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in 2008-10.

Mr Corbyn has had no frontbench roles, since becoming an MP in 1983. He's rebelled against the Labour party over 500 times in Parliament. Despite a majority of all 3 groups showing support, prominent Labour MPs have snubbed serving under Mr Corbyn. Rachel Reeves MP was on maternity leave over the summer, and has since declared she intends to return to the backbenches. One-time contender Chuka Umunna MP was not offered a seat at the table, whilst Tristram Hunt MP and Liz Kendall amongst others have ruled out being in the new shadow cabinet.

The signs of a Jeremy Corbyn victory seemed almost assured when Tom Watson MP was announced as the new deputy leader. He was famously instrumental in Tony Blair's departure from No.10 in 2007. Some have rushed in recent hours to dub the Corbyn victory as the "death of New Labour". Headlines last weekend included "Bye Bye Labour!" and even "Red and Buried". In actual fact, the destruction of the New Labour project actually happened when Tony Blair resigned in 2007. Since 2007, the party has been soul-searching, and seems to have turned to its roots. It will be interesting to see how the polls change, once they account for the Corbyn Factor. One or two Corbyn-specific YouGov polls have already started to show most of the public don't actually expect Mr Corbyn to be Prime Minister in 2020.

One week into Corbyn's leadership, and it hasn't been easy. John McDonnell MP was appointed Shadow Chancellor, and almost immediately attracted criticism for comments about the IRA and Margaret Thatcher. He apologised for the comments, but appeared flustered in his first Question Time appearence since his appointment. It's understood that the Shadow Cabinet announcements were delayed, due to arguments about the appointment, and some MPs refused to serve as a result. The verdict is still out on Mr Corbyn so far, but a week is a long time in politics, and his first one has not exactly been a dazzling success.

Ed Miliband's five years at the helm was an inadvertent spasm in the party's history, which unexpectedly nudged the party out of its New Labour comfort zone. You could say the party drifted somewhat. Some Blairite tendencies now and then, but accompanied by leftist ones, not seen for a long time, over those five years. The party had a vacuum at its heart during the Miliband years. It knew it wanted to leave the Blair/Brown years behind, but it wasn't ready to define itself all over again just yet. Jeremy Corbyn had an appealing idea to fill that vacuum, and subsequently won the top post.

At the moment, the new leader is being hammered, and critics are preoccupied with various controversial comments. Focus will soon shift to what they're saying now. The disappointing performance of the first week will be seen by supporters as growing pains, but critics will say it's the start of what could be Labour's shortest leadership tenure. Let's see how week two goes.

Till next time,


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