It’s time to stop mocking the candidate and his supporters, and start listening to them.
If you believe what the polls are saying, which many don’t, Jeremy Corbyn is the unlikely frontrunner in Labour’s leadership battle. According to prominent Labour politicians, including Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna, and much of the media, unless voters do the sensible thing and vote moderate, the party is headed for certain doom, defeat and division.
There are genuine concerns to be had about Corbyn’s potential victory, not least of all the chance that he could be ousted by Labour MPs (a decidedly undemocratic move if it happens), but I disagree with the rhetoric that he is a threat to the Labour Party.
As a Labour supporter, I was disappointed by the initial nominations which suggested a move even further to the right for a party which has arguably lost touch with its left-wing roots. Not that I am opposed to change, but it is disheartening to see the way that Labour has given in to the status quo, despite the way this government’s policies are failing many people and the numerous credible alternatives to austerity. There is a general consensus that “Red Ed” Miliband lost in May because his policies were too radically left-wing, despite the fact that many were right-of-centre or largely supported by the general public. In fact, one could argue that it was lack of faith in Miliband’s ability to deliver that cost him the votes, rather than his actual policies; voters simply did not trust him to resist Tory opposition.
Jeremy Corbyn is a candidate with a strong parliamentary record to back up his beliefs and convictions. Since 1997, he has rebelled 533 times against the leadership including opposing the Iraq War, and in July won the support of Unite. His campaign focuses on an anti-austerity platform; he also wants to increase taxes on the rich, scrap tuition fees and get rid of Trident. There is no doubt that these views place him towards the far left of the party, but they also appeal to many young people and other voters who feel they don’t have a voice in politics.
Corbyn gives me hope that Labour can once again form effective opposition to the Tories instead of passively accepting and thus legitimising this government’s policies which have resulted in a huge rise in inequality and little of the economic recovery that was promised for many struggling families. At the very least, Corbyn has opened up a debate that many politicians have spent the last five years refusing to engage with, and forced Labour to admit that there is an alternative to austerity, whether we choose it or not.
As a result of this, I am disappointed by the reaction of some of the press, politicians and others, who claim that Corbyn is nothing more than a threat to the party, a symptom of panic or the Conservatives’ “dream candidate.” Writing in The Guardian, Anne Perkins urged readers to “think” before voting for Corbyn, likening his support to an “emotional spasm”; Tony Blair called him a “Tory preference” and his former special advisor referred to MPs who had backed him as “morons.” The Telegraph even went as far as to urge Conservative supporters to join Labour and “sabotage” the party by electing Corbyn as leader.
This is as much an attack on left-wing ideology as it is a rational warning to prevent Labour voters threatening the party. Corbyn is attracting genuine support from those who want to vote for him and his ideas. Instead of acknowledging this, the centrist opposition are determined to discredit both Corbyn and the people voting for him, as well as refusing to treat this support with any legitimacy. While Corbyn has attracted publicity and attention, voters are urged not to be “stupid” with their votes, as if a vote for Corbyn is nothing more than a protest vote by those who have no idea what they are doing.
For anyone who is wondering what the opposite scenario looks like – where a surge of support for a “radical” ideology is treated with legitimacy – this can be compared to the treatment of Ukip, who emerged in the last election with 13% of the vote. Supporters were similarly unhappy with both the main parties and looking for a party which they felt represented them as well as a scapegoat for problems such as unemployment and low wages. Immigration became a key issue despite the fact that many of the arguments were weak or inaccurate, and at no point was Farage called “unelectable,” even though he wasn’t, and still isn’t a Member of Parliament.
As I mentioned earlier, there are genuine criticisms of Corbyn. As Labour leader he could face opposition within the party, and there is no way of knowing how well he could handle this. He will be over 70 by 2020; as someone who wants greater political representation for young people (as well as women, ethnic minorities etc.), I am somewhat surprised to find myself supporting a white man approaching old age. Strong beliefs are not necessarily leadership qualities, when the challenge is uniting conflicting viewpoints and overseeing negotiations. However, none of this discredits his position as the only candidate willing to challenge the established status quo, and thus, the only person capable of leading an effective opposition.
Jeremy Corbyn won’t destroy the Labour Party, but he might just save it. By returning Labour to its roots, he could create a Labour that people can actually bring themselves to vote for. The support he’s gained is not mass hysteria on the part of deluded Labour supporters or a giant mistake we will regret in five years’ time. Instead, people have finally been given the chance to take a stand. If anything, the enthusiasm for Corbyn arguably suggests he is the most electable candidate – the only candidate who represents Britain’s existing left-wing.
Many people insist that the British public has moved to the centre-right and Labour is struggling because they have refused to move with it. This may be true for some, but is certainly not for all – one need only look at the success of the SNP in Scotland, and the fact that together the Conservatives and Ukip still received less than 50% of the vote, while two-thirds of the electorate, particularly would-be Labour voters, didn’t bother voting at all.
To quote Mhairi Black: “I didn’t leave Labour, Labour left me.”
I support Jeremy Corbyn because I believe he can bring it back.