Joseph Ward, Norwich Young Labour Chair, takes a look at the recent Liberal victory in Canada and considers the challenges that lie ahead for Corbyn and the left in the UK.
On the 20 October, the world awoke to a change in the political zeitgeist that has become the first major victory the left has seen since the election of Barack Obama. Few would expect that Canada, of all places, would be the country to lead the left-wing revolution and be the harbinger of the new kind of politics that is so often discussed. Mr Trudeau changed the scope of the national debate and proved to every country’s leftist enterprise that the politics of hope, the spirit of idealism and the promise of change can not only win an election but define a nation.
We, in Britain, have also seen a change in politics. While few pundits foresaw the gargantuan victory Jeremy Corbyn manufactured, many in the party recognised the shift to the left that most members had taken. The dissolution of New Labour, in 2010 with the election of the union candidate, Ed Miliband, had led numerous old members to come home. The socialist legions of Iraq protesters began a long return which climaxed with the chance of voting for Corbyn. However, the true question is: has the election of Corbyn shifted the debate so far as to redefine the British Overton window, or in laymen’s terms: the range of policy ideas that are acceptable to the public?
Trudeau put climate change on the agenda. Trudeau put electoral reform on the agenda. Trudeau put hope on the agenda. This is the aim of the Corbyn campaign and the Canadian federal election has proven that it is possible. There are similarities between Corbyn and Trudeau. Both took their party when it was fragile and in need of leadership, both call for a politics of change and hope and both pack town halls of supporters and spread the word of the left. Trudeau’s critics claim he is unrefined and excitable, for example, Jonathan Kay (the editor of Walrus magazine) who said “Trudeau’s hyperactive personality makes [seeming intellectually sophisticated] a difficult act for [to] pull off.” Corbyn’s critics have also criticised his oratory skills calling them grouchy or rant-like. But what both politicians do best is focus on the theme of their narrative: that things can be better and their party will deliver.
However, while both men are similar of mind, they’re very different of body. Any party that has managed to win on the promise of change, such as the Clinton-Gore ticket of 1992 and even Blair in 1997, won on a fresh wave of modernism. These men were immortalised in the ideology of populism. Corbyn’s problem is that with his years of protesting experience and backbench solidarity, he brings a stale demeanour. He is seen as old and “stuck in the past.” Trudeau’s liberal views on marijuana and boyish, gregarious charm won over the nation and Corbyn’s challenge will be to re-invent the wheel of change and create rhetoric of hope strong enough to crush the Conservative narrative of recovery.
As we see our own elections become increasingly presidential, maybe the victory of Trudeau will not cause the political earthquake that many hope for. Corbyn is old, unrefined and quite simply different. However, he represents change and, in a sense, he is as fresh faced as Trudeau on the world stage. While he may not have the cordial charm that many politicians have used to get elected, his integrity brings something that could be far greater: reliability.