It feels like an exciting time to be involved in the British Labour Party. We are seeing something that none of the old parties of social democracy have experienced in recent times: A left wing revolt from the inside. In Britain, the radical left has taken over the party while other European countries saw the emergence of new radical leftwing parties, like SYRIZA in Greece and PODEMOS in Spain. Jeremy Corbyn, an MP from the hard left of the party who was not expected to win when he stood for the leadership, is now leader of the Labour Party.
I have been to many European countries over the summer on political endeavours. Everywhere where I went I was asked about Jeremy Corbyn. There seems to be a great deal of excitement over his election all across Europe. The leader of the PES, Sergei Stanishev, has already said that he supports the anti-austerity politics of Corbyn, and the PES, led by British Labour MEP’s, has distinctly taken a left turn with its recent proposals to ban zero hours contracts across Europe.
However, many pollsters and media experts in the UK believe that Corbyn is destined to fail. Opinion polls so far have not shown any real improvement in Labour’s fortunes, although this can take time. There are concerns over his ability to win over Tory voters and if he can win back Scotland. It is clear that the party is taking a massive gamble with Corbyn. So, why did he win in the first place if he was the least safe option?
The answer lies in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) and its anti-austerity rhetoric, as well as its pretences to be a far left party and the subsequent thrashing of Labour in Scotland at the general election where Labour were reduced from 41 to 1 seat, hurt party activists very deeply. It was in Scotland where Labour’s beloved first leader, Keir Hardie, first built the party up. Labour had dominated Scotland for over a century and the pain of losing it cannot be underestimated. Labour activists believed that a more firmly anti austerity message than what was promoted by Ed Miliband, the previous leader, would help to win back left wing voters who defected to Nicola Sturgeon and her nationalists. The other 3 candidates, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, and Liz Kendall, all promised a platform that was to the right of Miliband, talked about the need to cut as well as spend and said the party needed to win over “Aspirational” voters and cut the top rate of tax. After a bruising election defeat, this was not what the party wanted to hear, and many “Soft left” social democrats ended up going for Corbyn because they felt there was nowhere else for them to go.
For now, the Corbynomics experiment will go on. His first major test will be crucial midterm elections next year, on a local level in which I am standing as a candidate, the mayoral election in London and parliamentary elections in London, Wales, and Scotland. These elections will be the first tests as to whether or not Corbyn can win a UK wide general election. For now, I remain very sceptical. Even if Corbyn does somehow manage to win most votes, he will not be able to win the most seats due to how the British electoral system works. In 2015, the Conservative Party of PM David Cameron would still have won a majority if Labour had all of our Scottish seats. Also winning over Green votes (The only other significant left party in England) is not going to be enough to beat the Tories in most seats.
It is clear, however, that politics in the UK and Europe will not be the same for some time. Anti austerity politics are now going to be mainstream. The only question is if it will win elections.
Mo Ahmed is co-chair of Manchester Labour Students, performs various roles for the Fabian Society, and is a candidate for local council in May 2016.