A vote for Jeremy Corbyn is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn

Students of Australian politics (currently in its own form of turmoil after Malcom Turnbull staged a successful coup against the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott), may remember this slogan applied to Liberal Party leader Andrew Peacock during a bruising election campaign against his Labour rival Bob Hawke during the 1980s. Perhaps George Osborne, the Conservative leadership front runner, will dust off an English version of the same poster for the 2020 Election after the British Labour Party took a sharp left hand turn on 12 September.

Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader on a landslide vote (60%) on Saturday (12 September) morning. After his acceptance speech, he and his supporters headed off to a pub in Westminster and toasted his success with a rousing rendition of The Red Flag, much to the bemusement of a party of American tourists who happened to be at the same venue. Corbin, a teetotaller, drank Lime Soda. Andy Burnham, in second place with 19% of the vote, opted to stay in the Shadow Cabinet and has been appointed shadow home secretary. Corbyn has named John McDonnell, his hard left campaign manager, shadow chancellor. McDonnell listed his hobbies as “fementing (sic) the end of capitalism.”

The margin of victory stunned the party, and has made it difficult for his opponents (only around 20 members of the PLP actually supported Corbyn), to forment their own campaign to get rid of him, at least for now. The Labour moderates will now be worried about holding onto their seats. Several, including Tristan Hunt, Liz Kendall, Pat McFadden and Chris Leslie, face battles to stay in the Commons during the forthcoming Boundary Commission review, and cannot expect much help from the new regime to find a berth. Although Corbyn has held out an olive branch to his erstwhile opponents, with moderates Chris Bryant, Lord Falconer and Andy Burnham in the Shadow Cabinet, he may not be able to control his hard left activist supporters from seeking to purge Blairties and other Labour MPs who don’t fit the new mould, as they seek to refashion Labour as an old-style socialist party. 

Among supporters, there is a sense of excitement that Corbyn will herald a ‘new politics,’ devoid of spin and polish, and instead be more authentic, consensual, principled and, of course, left wing. Strategists argue that the 40% of the electorate who didn’t vote (and don’t vote) at General Elections will be persuaded back to the ballot box by a Labour Party that professes to speak for this disenfranchised though significant minority.

They firmly believe that Ed Miliband was not left-leaning enough to encourage the non-voters. So it goes that the UK has always been left-leaning, but the silent army of stay-at-home voters have, to date, been unimpressed by mainstream parties (including Labour) and Corbyn’s new vision will bring them back into the fold. It’s a theory, but, as Philip Collins notes in The Times, there’s no evidence from anywhere - in the UK or other Western democracy - that it’s possible to mobilise non-voters in any great numbers, and Corbyn’s problem is that his socialist agenda will cause centrist Labour supporters to desert and vote for another party. In other words, he’ll win some back, but lose plenty of others. 

Corbyn has also intimated that he will change Parliamentary procedure, for example by handing over responsibility for PMQs to other shadow ministers, or by creating policy after wide consultation with party activists. Corbyn himself is a serial Labour rebel, voting against the whip more times than any other Labour MP.  So his strategy of reaching out beyond the Labour benches is a means of emasculating the Parliamentary Labour Party - his backbench MPs - and bringing natural allies, such as those in the trades unions, into the heart of policy.  

The irony is that, after bemoaning the “Westminster Bubble” as the font of all ills in politics, Corbyn - a member of the Westminster/North London political bubble since 1983 - has swapped one bubble for another. The socialist bubble is just that - socialist activists rail against those who aren’t fully signed-up members of their cause. One by-product of the social media explosion in recent years is that social media users (including many political activists) have become even more shouty and tribal. Leftists agree with leftists and expend their vitriol on those who don’t share their views (this phenomenon is not confined to the left. All sides of the political spectrum are guilty). During the Scottish Referendum campaign on independence, the SNP mobilised a large group of ‘Cybernats’ who trolled any individual who disagreed with their world view. Political prejudices are encouraged, not discouraged, by Twitter and Facebook.

Already it is clear that the new Labour regime has little time for the BBC and the major papers. Corbyn, who takes the Morning Star as his daily newspaper, has refused to engage at all with the mainstream media, accusing them of unspecified attacks against his family. He turned down an opportunity to be interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC on the day after his victory. There is no sign of him reaching out to the country as a whole via the press. Maybe that’s a refreshing poke in the eye for the closed shop of political pundits and parliamentary lobby correspondents, but it is an unusual move and likely to create further hostility in the media.    

Appealing to a narrow base of like-minded travellers is the central charge from many pundits who have attacked his leadership campaign: Many of Corbyn's policies are a throwback to early 1980s, and have no strong resonance beyond his own support base. Not, perhaps an election-winning strategy for 2020, but when did winning elections matter to ideological purists?