By Muirinn O’Neill, Intern, London
Over the weekend Jeremy Corbyn achieved what the polls had been predicting for weeks, he became leader of the Labour party with just under 60% of first round votes, giving him the clearest mandate of any Labour leader in recent history.
Whilst many in both his own party and the opposition have already assigned him to electoral defeat in 2020, Corbyn’s victory is sure to mark a sea change in British politics as we know it. Whilst there has been a huge focus on Corbyn’s more colourful past statements, many of his other policies, such as renationalising the railways and higher taxes for big business could prove hugely popular with the electorate. Writing Corbyn off also ignores the huge amount of support he’s been able to garner in recent months, could this momentum and excitement be converted into electoral victory in 2020? We will have to wait and see, but what is clear however, is that electoral victory or not, Corbyn can and will change the face of British politics.
Not in recent history has the contrast between the two main parties been so clear. Whilst the similar centrist politics of New Labour and the Conservatives in the 1990s and 2000s often marginalised debate, this certainly will not be the case with Corbyn at Labour’s helm. Defence issues offer some of the clearest distinctions between Corbyn’s Labour and Cameron’s Conservatives. His stance on NATO and nuclear policy, overturn some of the founding principles of British foreign policy since 1945 and have already become a key talking point for Conservatives seeking to paint Corbyn as unfit to lead. His opposition to the Trident nuclear deterrent, along with SNP support are sure to make the vote in 2016 far closer than it would have been under any of the other Labour leadership contenders. However, after three decades of defying party leadership, asking others to toe the party line could prove a little tricky, thus, with Conservative and Labour rebel votes, Trident is sure to be renewed.
Corbyn’s call for an end to austerity and higher business taxes also offer a clear distinction from Conservative party policy. Should these policies prove popular with the electorate, however, Cameron may be forced to have a rethink on the tax cuts he offers big business and some the austerity measures currently being considered to tackle to the deficit.
Europe is an issue which offers a less clear distinction between the two parties, as neither leader seems to be hugely enthusiastic about the EU. However, as Corbyn’s campaign has gone on he has offered a more positive view on staying within the EU, probably under pressure from the party leadership. However, if he is not willing to get fully behind the campaign to stay in Europe, this may well have an impact in a referendum that is by no means clear cut.
Corbyn’s victory may not only transform Labour, but also the Conservatives. With Labour’s lurch to the left, Cameron appears intent on monopolising the middle ground with new policies already designed to secure the centrist agenda. Indeed the Conservatives are now positioning themselves as the party of the national living wage and there are also plans afoot for a major push on equal pay for women.
Corbyn’s victory is also sure to have a large effect on the future Conservative leadership race, with Osborne for the first time becoming the bookies favourite, many now feel he is the ideal candidate as he offers continuity and contrasts perfectly with Corbyn’s inexperience.
Despite numerous high profile MPs stating their unwillingness to join Corbyn’s front bench, the shadow cabinet, which Corbyn has described as a ‘strong combination of change and continuity’ has now been finalised.
So a distinctly new era for the Labour Party has begun. How long it lasts and how successful it will be, remains to be seen. The first battle for Corbyn is to ensure he can maintain effective support and discipline amongst his parliamentary party. If that is achievable then those predicting electoral annihilation in 2020 may have to hold fire. It will be certainly be interesting in the meantime!