Jeremy Corbyn elected to lead Labour (again)

Follow the leader: Corbyn wants to give ‘more power’ to the activists who elected him. © PA

For the second year in a row, Jeremy Corbyn has won the leadership of the UK’s Labour Party. His supporters are ecstatic. His critics are despondent. How has one man caused so much uproar?

Jeremy Corbyn has been growing an olive tree on the balcony outside his office. ‘It’s doing very well,’ he said last week, before his party’s bitter leadership election closed. ‘It’s thriving.’ On Saturday, he won that election with almost 62% of the votes. Now he says he is ready to offer an olive branch — literally — to the MPs who spent the summer trying to depose him.

‘Always remember in our party: we have much more in common than that which divides us,’ he said to rapturous applause during his victory speech. ‘As far as I’m concerned, let’s wipe that slate clean.’

Some MPs agree, hinting that they would be willing to return to his shadow cabinet after more than half of its members resigned in June. But others continue to refuse: one blamed their ‘deep political and philosophical differences’ with Corbyn. Another simply called him ‘dysfunctional’.

But to his thousands of followers, he is a hero — a man who inspires jubilant crowds to chant his name in public squares, who has swelled Labour’s membership to become the largest political party in Western Europe.

How can a 67-year-old vegetarian who enjoys tending his allotment inspire such extreme emotions?

For many, the simplicity is part of his attraction. He has dedicated his life to campaigning for the same issues; he even held a union meeting in the hospital basement while his son was being born. He has been an MP for Islington North for over 30 years, and says that he will never retire.

And yet critical MPs complain that he is ‘impossible’ to work for. They say he is bad tempered, not a ‘team player’, and slow to condemn the abuse they receive from his most extreme supporters. In short, he is a terrible boss.

Britain’s parliamentary system was designed for two strong parties: this is why the House of Commons features opposing benches, not a semi-circle or ‘classroom’ set up. For its democracy to work, cabinet ministers in government must have a credible alternative looking them firmly in the eye across the aisle.

Can Corbyn put the summer behind him and finally lead a united front?

‘Jez we can’

It’s too late, say defeated MPs. Too much damage has been done in the public’s eye. His passionate supporters only make up a tiny percentage of the electorate — the rest see him as incompetent, weak, and potentially even dangerous. Labour cannot win without a fresh face. What is the point in supporting a lost cause?

Do not give in, chastise others. Labour is a historic party with near ‘tribal’ support from its core voters. There are subjects that most Labour MPs can agree on, such as opposing grammar schools. If they focus on these issues with passion and clarity, they can come together stronger than ever.

You Decide

  1. Can Jeremy Corbyn win a general election in Britain?
  2. Have outsiders like Corbyn and Donald Trump been good or bad for politics?

Activities

  1. Read the final link under Become An Expert on how the architecture of parliament can influence politics. Then design a new House of Commons, paying close attention to how you want MPs to interact with each other.
  2. Class debate: ‘This house believes that the Labour Party should split into two.’

Some People Say...

“He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.”

Aristotle

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t support Labour. Why should I worry about who leads it?
Even if you don’t support the opposition party, it still has a big influence over politics and an important role to play. During the last year, for example, the Conservative government reversed its plans for cuts in tax credit and disability payments, and its rejection of a bid to host more child refugees. Labour claimed credit for effective pressure over these issues.
I don’t live in Britain. Does it still matter?
Corbyn is not the only left-wing leader to surge to popularity in the last two years. Similar crowds came out to support Bernie Sanders during the US presidential primaries, and the Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias in Spain. Neither enjoyed success comparable to Corbyn’s — but all claim to have started a ‘movement’.

Word Watch

Almost 62%
Corbyn won 313,209 votes. His challenger Owen Smith received 193,229, giving Corbyn a 61.8% share — more than the 59.5% he received in September last year. Interestingly, a YouGov ‘exit poll’ said that 18-24-year-olds were one of the only three demographics to favour Smith, alongside Scottish members, and members who joined before the 2015 general election.
More in common
This is a phrase which was used by the Labour MP Jo Cox during her first speech to parliament. She was murdered this June, one week before the EU referendum was held.
Shadow cabinet
The UK’s ‘alternative’ government made up of members of the official opposition party — in this case, Labour.
Membership
After the vote to leave the EU, Labour’s membership rose to over 500,000. There were around 200,000 at the time of the 2015 general election, when Ed Miliband was in charge.
Same issues
These include socialism, nuclear disarmament, and re-nationalisation.
Abuse
Several MPs have complained of a rising culture of antisemitism in Labour, others of misogyny. Corbyn insists that he is against abuse of any kind.

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