The meaning of Jeremy Corbyn’s epic victory for the new, progressive politics

By   /   September 26, 2016  /   23 Comments

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For anyone pessimistic about the possibility of progressive change, Jeremy Corbyn’s epic victory should be a confidence boost.


For anyone pessimistic about the possibility of progressive change, Jeremy Corbyn’s epic victory should be a confidence boost.

Corbyn’s 62% vote to remain as Britain’s Labour leader was achieved in the face of bitter daily attacks from every branch of the mass media, and from a majority of his fellow Labour MPs.

The victory represents a fundamental transformation of the British Labour Party, from one led by timid centrists to one led by a man, Jeremy Corbyn, prepared to challenge the British establishment. Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents have focused on his alleged personal weakness rather than admit that his policies are hugely popular. As Owen Jones put it in the Guardian yesterday, the anti-Corbyn faction “should acknowledge that investment not cuts, tax justice, public ownership and a foreign policy that prioritises peace are now cornerstones of Labour party policy”.

Corbyn’s radical policies translate well into the New Zealand environment. For example, on housing his re-election plank was to “build a million new homes in five years, with at least half a million council homes, through our public investment strategy. We will end insecurity for private renters by introducing rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights, and increase access to affordable home ownership.”

Corbyn’s critics, including those in New Zealand, harp on about how a party he leads is “unelectable”. But rarely do they explain which of Corbyn’s policies don’t resonate with the general public. The reality is that his policies are wildly popular and have led to an explosion in Labour membership. At over half a million members the UK Labour Party is now the biggest political party in Europe.

With such popular, progressive policies British Labour now has its the best chance in years of defeating the Conservatives, perhaps in an arrangment with the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru – and even the Liberal Democrats.

But, the critics say, the Labour Party’s poll ratings under Corbyn are abysmal. In reality it is amazing that Labour is only 9 points behind the Tories (39% to 30%) when dissident Labour MPs have been attacking their leader in the mass media every day. What would Labour’s poll rating be here if Andrew Little was under such constant assault from within his own caucus?

And therein lies the problem. The Labour Party now has a more progressive, engaged membership, but the parliamentary caucus remains dominated by the centrists. Refreshing the caucus with new, progressive MPs will take some time, but it can’t be shied away from. The more immediate task is to stop centrist MPs taking over the shadow Cabinet and blocking Corbyn’s promotion of progressive policies. It would be a denial of Corbyn’s political mandate from the party if the caucus was allowed to elect a shadow Cabinet hostile to him.

Corbyn’s people are often labeled old-fashioned and accused of going back Labour’s failed policies in the 80s. And there is some resemblance between Corbyn’s stance and the pre-neo-liberal policies of UK Labour. But the best placement for the  Corbynistas is in the forefront of the “new politics”, progressive politics attractive to a new generation. The Corbyn for Leader campaign was massive. One of those involved, Diane Abbott MP, noted “a Facebook presence reaching 6m people per week at its peak… signing up 40,000 volunteers… [with] donations from over 19,000 people… [and] 59 major campaign events… with 80,000 people attending.”

In preparation for next year’s election New Zealand’s Greens and Labour would benefit from studying the Corbyn campaign.

In Britain, Green MP Caroline Lucas welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election and said “we look forward to working with Jeremy to oppose the Conservatives and to bring about a progressive Government at the next election.” Incidentally the Green Party candidate in the Oxfordshire by-election (to be held following David Cameron’s resignation) is Larry Sanders, the brother of Bernie Sanders. That’s most appropriate, geopolitically.

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  1. Andrew says:

    UK Labour is now in exactly the same position it was in the 1980’s when it gifted the Treasury Benches to Thatcher.

    Just as it was with Michael Foot & Tony Benn in those days, if Corbyn moves Labour further Left, they will be unelectable and the Tories will be emboldened to do exactly as they wish.

    • Mike the Lefty says:

      Labour haven’t moved further left, they are going back to their roots. It is your mates in the Conservatives and the Blairites that have moved to the right.

      • Andrew says:


        For once you’re actually correct!

        In fact the whole world has moved to the right. After a hundred years of dabbling with socialism and witnessing the consequent failures, the vast majority of us have given up on it.

        I’ll go one step further and suggest this rightward movement is still occurring. Meanwhile the Labour parties in both the UK and NZ dream of past victories and in doing so, fail to confront the reality of the present.

        So wear flared trousers and platform soles if you must – but it’s not going to get you elected!

        • Ian says:

          There was a move to the right from the late 1970s onwards, but if the trend is still to the right how do you explain all the Corbyn supporters joining the British Labour Party and making it the biggest political party in Europe? How do you explain that more people supported an American Socialist, Bernie Sanders than the rightist Hillary Clinton? How do explain an American politician calling themselves a Socialist and getting more popular as they do so? (such a thing would be unbelievable in 2006, 1996 or 1986).

          I think the right still out number the left by a huge margin but it feels like the pendulum is beginning to swing back from the right. If the trend continues then the numbers might be even again in perhaps 20 years time.

    • Siobhan says:

      I can see you prescribe to Stuart Nashs ‘coming second but maintaining our principles’ is a ludicrous proposition.” mindset.

      But really, how well have any of UK Labours, New Labour, Prime Ministers done?? With the exception of Blair, who doesn’t count seeing as he is ducking and diving from War criminal charges.

      Heading into the General election at least Corbyn is capable of getting people to vote, and in his case, large numbers of willing door knockers. The bottom line is the young, the poor, the so-called middle class strugglers are done with the compromise’s of Labour, and it’s ‘benevolent’ Neo-Liberal policies.

    • Priss says:

      And yet, Andrew, it seems to frighten you and your Tory mates, doesn’t it?

      There is a reason why people like Trump and Corbyn are gaining popular (or in Trump’s case, POPULIST) support.

      “There is a tide in the affairs of Man…..”

      The momentum against globalisation/neo-liberalism is gaining ground. At the moment it is without a coherent philosophy, but that too, in time, will come.

    • ALH84001 says:

      Here’s the thing, Andrew. Would you rather vote for a political party that will say anything to get you vote, or, do you want to know what they honestly stand for, irrespective of how popular/unpopular it might be?

      Maybe that’s why Trump and Corbyn, and I hate to conflate the two men, as they are chalk and cheese, are so popular, in that they aren’t spouting any old bullshit to win your vote. They’re speaking their minds. (In Trump’s case, a disturbingly twisted mind.)

      Maybe that’s what’s so unsetlling to you, Andrew, politicians who speak their mind.

      Can we honestly say the same about the likes of John Key??

      Andrew, I’ll leave you to listen to this while your neurons fire-up;

      • Andrew says:


        Neither actually. I will vote for a party that I think will address the present reality rather than rehash the distant past.

        The historical perspective is important in understanding why this is the case: The Labour movement came about as a reaction to the appalling working and living conditions of the 19th century. However, over a century later those conditions no longer exist. The average person today enjoys a living standard that is in many ways better than royalty had back then!

        At the same time the nature of work has changed dramatically. Most hard manual work has been mechanised and very few industries need to employ large numbers of people on a single site. No longer do 4,000 men work at the Auckland docks and the wood sheds have been converted into expensive apartments and shops.

        As a result the ability of unions to ‘organise’ has been undermined forever and the last bastions of unionism are meat workers and teachers.

        The union movement today only controls about 15% of the workforce, a majority of which are in the various teaching unions, and my guess is that both teaching and meat processing will see their fair share of disruption in the near future, making union organisation in these remaining areas ever more difficult.

        This is why Labour and its union backers are increasingly irrelevant today and this is why harking back to the golden era of the labour movement is a pointless exercise.

        As long as Labour is beholden to the union movement, it will remain irrelevant.

        • Ian says:

          Correct with respect to industrial relations. But actually you need to take your argument a bit further. Not only have the jobs gone and with them the union power, but that has left a lot of powerless, unemployed or under employed people who are very disillusioned with the political right. Plus a growing group of workers who are finding incomes are not keeping up with cost of living (especially cost of housing). Right wing politics won’t solve their problems (as Trump supporters will find out, if he gets elected). But there are plenty of left wing policies out there that are not linked to unions and that appeal to such people. It just takes some political organisation to bring those policies and voters together. Obviously it will be harder to organise without something like the trade union movement to glue things together.

          • Andrew says:


            I think you’re correct and I am not proposing we specifically implement far right wing policies.

            In the end the Left/Right divide is fairly meaningless today. In the space of less than one lifetime the NZ National Party has swung from being Isolationist/Socialist in Muldoon’s day to Libertarian Right under Bolger and back to Centrist today under Key. At the same time Labour has swung from unionist under Rowling to Right/Libertarian under Lange and now back to Unionist under Little.

            What governments need to do is address the issues of the day with the best tools they have to hand. The problem with ideology be it right or left is that it blinkers the user to finding the best tool.

            But getting back to the topic of the thread. the NZ Labour Party now has a big problem. The union movement’s vote dominates its internal election process so the party appoints union hacks to the leadership roles, even against the will of its own cabinet. So irrelevant pro-union policies are foisted on the party which in some cases bad for the country and disliked by the vast majority of voters. This is not the way to get elected.

            Similarly in the UK Corbyn may be popular within a fringe far left group but no way will that translate into a general election victory.

    • tom says:

      Same Neo Lib crap ………. Jeremy Corbyn is a man of the people and the perverse ‘rip and burn’ business (profits) before people crowd don’t like it.
      If people wake of from the smoke and mirrors politics of the last 30 years they will look to a man like Jeremy Corbyn.
      So Andrew, not sure if you are just confused by the MSM spin or a National stooge = either way – wise up.

  2. Gosman says:

    Winning a Labour party leadership campaign is not the same as winning a general election. Corbyn does not seem to be well regarded by the wider electorate according to the polls. This coupled with the imminent redrawing of the electorates in the UK (which will disadvantage Labour the most) and continued infighting in the PLP means Corbyn has a massive issue just to remain competitive. I personally think Labour will be decimated at the next election which I suspect will be sooner than many people think.

  3. Afewknowthetruth says:

    I must admit I was surprised to see Corbyn hang in there and defeat the forces of neoliberalism.

    Now the establishment will have to resort to even dirtier tactics to maintain their stranglehold on British society.

  4. aWanderer says:

    Actually I think it’s a rather smart political strategy to achieve real change albeit very slowly.

    Yes Labour might be out of power for some time but the world is a dangerous place. Eventually the tories will become unpopular via a recession/scandal/crisis and the masses will vote for an alternative. Labour just need to survive long enough to be the alternative.

    The trick to executing it will be surviving for long enough and to do that Corbyn will have to take over all the organs of power in the Labour party.

  5. Michal says:

    Go Corbyn, I read of the huge increase in membership in the Labour party BECAUSE of Corbyn. A man of real integrity, someone who they know won’t sell them out but keep to his principles which is not what happens in the land of milk and honey.

  6. Adrian says:

    What the hell is up with all these idiots who keep on banging on about Corbyn being unpopular and unelectable, for christs sake the man just destroyed Smith in the face of relentless attacks from both his own party establishment and ALL establishment media from The Guardian through to The Daily mail.
    He has saved Labour UK from it’s inevitable path to centrist oblivion, and built it into the strongest and most vibrant left wing party in Left wing politic’s.
    Labour UK membership over 650.000
    Tory membership 150.00
    I know it is painful to know your ideology has become defunct and debunked, but the sooner the these centrist’s understand that they are on the wrong side of history, the sooner we can work together to built a more equal and fair society for all, which they most certainly did not.
    Turn Labour Left.

  7. Takere says:

    Austerity has failed the people in the UK. The regions are suffering the most and have been with massive unemployment because of the manufacturing sector has been decimated and jobs moved off shore. Little to no investment in these areas other than subsidising a multinational to set up business with massive subsidies. Part of the reason why people voted to leave the EU thinking that this will save them from the decline? …. We’re probably at the tipping point; Housing, Homelessness, Poverty, Health Sector underfunded & Education too. All symptomatic of a failed economic plan, Austerity. Get rid of the current government and then restructure the economy. Remove subsidies, Re-Nationalise the Power-Grid, Start a Government House Building programme, get rid of charter schools & reintroduce a bit of hanging with a new Treason Act. That’ll scare off a few lightweight politicians and have them not earn from any other business/work/employment/shareholdings ect ….. as well as not be entitled to a rental WINZ Accommodation subsidy from people renting their rental properties.

  8. mosa says:

    You cant have fire without a spark, this battle that has been won is the spark.
    Corbyn represents REAL hope and is not underestimating the huge fight ahead and is not a “simple minded fool” they have made him out to be.

    To quote Harry Perkins the Labour PM in the drama a very british coup
    ” children going hungry so all the fat cats can have the cream must know that its now time for them to go to hell”!

  9. mosa says:

    You cant have fire without a spark, this battle that has been won is the spark.
    Corbyn represents REAL hope and is not underestimating the huge fight ahead and is not a “simple minded fool” they have made him out to be.

    To quote Harry Perkins the Labour PM in the drama a very british coup
    ” children going hungry so all the fat cats can have the cream must know that its now time for them to go to hell”!

  10. Ian says:

    I understand (from Craig Murray) that incumbent Labour MPs can’t easily be challenged as candidates for their seats, so if the parliamentary Labour party is full of Blairite MPs in safe Labour seats then Corbyn will have trouble finding friends among his fellow MPs despite having most of the Labour members on his side. I can’t imagine those MPs being keen on changing the party rules around candidate selection any time soon.

  11. Debsisdead Debsisdead says:

    A steaming pile of ignorant horseshit is being paraded as fact in this thread.
    Mr Corbyn is no fringe candidate, it must be appreciated that he increased his majority to 60% among those voters who had been members of the Labour Party for 5 years or longer.
    The hundreds of thousands of new members certainly helped provide the momentum (pun intended) but even without the assistance of new members Mr Corbyn romped home.
    The blairites seem determined to wreck the Party rather than run the risk of someone who isn’t a proven neolib getting elected. Their latest stroke, an attempt to gerrymander the NEC by stuffing a pair of neoliberal incompetents from Scotland & Wales onto the NEC is classic undemocratic self immolation which will cause incredible harm to the labour party in both nations. Branch meetings in Scotland & Wales will become toxic shouting matches.

    The big question mark is how the mainstream plp will react – many are ropeable at the way the crap coup unfolded.

    i suspect (hope) they can see the writing on the wall – that kissing blairite arse is no longer the way forward for an ambitious young pol.