Friday, 18 September 2015

Challenges facing Jeremy Corbyn leadership

Jeremy Corbyn faces three major challenges as leader of the Labour Party.
The challenges will come from the Parliamentary Labour Party, a hostile media and the Conservative government. Ironically enough it is the third of these that may prove the easiest to combat.
The opposition of much of the Parliamentary Party is a real problem. There is the party within a party known as the Progress group, which seeks to keep the flame of Blairism burning bright. This group has taken something of a battering, with Liz Kendall, its representative in the leadership election, only attaining 4% of the vote. Members of the group have so far been prominent in the exodus of former shadow cabinet ministers to the back benches, having suddenly rediscovered the need to spend more time with their constituents. When they get over licking their wounds, Progress are likely to continue to represent the enemy within for Corbyn.
Among other MPs there will also be opposition, though this may be more easily dissipated. The MP is first and foremost a creature driven by the need for self-preservation. As such, many MPs will be willing to give the Corbyn agenda a chance just to see if in the long term it might profit their own personal position and ambitions. Some no doubt will make a miraculous conversion to left wing politics almost overnight. Corbyn has already shown an aptitude for inclusivity bringing the likes of Ed Miliband's former chief of staff Lucy Powell in as shadow education secretary and former Tony Blair chum Lord Charles Falconer as shadow justice secretary.
Then there will be the left of the party who have backed Corbyn. They are the ones taking up shadow cabinet positions, moving forward. The appointment of John McDonnell as shadow chancellor is the most significant sign of this element so far. 
The second problem area will be the media. The hostility to anything other than the mainstream neo-liberal orthodoxy has been clear for all to see over the period of the leadership election. Corbyn has received virtually unanimous hostility from across the mainstream media. Even the Guardian, which many expected to at least operate a level playing field has done its best to give voice to opposition to Corbyn. In the end the paper – not a Labour supporting publication over the years – felt the need to guide its readers by backing Yvette Cooper for the leadership. The Mirror backed Andy Burnham, whilst the Independent did not made a recommendation.
The old mantras about the 1980s and such like are likely to continue with the media. Where things may change is if the transition from simply a leadership campaign for a left candidate continues to become a mass movement for an anti-austerity agenda. So if the 600,000 eligible to vote in the leadership election morphs into a couple of million or more, enthused further by what it sees from a Corbyn led Labour Party then some of the media – particularly on the liberal side of the market – will start to change their hostile position. The growth of membership thus far has continued with 15,000 new members in the day after Corbyn's election to become leader.
The Conservative Party may not be as happy as some in the media have prophesied with a Corbyn led Labour Party. It is not difficult to imagine David Cameron being rather non-plused by Corbyn at Prime Minister Questions. A man failing to rise to person vitriol, attacking from a position grounded in social justice and socialist based principles.
The sort of dilemmas that Corbyn could face as leader with all three of these challenges could come together on the subject of the European Union. So far he has declared that he would campaign to quit the EU if Dave Cameron's renegotiation is about "trading away workers’ rights, trading away environmental protection and trading away much of what is in the social chapter."
The EU as presently constituted represents the embodiment of neo-liberalism. Indeed, if Corbyn wants to achieve many of his policies, such as renationalisation rail and the utilities, then remaining in the EU probably won’t be an option. The country would need to get back control over its own sovereignty.
But what if Corbyn were to set a steady ant-EC course putting himself at the front of the no vote campaign come the referendum. It would cause consternation amongst the Tories who are already split on the issue. In the country, it would help bring back the Labour core vote that has deserted to UKIP. The policy would also be popular with many of Labour’s traditional opponents. Such a stand would not be popular with the SNP in Scotland but again would set Labour out as distinct and apart from the Scottish nationalists and their version of anti-austerity politics.
The biggest problem Corbyn would have would be with his own party who are overwhelmingly pro-Europe. It could be another cause for splits. So a policy that could really appeal to the wider electorate in the country and split the Tories may founder on the need to keep the Parliamentary Labour Party unity. So the issue of Europe nicely illustrates some of the problems Corbyn will face moving forward.
What does seem for sure is that winning the leadership of the Labour Party is only likely to be the start of the challenges facing Corbyn. The need to square the circle of keeping Parliamentary party unity and opposing the Tories whilst winning support in the country will be the real challenge. But if the left agenda that Corbyn leads continues to draw in support across the generations then dealing with all the issues will become a lot easier.

see: New Internationalist - 15/9/2015 -

Meeting the challenges and making the changes - Jeremy Corbyn can expect to find in his post-election in-tray" - magazine - 25/9/2015

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