This article also appeared on the Australian news and commentary outlet, Eureka Street.
These are some seriously exciting times in British politics. For those keeping a careful watch on old Albion, I am of course referring to the furore within the opposition Labour Party and the mounting success of an unlikely contender for leadership, Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour Party was sent reeling last May when their Conservative rivals again took power in a general election that saw them winning the support of over eleven million voters. Whilst not entirely unexpected, it unleashed something of a power struggle within Labour as the party attempted to take stock of what exactly had gone wrong.
In the resulting scramble for nominations to the recently vacated post of party leader, Corbyn rushed in for a last minute bid that saw him surge ahead in the polls, causing a veritable panic among his opponents inside and outside the party.
So what’s all the noise about? At a glance Corbyn comes across as more of a social democrat than revolutionary firebrand. His policy platform, as much as has been revealed, stands upon a somewhat inoffensive endorsement of state ownership, anti-austerity politics and trade union support, alongside scrapping the UK’s nuclear deterrent and questioning our continued membership in NATO.
But what’s interesting here is that such rhetoric has prompted such considerable alarm within the establishment. The reason, it seems, is that the entire political edifice of British politics has shifted so far to the right that even the above can appear as dangerously radical.
Take the hysterical reaction of certain other contenders for Labour leadership. Liz Kendall, herself constituting the favoured “Blairite” candidate (who is, incidentally, dead-last in the polls) hasn’t been shy about hopping onto the bandwagon of right-wing opinion that believe Corbyn will ‘take us back to the 1970s’.
Whilst it remains unclear how the sixty six year-old vegetarian may be capable of travelling through time, let alone dragging all sixty two million Britons with him, it does speak to their own agenda, that being a genuine fear of a return to the days of trade union clout, organisational freedom and political gusto.
Neil Kinnock, himself leader of the Labour party from 1983 to 1992 has subsequently weighed in, blasting Corbyn for allegedly being supported by ‘malign Trots’. Corbyn’s success in the polls, so the argument goes, is due to “hard left” elements flocking to his banner, rather than any real base of support among Labour party members.
Yet this seems to have more to do with Kinnock’s own political past than possible infiltration by a few supporters identifying with a long dead Ukrainian revolutionary. Whilst there are indeed myriad Trotskyist groups within the UK, like their counterparts in the US and Australia they tend to suffer from both disunity and low recruitment.
As such, even if the entirety of the British Trotskyist left suddenly attempted to emigrate into the Labour party (an astonishingly unlikely scenario) it would most likely not amount to more than a thousand new recruits. At best.
And the current membership surge is far beyond such a paltry figure. Tens of thousands of recruits are thought to have flocked into the party in recent months, many of which are more than likely to back Corbyn. In an alarming turn of events, this has caused panic among certain Labour tops, who are even thought to be entertaining the possibility of either stopping the election, refusing to serve under a Corbyn leadership or actually deposing him should he succeed.
‘I can’t see any case for letting him have two minutes in office, let alone two years,’ said John McTernan, himself a Labor party political advisor, in an interview for The Spectator.
‘In the unlikely event Corbyn wins, (it matters that) something is done swiftly and quickly to restore the party to its sense,’ he argued.
What about party members who disagree? Not a concern, at least for Mr McTernan, who has his own interesting take on how a democratic organisation should function.
‘Who cares about the grassroots?’, he said, ‘the leader is one who determines the saleability of the Labour party. How the Labour party in the twenty first century, at a time when Putin is at his most aggressive, can consider electing a leader who would take us out of NATO I have no idea, genuinely no idea.
Why is that acceptable for the Labor party and why party members of all sorts think that is acceptable to the electorate I have no idea,’ he added.
It’s certainly one thing for a political advisor to have “no idea” on so many important questions, but quite another to hold democratic procedure in such evident contempt. Whatever the case may be, the Conservative victory last May could be about to meet a serious challenge. If Corbyn wins the leadership of Labour and goes on to strike a chord with the broader public, a further shift in the European political climate, already in evidence in both Greece and Spain, may become a reality.
Daniel Read is a UK based journalist. He has a BA in journalism and an MA in human rights, and is currently finishing an MSc in global politics at the University of Southampton. Follow him at his blog uncommonsense.me and on Twitter at @DanielTRead