It’s now a fact. Jeremy Corbyn, after a shock campaign that saw thousands mobilise in support, has smashed all opposition to become undisputed leader of Britain’s Labour Party.
This marks the culmination of a frantic campaign that, predictably. saw more than a few attempts to use slander and misinformation to cow voters into apathy. Peculiar accusations of anti-Semitism, as well as ominous declarations that Corbyn might somehow undermine the physical security of the entire nation, were abundant.
Yet what challenges might Corbyn face as leader and how might this impact upon the landscape of British, and indeed global, politics?
At a glance Corbyn’s leftist, anti-austerity principles have proven surprisingly popular. Large swathes of the general public appear to sympathise with policies ranging from tax reform to scrapping Britain’s expensive nuclear weapons program, Trident.
Yet he may need to put his house in order. Within hours of Corbyn’s ascension to leadership, the possibility of multiple resignations from Labour high-rankers almost undermined the celebratory mood. Not willing to wait around, Shadow Health Minister Jamie Reed took the first step, resigning before Corbyn had even finished his victory speech.
Reed’s rather cryptic resignation letter raises more questions than it answers. Outraged that the membership should elect a leader he doesn’t like, Reed blasted Corbyn as being ‘fundamentally wrong’ on a plethora of issues, apparently inconsolable in his belief that, despite tens of thousands of recruits flocking to support Corbyn, the new leader would see the party’s popularity plummet among the general public.
This is an argument that Corbyn’s opponents have long favoured. The notion that right-wing politics are universally popular amidst the electorate is not new.
Yet to (grudgingly) admit that Corbyn is popular within the confines of the Labour Party whilst arguing he’ll prove disastrously distasteful with the unaffiliated is an illogical step too far.
A surprising poll last month revealed Corbyn’s marked popularity with even the membership of opposing organisations, including, strangely, the Euro-sceptic and right-wing UK Independence Party.
Why might this be the case? One hypothesis is that, in an age where careerism and vacuity are the norm in British politics, individuals with some consistency and principle may earn a degree of respect even amongst their opponents.
There is indeed more than a grain of truth to this, with the aforementioned poll noting that Corbyn ranked particularly highly in relation to both his intellect and personal integrity.
This is important to remember as the new leadership attempts to re-form an opposition now marked by multiple absences. Despite the desertion of several allegedly prominent members from the (now reformed) Shadow Cabinet (it should be kept in mind that former Labour Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, greeted Jamie Reed’s resignation with ambivalence) Corbyn still has the backing of former party leader, Ed Milliband.
Whilst that in itself may not be grounds for optimism, the sheer dynamism of his campaign, alongside a vast recruitment surge and support from swathes of the Trade Union movement make it hard to fathom how a few resignations could scupper such momentum.
What form this now takes in the wake of victory is a cardinal question, as is the mounting Conservative counter-attack. Evidently unsettled by events, Prime Minister David Cameron has stormed into the limelight, attacking the very notion of divesting the UK from it’s vaunted, but incredibly costly, nuclear stockpile.
‘Labour are now a serious risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security,” he claimed.
This may strike some as rather disingenuous. After all, Cameron’s government has proven itself to be a threat to the security of quite a few families, with his tenure witnessing a plethora of maladies from increased homelessness and unemployment to malnutrition and suicide.
If security in the sense of the population’s wellbeing isn’t Cameron’s forte, then perhaps the state of the UK’s armed forces is. Yet, once again, despite calling for military action against Syria in 2013 (a move partly thwarted by the opposition of Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs) the Prime Minister has come under fire for his acquiescence to ongoing defence cuts. To talk of security, personal or national, thus seems quite peculiar.
What may be a salient point here is the UK’s ongoing membership of NATO. The government has promised to continue to meet the alliance’s military spending requirement of at least two per cent of GDP.
Corbyn, however, has long maintained an oppositional stance to NATO involvement, even going as far as to describe it as one of the “tools of US policy in Europe” whose enlargement has “particularly increased tensions with Russia.”
This highlights a potentially serious change of course in foreign policy. What with a supposedly anti-NATO leader taking up the reigns of power in a major political party, it’s not an overstatement to say that even the vaunted ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US may come under pressure.
Corbyn has not been shy about such opinions, calling for a foreign policy based on ‘human values’ rather than the usual great-power-politics we’re accustomed to. Considering the current posture of our esteemed ally across the Atlantic, this may not go down too well in Washington.
In any event, recent days have proven that, at home and abroad, the UK may be about to experience further fractures in the as-thought previously unassailable right-wing consensus.
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