Anyone who reflects on the current state of American politics and feels the urge to sob and drink to senselessness can find some solace in the UK Labour Party’s woes.
The 2015 UK General Election proved a cataclysmic failure for the Labour Party, beyond ensuring five years of a Conservative majority in all major areas of government. The shock of the summer’s election prompted a major existential crisis on the far left as the party struggled to explain its failure and plan its future. Leading up to the party leadership elections, there was no question that the party needed a shakeup to move past its poor performance in the spring and rebuild for a resurgence in 2020.
Following the general election, the establishment party members were calling on their party to accept the political right’s victory as a sign that the party needs to move toward the center if it wants to regain political power. Prominent Labour members echoed Tony Blair’s strategy when he led Labour to three consecutive victories in 1997, 2001, and 2005. But calls for repeating this strategy only angered the party’s base, which regards Tony Blair as a failure and a traitor to the party’s ideals.
Jeremy Corbyn seized on this feeling of distrust, tapping into the anti-establishment wave that’s sweeping through almost every Western country. He went from being a throwaway candidate to becoming the most power member of the Labour Party.
Corbyn’s election proves that the Labour Party is no longer a serious force in British politics. It would be unfair to throw blame at long-time Labour party members for electing this socialist teetotaler. The party became a victim of a radical populist movement that used the UK’s party system to take Labour hostage and install Corbyn at its head.
In the UK, party leadership is determined by a vote of its members, so all a UK citizen would have to do to participate in the vote is fill out an online form and pay the £3 registration fee. Thousands of angry and confused leftists joined Labour to have a say in the party’s restructuring.
In the months following the general election the party grew by 40 percent from 194,000 to 270,000 full members with the fastest growth rate in 64 years. These numbers do not include another 150,000 people who registered to vote for Labour’s next leader but did not want full membership. Almost all of these new supporters signed up exclusively to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
The longtime Labour members had their party seized from by a radical mob that discarded the old leadership and demanded ideological “purity of opposition.” As an ideologue, Corbyn sparked support from a previously politically disinclined crowd of younger people, who remain angry at the party’s failed stabs at moderation. This new-Labour group sees no benefit to compromise, and stamps its feet when reality kicks in and legislators make policies pragmatically instead of dogmatically.
Young, angry voters always made their presence felt when they are enraged enough, but never have they exerted such control over a political party. Jeremy Corbyn was elected the head of the Labour party because he was one of them, and now he is their representative in politics.
It is becoming increasingly unlikely that Labour will remain a serious political party with Corbyn at its head. In terms of policy, he would withdraw the UK from NATO, nationalize the railways and utilities, and eliminate Great Britain’s nuclear arsenal. Policies, however, rarely win elections. The real problem with Corbyn is that he is as unswervingly dogmatic as his supporters. It is hard to imagine that someone who called the death of Osama Bin Laden a “tragedy” drawing enough support to dethrone the Conservative government in 2020.
Openly anti-Israel, Corbyn has called members of Hamas and Hezbollah “friends” and is closely acquainted with avid anti-semites.
Corbyn is friends with Israeli citizen Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic movement in Israel and an enthusiastic proponent of the “Jews did 9/11” theory. When Salah faced deportation from Parliament, Corbyn spoke on his behalf, calling Salah “a very honored citizen. He represents his people very well.” Jeremy then graciously invited Salah to the House of Commons, saying how he “look[ed] forward to giving you tea on the terrace, because you deserve it.”
This is not to suggest that Corbyn is anti-semitic. In fact, he’s quite genuine in his opposition to bigotry, but there’s something to be said for the company one keeps when weighing the electability of a potential candidate. (See the Clintons’ friendship with terrorist and Hamilton College invitee Susan Rosenberg.)
Considering how Corbyn has approached his political career so far, it seems that the next five years with him at the head of the shadow cabinet will be interesting, to say the least.