With former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn recently handing over the mantle to Sir Keir Starmer, there is much of a discussion of his legacy, and where the party goes from here. There is much division on him, as there is there is much else in British political life.
Was he a genuine champion of the people, whose agenda of left-wing populism made him the most exciting Labour leader since Tony Blair, and helped him to nearly topple a popular Conservative government?
Or was he a far-left extremist, whose divisive nature alienated much of his party’s moderate base, all the while culminating an scourge of identity politics based on race and anti-Semitism, having a questionable set of allegiances that culminated in their worst electoral performance since 1935?
The truth is that neither is fully correct, but both are somewhat accurate. So, let’s give an honest portrayal of the man, and not the simple caricatures of him on both the left and the right.
Let’s examine the good first. He managed to bring (at least in part), his party back to its more back to basic socialist roots. After the era of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, whereby economic leftism was left behind in favour of cultural change, this was a welcome move which (in theory at least) helped to reconnect the party with its original core vote.
He was also a good balance in British populist politics at the time, against the right-wing likes of UKIP, Nigel Farage and some of the socially conservative MPs of the Tory Party. And at the very least, he tried to engage in a more civil type of debate in politics, basing it far more on policy (some of which were very popular) than personality, which was a nice change of pace from the PR contests that had dominated British politics for far too long.
However, the Corbyn leadership also left much to be desired. The main problem being that he was caught in between to colliding forces in his own party, those being the supposed modernisers and the traditional base, and he was never able to bring the two together in a way that would be a cohesive political force. Creating a coalition that included both youthful city-dwellers and elderly residents of towns was always going to be a tough task for Labour.
Hence while many of his policies were tailored towards his left-wing base, with some optimistic (less interventionist foreign policy, renationalisation in some cases) and others worrying (incredibly high levels of public spending, the Green New Deal), he caved in on others. This was most notable with the second EU referendum, of which contradicted his previous stance on the subject matter.
From this, he alienated much of the working-class base of the party, all the while failing to do anything to win over the broader middle and upper classes which has helped Labour win elections in the past. Is it any wonder why under his tenure, much of his support came from middle class students? He completed the elitist takeover of the party, hence its continued support for mass immigration and embrace of gender politics, of which hurt his working-class voting bloc. It’s very telling that many of Labour’s former voters went to the Tories at the last election.
The Corbynite legacy consisted of the worst aspects of the current Western left: a laissez-faire attitude towards social behaviour, a heavy reliance on identity politics, an unrelenting ideological persepctive on international affairs and tinges of possible antisemitism. It’s no wonder that while he was a good person, his Cabinet was full of questionable figures, his support attracted the very worst of both sides of the political isle and many of his grassroots backers were cult-like. They were unable to accept any sort of criticism of him, and some were just generally thuggish. The various controversies surrounding Momentum are a good example of this.
And that’s not even going into the years of baggage the Islington MP had regarding his allegiance to illegitimate leaders of all stripes. If one can forgive his support for various socialist dictators and regimes past and present, surely his support for terrorist groups should have raised some eyebrows. Calling the likes of Hezbollah ‘friends’ and having ties to Hamas is bad enough, but his frequent defence of the IRA and attendance at the funeral of those responsible for the 1972 Munich Massacre was reprehensible.
Overall, I happen to think that he was the right leader at the wrong time. His more traditional socialist stances, while undoubtedly suitable for Labour, were completely out of sync for its modern incarnation. Instead of being concerned with economic justice, the Labour Party has been full speed ahead in a left-wing cultural revolution since the 1960s, often adopting stances which alienated their core working class vote to get there.
Corbyn was left in the crossfire because of it and didn’t stand much of a chance as a result. It didn’t help that his genuinely concerning links and some of his bad policies didn’t go in his favour either. Paul Embery (one of the main figureheads of Blue Labour), had the best take on this, claiming that while Corbyn ‘deserves credit for shifting the economic dial’, he was part of the reason that ‘Labour continues to lose a cultural war it doesn’t even realise it is fighting’.
Now Corbyn’s time is over, may be the party could learn and move on to becoming a more mainstream left-wing organisation, concerned with economic inequality above all else?
Well, given the fact that their new leader is a staunch Europhile from the same pocket of North London as his predecessor, don’t hold your breath too soon.