Syriza, Podemos, and now Labour? The U.K.’s main opposition party is on track to elect its most socialist leader in 30 years as support continues to surge for anti-austerity, pro-nationalization candidate Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn, 66, has the most indications of support from Labour’s constituency groups, backing from the U.K.’s two biggest trade unions, Unite and Unison, and topped a YouGov Plc opinion poll last week on the four leadership candidates. Three U.K. bookmakers slashed Corbyn’s odds Wednesday to make him favorite ahead of Andy Burnham.
The lawmaker for the North Islington district in London, who entered Parliament in 1983 and has never served as a minister, supports scrapping Britain’s nuclear weapons, abolishing the monarchy and nationalizing the railways. He campaigns for the re-unification of Ireland and is comfortable with a top rate of income tax of 70 percent.
Corbyn’s socialist platform is the most radical advanced by a Labour leadership candidate since Michael Foot in 1980. Foot won, and then presided over a disastrous election defeat for the party in 1983 on a manifesto described by one Labour lawmaker as “the longest suicide note in history.”
“This is Labour shooting themselves in the foot,” said Steve Fielding, director of the Centre for British Politics at Nottingham University. The Corbyn surge is the result of many Labour supporters believing the party was “too right-wing” in May’s election campaign under Ed Miliband, its worst election result since 1987, he said.
“It seems plausible to them that they just need to have a very firm anti-austerity argument” to counter Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s program of spending cuts, Fielding said. “They haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that actually Labour was nowhere near ever winning that election or becoming the largest party.”
Corbyn’s agenda includes promises of big infrastructure spending financed by quantitative easing, cracking down on corporate tax avoidance and a minimum wage of 10 pounds ($15.60) an hour. It’s now 6.50 pounds. He says he wants to provide an alternative to the mainstream consensus on the need for budget cutting.
Corbyn’s rise comes in a year when the anti-austerity movement Syriza came to power in Greece and spent six months resisting further belt-tightening measures to allow it to stay in the euro before finally giving in. Syriza’s Spanish counterpart, Podemos, has been attracting growing support before elections later this year.
Labour’s leadership battle was triggered by the resignation of Miliband the day after leading the party to its second consecutive general-election defeat. Labour was last in power between 1997 and 2010, under the more pro-business “New Labour” platform of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Three-time election winner Blair has warned Labour against Corbyn’s approach. He told a gathering of party supporters in London last week that the party “wins from the center” and anyone whose heart is with Jeremy Corbyn needs to “get a transplant.” The most Blairite candidate in the leadership election, Liz Kendall, is trailing in last place, according to polling and the bookmakers.
Cameron said Tuesday in Singapore it was “fun” to watch Labour “making a mess of things.” Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in the Daily Telegraph newspaper Wednesday that Labour is currently “gripped by a bout of collective madness.”
Corbyn plays into Tory hands, according to Fielding. “A Labour Party that’s completely out on a limb and divided among itself” would make it easier for the Conservatives to pass legislation in the House of Commons, he said. Yvette Cooper, a minister in Brown’s government and a candidate in the leadership race, told the Independent newspaper on Wednesday that electing Corbyn would be “condemning our world to a Tory future.”
Indications of Corbyn’s strong support come with caveats. Accurately forecasting the result of the leadership election, due Sept. 12, is difficult because the electorate is still in flux. Anyone who joins the party — or indeed just registers online as a supporter — by Aug. 12 may cast a ballot. The inaccuracy of polls before May’s general election also gives reason to treat them with caution.
Corbyn told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday that, as Labour leader, he would try to attract non-voters and those who defected to the Scottish National Party, the Greens and the U.K. Independence Party in May.
Fielding said it wouldn’t be a winning strategy. “What the next leader of the Labour Party has to do is keep the party united, but also win Tory voters,” he said. “A lot of the people Labour have to win are actually quite right-wing, or at least voted for UKIP and the Tories, not the Greens. Labour has to do what Tony Blair did in 1997.”
This article first appeared on bloomberg.com on July 29th 2015 – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-29/u-k-labour-flirts-with-most-socialist-leader-in-three-decades