On Saturday 12th September, Labour’s leadership election served as the climax for what has been touted as one of the biggest surprises in recent UK political history. 66 year old Jeremy Corbyn won the election in the first round with a landslide 59.5% of the vote and, alongside Deputy Leader Tom Watson, already has a significant mandate for change. What follows, however, is the real work: Corbyn will have to stick to his core principles and values, continue to resist personality politics and weather the inevitable Conservative character assassination. If he’s successful, then Corbyn has a chance of becoming our Prime Minister in 2020.
What Corbyn represents is a welcome shift left for those who yearn for a celebration of the values that founded the Labour party in its original form: looking out for the working classes and working families. In this sense, Corbyn’s victory is a triumph for the party; Blairites such as Chuka Ummuna and Yvette Cooper tendered their immediate resignations from the party, so Labour can free themselves of their harmful pro-austerity, Tory-lite image and become a meaningful party of opposition. Such an exodus of experienced shadow cabinet members could be a concern, but Corbyn has taken great strides in unifying his new party by appointing his biggest rival Andy Burnham, who managed 19% of the vote to come second in Saturday’s election.
But really, Corbyn’s biggest problem is the Conservatives and the right wing media. A considerable amount of Tory success in the 2015 general election can be owed to a slickly-run and clear campaign, and their successful strategies are beginning to be directed in full force against Corbyn. The general election campaign message capitalised on a national concern over Labour’s capability to run the economy effectively, posing the Conservatives and their championing of austerity, and this message was repeated over and over again.
When a claim is repeated for a sufficient amount of time, regardless of its truth, it will become fact. The ‘fact’ created by the Conservatives over the past few years is that the economy can only be run through austerity and an increasingly smaller state. Ideology and objective fact have blurred, but even though the actual benefits of austerity measures have since been challenged, many voters still accept falling living standards as a necessary part of country-wide financial responsibility. Anything outside this (i.e. a Corbyn model based on expanding our infrastructure and providing jobs to grow the economy) becomes irrational, irresponsible and downright threatening.
Whereas Ed Miliband jumped from policy to policy (for instance a 48 hour maximum wait to see your GP, then quickly scrapped) and left voters very unclear as to his overriding message. Corbyn must respond to Conservative pressure with an effective advertising campaign, to deflect the impending Conservative spin and make sure that voters are clear on a logical and coherent set of policies.
The anti-Corbyn spin has well and truly begun, but Corbyn must challenge this sensibly, respond with costed economic policies, and repeat them until he’s blue (but not too blue) in the face. And he has done, to an extent, revealing his £10bn plan to scrap tuition fees, either through a rise in corporation tax or national insurance, or by a slowing of the current deficit reduction strategy. Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies have even won him the backing of many top economists, including a former adviser to the Bank of England. But, you weren’t to know that if you’re struggling to dig your way through the incessant Tory scaremongering. Corbyn’s message has to bleed its way through the sea of spin to the average working voter that might have been swayed by an unfortunate bacon sandwich snapshot.
However, Saturday’s leadership election has quite clearly shown that Corbyn’s policies have found their way through to many already, but still many doubt his ability to win himself the job of PM and to lead the country. But again, if we can find our way through the spin, there has only really been one leader in this country over the past couple of weeks, and that most certainly isn’t David Cameron.
Where Cameron caved and allowed himself to be led on immigration policy by the media following the unfortunate images of Aylan Kurdi, Corbyn has stuck to his principles throughout his political life and used them to put together a set of policies that are now fundamentally changing and leading a new, more traditional Labour party.
Jeremy Corbyn’s has won himself considerable popularity with Labour members, trade unions and much of the politically engaged, but it’s the average working family that his message needs to reach out to before he can even think about becoming PM in 2020. Labour must now become a viable party of opposition, rather than pandering to the new economic status quo of the Tory right that systematically oppresses the poor, elderly and the disabled. But, Labour’s advertising campaign has to be far more effective: lessons must be learned from 2015 so Corbyn can deliver a campaign that is coherent, logical and which avoids vindictive personality politics. Corbyn’s message must also be repeated over and over again across a unified Labour party, and introduce a new status quo that better represents the majority, rather than the few.