Advertisement
News

Explaining Jeremy Corbyn, Britain's Insurgent Left-Wing Icon, to Americans

The British Labour Party is having a leadership election and the front-runner makes Bernie Sanders look like Donald Trump.

by Gavin Haynes
Aug 14 2015, 12:35pm

Jeremy Corbyn at a rally (Photo by David Henry Thomas)

Jeremy Corbyn is topping the polls to become the next leader of Britain's left-wing opposition Labour Party. Everyone in Britain is in a spin about it, because a man slightly to the left of Fidel Castro might now have a chance to lead the country. How did this even happen? What's going to happen next? How can you Americans best understand a man who might be lining up with the French to oppose your next big foreign war? Let me explain...

Who is Jeremy Corbyn?
He's a 66-year-old bearded, teetotal vegetarian socialist. He's the kind of guy who's so committed to equality that he allegedly divorced his second wife because she wanted to send one of their kids to a selective school. In short, he makes Bernie Sanders look like, well, Donald Trump.

Related: The Real Reason Donald Trump Will Never Be President

So he isn't, as I've heard, the Donald Trump Of British Politics?
Yes and no. Yes, in that he is benefitting from a global mood of "fuck politics." A decision by voters since the Crisis that anything has to be better than the deckchair-rearranging, airbrushed, copy-pasted zombies who have dominated the politics trade since the 1990s. Corbyn's an obvious outsider, and he's a guy who always speaks his own mind. He doesn't have a PR bone in his body. And that's why his insurgency is winning.

A Jeremy Corbyn rally (Photo by David Henry Thomas)

And no?
No, in the sense that he has a brain that sits inside his head and gives him ideas and thoughts. Trump is an appallingly dumb man who has made an absurd amount of money, kicking the shins of a lot of people in the process. Corbyn suffers from the opposite problem. He claimed less in expenses than virtually any other British politician. His hobbies are working on his allotment and jam-making. And he is a sort of armchair intellectual who sees everything in terms of the impractical socialist idealism that Britain thought it had spent the past 35 years abolishing.

How much support does he have?
Oh, it's gone beyond mere support. It's mania. We're into Corbyn-mania. He has sold out venues on his recent tour to double their capacity. In a four-person race, he has 53 percent of all the votes by the latest poll. Thirty-two percent more than the second-place candidate.

Where is his support coming from?
A secret army of reborn hard left/New Left types who have been big on social media for five years but no one in the political mainstream has paid any attention to in 30. Corbyn's voters are either young enough not to realize that these ideas have already been tried, or old enough to remember when they last actually worked. A great many of them have joined the Labour Party specifically in order to vote for him. In order to make the voting process more inclusive, the party established a low-fee "Supporters" membership. This has fired up the race, while also backfiring spectacularly. It made it a matter of a few clicks for hard-left types who don't even like the Labour Party to get their man elected to lead it. Then there are the "Tories for Corbyn."

You mean Conservatives?
Uh-huh. A month ago, a couple of newspaper articles floated the idea that Corbyn would be utterly spanked by David Cameron at the next election in 2020. That meant that it was up to good Tories to sign up as Labour supporters, and spend their £3 in order to give Corbyn the best shot at winning the Labour race. That way, Conservative government could be assured after 2020. The technical term for this is "entryism."

So far, Labour has rooted out about a thousand of these false flags. But realistically, they're facing an impossible task. One Tory MP even signed up just to show what a joke the system was.

Jeremy Corbyn (right) with his Labour left-wing friend John McDonnell (Photo by Jack Pasco)

What are his actual policies?
Corbyn has been so successful in part because he has been prepared to dream so big. While the other three candidates in the race all tinker around with the tiny little wedges on their pie charts, Corbyn's been seizing control of the bigger picture: What sort of a society do you want to live in?

Turns out a lot more people than expected want to live in a society that includes re-nationalizing the railways and the energy companies, bringing back a range of social grants, and spending our way out of debt by effectively printing money—what he calls "the people's quantitative easing."

Foreign policy-wise, he's a classic British leftie: anti-American, pro-Palestine, anti-nukes. Whoever is US president would basically have to call time on any hint of the so-called "special relationship."

Jeremy Corbyn (Photo by Matt Francey)

I guess a lot of people are quite pissed off or scared by his rise and rise?
The idea of including Saint Jeremy on the leadership ballot (he only got on there with help from about 20 MPs who didn't support his candidacy but wanted to "broaden the debate") was all very well and good when Corbyn was a 100-1 long-shot. But now that he's odds-on to become leader pretty much every big Labour figure of the past 20 years has come out to warn voters not to choose him. This includes Tony Blair, who this week in the Guardian warned that Labour faced "annihilation" if he won. "It doesn't matter whether you're on the left, right or centre of the party, whether you used to support me or hate me," he wrote. "The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff's edge to the jagged rocks below." Thanks to this sort of toys-out-the-pram complaining, Corbyn may not have a party with which to lose in 2020 as the party descends into a massive civil war.

A Corbyn T-shirt (Photo by David Henry Thomas)

What's going to happen if he wins?
A big victory celebration, possibly in Trafalgar Square. Then the trouble starts. Most of his MPs are against him, and a few of them have already announced they intend to launch an internal campaign to depose him from day one. As a serial rebel himself, he will struggle to keep them together for votes, but the real challenge will be interim elections—European ones in 2018, and local council ones next year. Lose both of those badly, and Corbyn could be gone before he gets to face a general election.

Alternatively, Cameron could end up accidentally taking Britain out of Europe in his 2017 EU referendum, leading to his own resignation. An unpopular Tory replacement plus some sort of EU exit-based economic crisis could—just maybe—usher Corbyn straight through the doors of Ten Downing Street in a snap election.

What a day that would be.
Yup. Part of everyone just wants to see the White House photo call where President Trump makes awkward small-talk with Prime Minister Corbyn over a glass of apple juice.

Follow Gavin Haynes on Twitter.