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Britain's Labour Party Elects Leftist Jeremy Corbyn as Leader in Major Upset

Corbyn, a 66-year-old vegetarian, won by offering wealth taxes, nuclear disarmament, and ambiguity about the future of the UK’s membership in the EU.

by Reuters and VICE News
Sep 12 2015, 1:59pm

Photo by Andy Rain/EPA

In a major upset that could make the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union more likely, the country's Labour party elected leftist Jeremy Corbyn as its leader on Saturday. Corbyn won nearly 60 percent of the vote in a four-person field despite opposition from some of the party's most senior figures, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

A vegetarian and Karl Marx admirer, the 66-year-old Corbyn was not initially favored to win the contest, but he struck a chord with many Labour supporters by offering wealth taxes, nuclear disarmament, and ambiguity about EU membership.

"Things can and they will change," Corbyn said in a victory speech that began with criticism of the British media for intrusive reporting and ended with a vow to achieve justice for the poor and downtrodden.

"I say thank you in advance to us all working together to achieve great victories, not just electorally for Labour, but emotionally for the whole of our society to show we don't have to be unequal, it doesn't have to be unfair, poverty isn't inevitable," he said.

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Corbyn defeated two former Labour ministers, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall, regarded as Blair's heir in the party. Tom Watson, best known for his work in exposing Britain's phone-hacking scandal, was elected the party's deputy leader.

Corbyn said Britain's conservative Tory party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, has used the 2008 economic crisis "to impose terrible burden on the poorest people in this country," and said he said is "fed up with the social cleansing of London by this Tory government."

A left winger and parliamentary veteran with a long history of voting against his own party, Corbyn triumphed on a message of promising to increase government investment through money-printing and renationalizing vast swathes of the economy.

Blair, the former centrist Labour prime minister, issued several desperate pleas urging to voters to stop the Corbyn surge before the final result was announced. Blair suggested that Corbyn would run the party off of a cliff, and that they will be annihilated in 2020 national elections by a British public that in May re-elected Cameron for a second term on a promise to cut spending.

"The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched over the cliff's edge to the jagged rocks below," Blair said.

Some party members have even said Labour could split, or that Corbyn would face a revolt by some lawmakers.

But by promising to increase, rather than cut, government investment through money-printing, Corbyn has found favor among disillusioned young voters and socialists who had drifted away from the party after nearly two decades battling for the political center ground.

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The likely abandonment of the political center ground, particularly on the subject of balancing Britain's books, is seen by many as a gift for the Conservative party that could herald a prolonged spell in power for the center-right party.

"Their whole debate seems to ignore what almost every other political party in almost every other country has now grasped," Cameron said on Friday, referring to Corbyn's anti-austerity views.

Cameron said a Corbyn-led Labour party could "pose a clear threat to the financial security of every family in Britain."

With Cameron having already ruled out a third term as prime minister, Corbyn's rise has put the long race to succeed him into focus. Chancellor George Osborne, Cameron's closest political ally, currently leads the pack ahead of colorful London Mayor Boris Johnson and Interior Minister Theresa May.

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