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Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran left-winger who professes an admiration for Karl Marx, was elected leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party on 15 September 2015. The socialist leader, whose odds of winning were 100/1 just four months earlier, swept to victory in the first round of the contest with 251,417 votes or 59.5 percent of the ballots cast, a far larger victory margin than anyone had envisaged. Corbyn rose from obscurity as a backbench MP best known for opposing the Iraq War to leading Britain's main opposition Labour party. He defeated three more centrist candidates, beating rivals Andy Burnham, who trailed on 19%, and Yvette Cooper who received 17%. The “Blairite” candidate Liz Kendall came last on 4.5%.

The fundamental challenge for Corbyn was an artifact of how the Labour leader was chosen. The party witnessed an insurgency on the left, helped by the new One Member One Vote (OMOV) rules adopted in 2014 for leadership elections. Almost 113,000 people took advantage of new rules opening the voting to non-members, and nearly 200,000 people signed up as Labour Party supporters (£3, or free for members of an affiliated trade union). Labour membership is around double what it was during the May 2015 General Election and is understood to number more than 380,000 people.

Labour's new intake of MPs in 2015 is regarded as the most left-leaning in 20 years. But of the 232 members of the parliamentary Labour Party, by soem estimates possibly fewer than a tenth are Corbyn supports.

Corbyn is a vegetarian and an opponent of the British monarchy. Corbyn made his views clear by refusing to sing the national anthem "God Save the Queen" at a World War II memorial. Corbyn grew up in a political family -- his parents met as activists during the Spanish Civil War -- and worked for trade unions before being elected to the Commons in 1983. He had never held any major office and was a serial backbench rebel, voting against his party's line repeatedly, championing human rights and policies to help the poor. He opposed the now deeply unpopular 2003 invasion of Iraq under Blair, was against Cameron's austerity measures which had seen deep cuts to welfare and believes "we can learn a great deal" from Karl Marx. So committed was he to socialism that his second marriage reportedly broke up over his opposition to sending his son to a state-run school that selects children by academic ability rather than a school open to all.

Corbyn defeated two former Labor ministers, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall, regarded as an heir to Blair. The victory may make a British EU exit more likely and could leave the party unelectable. The Labour Party veteran was compared to America’s Bernie Sanders, who was creeping up the polls in the US, and whose leftwing politics had drawn parallels to Greece’s Syriza party or Spain’s Podemos party.

He struck a chord with many in the party by repudiating the pro-business "New Labour" consensus of Tony Blair, a three-time election victor for Labor who was now widely unpopular, not least because of his involvement in the invasion of Iraq. The prospect of a return to the party's socialist origins, in commitment to partnership with trade unions and state ownership, drew stark predictions that Labor could be annihilated in the next national elections, in 2020.

Corbyn lost his battle to force a vote over Britain's replacement of its strategic nuclear deterrent, Trident. Corbyn was a life-long opponent of nuclear weapons and is a vice chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and chair of the CND Parliamentary group. Having become the leader of the Labour Party in circumstances which pitted him against the majority of his own parliamentary colleagues, Corbyn was keen to open up a debate on the potential non-replacement of the UK's nuclear deterrent, Trident, during its annual conference.

A comment piece on Atlantico.fr said Corbyn’s advent marked the return of the “loony left”, which “cherishes memories of a time when Britain resembled France, with high unemployment and anaemic growth”. All the French articles noted that Corbyn – an outsider within his own party – would have a hard time establishing his authority over Labour MPs, only a handful of whom endorsed him during the leadership contest.

On 06 January 2016 Corbyn dismissed several members of his shadow cabinet after several days of consideration. The reshuffle would not be a “night of the long knives” purge. British Prime Minister David Cameron described the move as "the longest reshuffle in history." Several Labour shadow cabinet lawmakers had openly disagreed with Corbyn and his positions during his four short months at the helm - especially in foreign and defense policy issues like intervention in Syria and the UK's nuclear weapons.

Corbyn kept several experienced ministers in his opposition cabinet, including Hilary Benn, who remained as Shadow Foreign Secretary. Benn had the reins pulled in on the liberties he could take in his position - after his high-profile defiance of Corbyn on the issue of UK airstrikes against the so-called "Islamic State" in Syria.

Pro-Trident defense secretary Maria Eagle was given the culture secretary job from which Blairite Michael Dugher was removed. Anti-Trident MP Emily Thornberry will took over. Shadow rail minister Jonathon Reynolds resigned from the front benches, citing concerns about the Labour leader’s relationship with the Stop the War Coalition. “I cannot in good conscience endorse the world view of the Stop the War Coalition,” he said, adding he believed them to be “fundamentally wrong” in their approach to UK security. Kevan Jones, who was shadow minister for the armed forces, also quit.

It was said that Corbyn had a secret blueprint to seize control of Labour's policy-making machine to fast-track a change in the party's position on Trident. Leading members of the Shadow Cabinet were made aware of a paper which would strip them of the power to set policy between conferences. Instead, Labour's National Executive Committee would explicitly be given the role of deciding policy.

The party reviewed its policy which had been pro-nuclear weapons for 25 years. More than 380,000 Labour members could be given a ballot on scrapping Trident. Labour membership is around double what it was during last May's General Election. "My whole election programme was based on the need for ordinary people to be able to participate much more in politics. ... So leaders don't go away and write policy, so executive groups don't go away and decide what the policy is, that ordinary people do. There's brilliance in everybody."

Jeremy Corbyn faced his most serious leadership challenge in June 2016 as Labour MPs considered a motion of no confidence amid a growing backlash over his handling of party’s EU campaign. Senior MP Chuka Umunna criticised Mr Corbyn’s leadership during the EU campaign, telling the i newspaper: “Our main striker often wasn’t on the pitch, and when he was, he failed to put the ball into the net.”

The Labour leader was under fire for running what his critics saw as a half-hearted campaign to rally support for the Remain side in the referendum. Unlike other leading Labour figures such as the London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Mr Corbyn refused to be seen on a platform with David Cameron or other pro-Remain Tories, which shackled his attempt to reach a mass audience. But Corbyn’s popularity among party members, who would make up the majority of voters in any leadership contest, remained strong.

Maurice Glasman, a ‘Blue Labour’ peer, wrote in 2016 that "In three or four years time we are likely to be faced with a defeat comparable to 1931. Labour is no longer an object of affection for the working-class... The scale of loss (will be) colossal." Despite being under relentless attack from pro-war ‘Bitterites’ within the PLP and their allies in the media since the day he became leader in September 2015, Corbyn came close to pulling off a famous victory in June 2017. Labour’s share of the vote increased from 30.4% under Ed Miliband in 2015, to 40%, representing its biggest increase in vote share since 1945. In December 2017 they were polling 45%, easily enough to give them a Parliamentary majority.

Polls show that the policies put forward by Labour on re-nationalisation were popular. A You Gov poll in December 2019 showed that support for renationalising the railways and the water companies had actually risen by six percent since 2017, to 64% and 63% respectively. The dominant ‘centrist’ narrative following Labour’s crushing election defeat in December 2019 was that the party was simply ‘unelectable’ under the ‘extremist’ Corbyn. The loss was not dues to the ‘unelectability’ of the leader himself or the advocacy of a genuinely mixed economy, such as the type which operated perfectly well in the UK from the 1940s to the 1970s.

The one reason Corbyn and his party lost the 2019 general election was because of the shift on Brexit. In 2017 Labour made a net gain of 30 seats. Its manifesto expressly stated: ‘Labour accepts the referendum result’. In 2019, Labour promised to rerun the 2016 referendum, with an option to ‘Remain’. They lost 54 seats in England, 51 of which were pro-Leave. They allowed themselves to be seen as Brexit blockers- and new kid on the block Boris Johnson was able to present himself as the candidate who would ‘Get Brexit Done’. He paid the electoral penalty in Labour‘s working-class heartlands.

Corbyn was relentlessly slandered as an anti-semite and a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, constantly described as weak, wavering, vacillating, uncharismatic, unpatriotic. Unquestionably this hate campaign - which wasn’t by any means limited to the Tory press, but also reared its ugly head in the Guardian, the Independent and the New Statesman - had an impact.

Britain's opposition Labour Party suspended Corbyn on 29 October 2020 over comments he made after a report found that under his leadership the party was responsible for unlawful harassment and discrimination. Corbyn vowed to contest a "political" move to suspend him. Corbyn's successor, Keir Starmer, apologised and said Labour was facing a "day of shame" after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found serious failings in how the party had dealt with allegations of anti-Semitism within its ranks. Corbyn was suspended after saying he did not accept all the report's findings, that his attempts at reforming complaints processes had been stalled by "obstructive party bureaucracy" and that the scale of the problem had been overstated for political reasons. "In light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently, the Labour Party has suspended Jeremy Corbyn pending investigation," Labour said in a statement.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:05:16 ZULU