If you didn’t know who it was, you’d still think the man speaking must be leader of the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn did his voters the justice of sounding like a reformer with socialist zeal in his acceptance speech and was a reminder of the last leader who displayed rhetorical passion – before sliding into Westminster compromise – Neil Kinnock.
Here at last was someone speaking to and for the working people, the weak and the vulnerable, those being ‘cleansed’ from London by sky high rents and property prices and speaking to and for the trades unions, those eternal funders of a party which abuses its relationship by sidelining them in power.
While Corbyn spoke the onscreen tickertape announced the resignation of a shadow minister I’d never heard of. Against the pulsing feel-good factor in the hall, it was a small and stagey act which told you that, whoever he is, he is no democrat. Corbyn won the biggest majority of any leader, utterly shredding the opposition on the first ballot. The people have spoken…60 per cent of the Labour electorate. If any Blairite zealot objects under these circumstances , they must be in the wrong party.
Even Kezia was there beaming – transformed from cavilling critic to wide-eyed adherent, no doubt thrilled at her personal mention. Oh, the effect of a winner.
Great chasms of policy difference will now open up – indeed were opened as the new leader spoke – anti-austerity, pro-refugee, against union reform. Here was a real alternative that the Blair-Brown years had expunged. The most used word was passion, the very thing he has injected into a cynical and jaded culture that has failed to find a way of tackling the Tories. The sheer scale of his victory destroys the myth of the Blair hegemony – it may indeed still exist among the greasy pole climbers of Whitehall but out there on the streets of Britain, it is as dead as the Empire. Corbyn has an unimagined mandate to change Labour and the debate, perhaps ultimately too the country and woe betide those who resist by threat or subterfuge.
The chance that he will only employ trusties in Cabinet is as silly as saying that he won’t allow dissent. A more open and collegiate platform is exactly what he is about with open disagreement permitted. On the face of it, he is returning the Labour Party to its radical and outspoken roots.
He has too given a green light to Scotland through his election to find its own version of a radical agenda. Kezia Dugdale clearly is no radical and certainly no socialist but she may be a manager who can rebuild a Scottish machine and inject it with Corbyn adrenaline. She has no excuse for flunking the Left case now. Indeed she has a chance to match and outflank the SNP on key issues. Corbyn has removed any security blanket she may have had as the whole policy panorama opens up before her, including anti-Trident. It is a test and it has come early. But it must be answered. So far Corbyn has nothing to say on Scotland vis a vis the constitution which does not interest him. He is leaving the territory to her and what momentum there is (pretty patchy in Scotland) must be harnessed soon. Alternatively he could seriously beef up campaigning in Scotland by breaking with tradition and using his authority of appointment to make Neil Findlay, his Scottish lieutenant, shadow Scottish Secretary – a purely honorary position. He would still need someone at Westminster to do perfunctory duties – ‘holding Scotland Office to account’, Scottish Questions etc – but why should any radical be concerned about that 19th century nonsense when they have been wiped out in the North? Findlay would command media coverage here in Scotland where it matters and to an extent offer an alternative viewpoint when necessary. That really would be taking Scotland seriously. (Ian Murray sounds a very lukewarm convert to Corbymania).
With Tom Watson also elected deputy there is room for a Tom and Jerry joke or two but the intriguing point here is that both deputies in Scotland and the UK are politically close to the brooding Brown in Fife. It was Watson who worked with Brown to orchestrate the coup against Blair and in Scotland Alex Rowley is Brown’s man. When will the baleful influence of Brown be removed from our politics?
Corbyn is a welcome protagonist with an excoriating line of media put down. His open contempt for ‘certain media’ and their intrusive and mendacious output is a promising sign of distance between power and Press – no more kowtowing to the right wing bigots in the Mail, the Express and Telegraph.
He has already moved the debate leftwards, leaving the Tories looking exposed and isolated as cruel, uncaring, selfish extremists and if the swathes of Labour folk who deserted the polling booths altogether during the Blair years can be won back, the idea of a Labour government in 2020 becomes….well…not necessarily impossible.
London looks like solid ground for a party doing alternative politics with its young and multi cultural constituency but a difficulty may be winning over those in the English North and Midlands who now regard UKIP as their home. Will they respond to a message favouring foreign settlement, be it immigration, asylum or refugee shelter?
It’s also unlikely given entrenched patterns that Corby will do much damage in the short term to the SNP – there simply isn’t the same craving here for Corbyn policies and talk of hope – if anything he’s copied that from the anti-Establishment politics of the Nationalists themselves. But here at last is a message from Labour. There is now no denying the anti-Tory tone. If Dugdale is up to it, she could harness this and return respect and dignity to a movement that has been drifting on the tides.
Corbyn is a shock to the system – look out for manufactured scandals which may have intelligence fingerprints on them – and is to be welcomed for that alone and for returning Labour to harbour. At least there may now be something for the SNP to worry about and plan for. Maybe.