It’s official. New Labour is dead. Long live Old Labour. Jeremy Corbyn is now the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg being elected Tory leader. Pretty unimaginable, to be honest, yet Comrade Corbyn’s election win would have seemed just as far-fetched and ludicrous only three months ago. But he’s gone and done it, thanks in no small part to the rule changes that have reduced the voting system to a chaotic cock-up. Rumours that the next task of the Labour NEC will be to organise an ale-themed event at a venue where said beverage is brewed have yet to be confirmed.
Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper were tainted by the legacy of their time in office, and they weren’t even the most inspiring or contentious characters in the last Labour administration; Liz Kendall was an unknown entity and largely remains so despite several appearances on TV promoting her campaign, whereas Mary Creagh rose without a trace so quickly that few can even recall her participation. Not one of them even excited anger or hatred; they were the political equivalents of a Kenny G album from Glenn Hoddle’s CD collection – dull, instantly forgettable, so bland and boring that it was hard to care one way or the other if someone stuck it on a loop or switched it off. A Tory Government with a slim majority took one look at the contenders and pretty much knew it could sleep a little sounder for the next five years.
And then came the leader of the Islington Popular Front – a patronising, token inclusion by 36 Labour MPs to represent the divisive, left wing of a party that has always had the most widespread appeal with a centrist at the helm. Corbyn doesn’t look like Cameron, Clegg or Miliband; he doesn’t speak from the same autocue and go out of his way not to give offence to the Sun or Daily Mail. He’s not a politician for the careerist or the ruthless; he’s a politician for the idealist and the romantic, for those who download ‘Stairway to Heaven’ every December 18 in the belief it will prevent Simon Cowell’s latest call-centre graduate scooping the Christmas No.1. He’s a man who can say the word ‘Socialist’ without coughing, a man who wears the facial hair not of the fashion-conscious hipster but of the old-school Marxist agitator, a man who believes there should be a clear division between his party and the Tories, an advocate of nuclear disarmament and renationalisation of public utilities and the railways, and, for someone who is technically old enough to be David Cameron’s father, a man who has managed to connect to enthusiastic and optimistic youngsters who have projected their own gauche naivety onto him.
With his remarkable victory, Corbyn has delivered a long-overdue bloody nose to the Blairites, and few would consider that unworthy of celebration. The likes of Mandelson, Campbell and even the ex-Vicar of Albion himself had demanded the party faithful reject Corbyn, a move guaranteed to prompt the party faithful to do the opposite; the New Labour grandees still haven’t gauged the degree of contempt in which they are held by members, and that is part of their problem. But where do their heirs go to lick their wounds? Do they plot Caesar’s downfall from the backbenches or do they run into the arms of the depleted Liberals as their Gang of Four ancestors did thirty-five years ago and form a new party? It’s hard to see them fitting into Corbyn’s quaint vision of Labour, which is essentially the Greens in red braces. In a sense, he’s the left’s answer to Nigel Farage. Just as UKIP have tapped into the right-leaning sections of the British public who have become disillusioned with Cameron’s Conservatives, Corbyn has done so for the left, which has been equally marginalised over the past twenty years, to the point where many doubted it still existed. The difference is that Farage leads a minor party with just the solitary honourable member, whilst Corbyn inherits the second largest in Parliament. But what the success of both has exposed is the existence of a deep well of dissatisfaction with the interchangeable Blair photocopies that have come to dominate British politics over the past ten-fifteen years, not to mention the inability of that particular political class to recognise the fact.
It’s hard to imagine Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, but it was hard to imagine him as leader of the Labour Party when he first put his name forward in June. We are told that stranger things happen at sea (just ask our esteemed landlady), but whether Corbyn’s election signifies electoral suicide or the biggest political divorce since 1981, one cannot deny it has suddenly made politics a little more interesting. Just a shame Billy Bunter received the nod and wink as Deputy Headmaster; but at least it might leave him with less time to pursue his hobby of Tory grave-pissing, certainly if the interminable length of his Oscar-winning speech is anything to go by…