Anti-austerity left-winger Jeremy Corbyn’s crushing win to become leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party could divide his party’s MPs, but give a boost to its grassroots power, commentators said yesterday.
The veteran socialist’s victory with 59.5 percent of the vote also marks a break with the legacy of controversial former British prime minister Tony Blair and his centrist “New Labour” movement of the 1990s.
“Death of New Labour,” read a front-page headline in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
“Labour isn’t dead, Blairism is. Jeremy Corbyn finally killed it,” the pro-Conservative paper said, adding that Corbyn had defeated “boring Blairites.”
“Red and Buried” crowed a headline in the right-wing Mail yesterday, but the socialist Morning Star daily hailed the result, saying: “Jeremy Storms to Victory.”
The paper pointed out that Corbyn got a better result than Blair, who won the Labour leadership in 1994 with 57 percent.
Guardian columnist Rafael Behr referred to Corbyn’s election as an earthquake “off the political Richter scale,” pointing to the role of young people not previously involved in politics in his campaign.
“Blairism is buried beneath the rubble and a different structural and cultural divide has been revealed,” he wrote for the pro-Labour daily. “It is between established Labour ... and insurgent Labour, a complex hybrid of organized coup by dogged old warriors of the left and spontaneous, organic uprising by idealistic new recruits.”
In a sign of the change of style, Corbyn asked supporters to send in questions to ask British Prime Minister David Cameron at Wednesday’s weekly Prime Minister’s Questions in parliament.
“I want to be your voice. What do you want to ask David Cameron?” he asked in an e-mail.
Senior Labour figures including former Labour leader Ed Miliband have called for party unity after a result that was hailed by SYRIZA in Greece and Podemos in Spain.
In his victory speech on Saturday, Corbyn welcomed the thousands of new supporters that the campaign has drawn in and reached out to “disillusioned” former Labour members who had returned to the party.
However, there were many stony faces at Saturday’s Labour Party conference where the result was announced and several members of the Labour shadow Cabinet indicated they would not serve under Corbyn.
David Blunkett, a former minister under Blair, complained he had been heckled after the event by someone who told him: “Corbyn in, Blairites out.”
Another former Blair minister, Margaret Beckett, warned in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s PM program: “Divided parties do not win power.”
“To change things you have to have power. Speaking, demonstrating, marching doesn’t really change very much,” she said in an apparent reference to Corbyn’s long record of protest politics.
However, many commentators noted the vibrancy behind a Corbyn campaign that successfully harnessed the power of protest movements and social media.
“A genuine buzz and excitement has surrounded the election of a British political leader,” Dan Hodges wrote in the pro-Conservative Daily Telegraph, although he concluded the result would be “suicide.”
Corbyn was a dissenter against New Labour and a cofounder of the Stop the War movement, which organized Britain’s biggest ever march against Blair’s drive to take part in the Iraq War in 2003.
The 66-year-old has said he now wants to apologize for Britain’s role in the war and has indicated he will oppose Cameron’s push for Britain to join US-led air strikes on Syria.
Blair warned ahead of the vote that Corbyn would be an “electoral disaster” and said his supporters were creating an “Alice in Wonderland world” without the hard decisions required in politics.
Labour was in power under Blair and his successor Gordon Brown between 1997 and 2010, with Blair winning three consecutive general elections.
However, Laurie Penny, writing in the leftist New Statesman magazine, said New Labour figures were part of “a political class that chose power over principles long ago.”
“The paradox is delicious. For the first time in years, Labour is popular and interesting, but apparently it would rather not be,” she said.
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