12 Sep 2015

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory and the new party he leads

Corbyn’s victory has stunned his opponents. But it’s the size that matters. What political scientists knew, but the media didn’t bother knowing, is that the Labour Party’s membership changed under Ed Miliband. The rise of UKIP chipped away people in “old” working class communities.

So even as Jon Cruddas and Maurice Glasman plugged away at the idea of “reconnecting” with the working class base, the party membership became more metropolitan, multi-ethnic, networked and with the Corbyn phenomenon young.

It became common to hear, among senior Labour figures anxious about the Greens and parties like Syriza or Podemos, the assurance: “Britain does not need a Syriza”.

Even though the “right” of the party would always be in control – whether in son-of-Blair or son-of-Brown format – there would always be a voice and place for the left: Corbyn, McDonnell and Livingstone were never purged.

The logical road to rebuilding Labour after the defeat of 2015 was to do a “Clem and Nye”. Clem Attlee was the mild-mannered moderate who delivered victory in 1945 and competence in opposition, and in the coalition cabinet during wartime; it was working class firebrand Nye Bevan who kept populism and socialism alive.

The first problem was: these old metrics do not work when the old class alliance Labour is based on fall apart. The Clem and Nye act worked because it represented what was real about Labour in the 1940s and 50s: it was an alliance of organised labour with the progressive middle classes.

In 2015 it managed to lose both of these in Scotland. In large parts of small town England and Wales it has lost a significant part of its working class support to UKIP. It — together with the Libdems – lost more than a million voters to the Greens.

So Clem and Nye would have had to be something different: call it Blue and Green. Someone to symbolise “winning back the workers” and someone to symbolise winning back the Greens and Scots (ie those who’ve departed to the left).

Instead, none of the leadership candidates – including Corbyn – really spoke to that problem. Nor, at first, did they realise whose “problem” it was.

The owners of the problem turned out to be the 554,272+ people holding party cards, union membership and supporter votes. The choice they’ve made – looked at in detail – tells a clear story.

They want Corbyn even if it means losing the chance to bend the party towards the Blue Labour agenda — because the 2015 result shows it’s possible to become largest party without a massive turn to the “blue Labour” masses. They would rather have the one million Greens, and millions of young people who did not vote.

In the deputy leadership however they did have a candidate who roughly approximated to a “blue” Labour candidate, Tom Watson, who narrowly beat two candidates from the right of the party.

So whatever the challenges, whatever the fallout, a logical way to read this ballot is that the 400k people who bothered or got to vote do want a leadership that can reach out to the old Labour voters worried about migration, declining communites etc. But they wanted somebody who’s moved left in order to do it. (Watson was in his own words initially “dazzled” by Blair).

As for the leader, they wanted to re-connect with the progressive, left, green, feminist and anti-racist values they came into politics because they believed in.

There no Scots in either race. But there were two serious Blairite candidates in the deputy race: Creasy and Flint. Both of them lost – but only narrowly, and had they not had to fight each other, given the resource challenges of doing the deputy race, one of them could have won.

So Labour nearly had “Nye and Clem”. Instead it’s got an iconic representative of the far left as leader and a soon-to-be iconic leader of the union-oriented left as deputy. If, as tipped, John McDonnell becomes shadow chancellor, Labour’s leadership team, HQ and shadow cabinet are in uncharted territory.

37 reader comments

  1. Carole Reeves says:

    I’m becoming increasingly irritated with Blairites, etc. New Labour is over: this election has killed it. Now we need to support our overwhelmingly elected leader and welcome all the new members.

    1. ian says:

      If ‘aspiration’ is anything like Peter Mandelson New Labour can keep it! Keep the Faith Jeremy!

  2. Paul Longton says:

    Corbyn isn’t far left. The establishment are far right.

    1. Helen Bennett says:
    2. James says:

      Well said, Paul L.

      To P Mason:

      Too much hanging around with Westminster pundits, man. The ground underneath is shifting by the entry of ordinary people; and young, intelligent, ethical people. All those concerns about the “old labour” constituency vote, the scots vote, the green vote, the battles past, the chatter that does not matter. If the scots are allowed to take their full sovereign rights, that country will join in a voluntary United Kingdom and the socialists in the SNP will be Labours’ best allies. We already know that Thatcherism and Blair decimated our traditional Labour constituencies, Thatcher by conflict and Blair by betrayal, so lets stop talking old arguments and look at what people really want: peace and prosperity for the many.

      Have we had that from Thatcher or Blair, or any of their predecessors? Are we getting that from the current tory austerity? Do the elites have austerity imposed on them? Did the people not bail out the City with hundreds of billions; did the Bank of England not print money, not issue bonds for the rich that made ordinary people poorer? Did the students not get shafted? Did we not all get into debt because of neo-liberal economics? Did not the crash result from those policies? Are ordinary people not paying the price of the greed of the City? Are not the unemployed and the disabled being kicked in the teeth? Are the Tories not philistine reactionaries, passing off beyond the pale injustice as “reform”, regurgitating the failed ghost of Thatcher past? Are not their Blairite toadies perpetuating the same, old, failed policies? Don’t we all know this, and haven’t all of us known it, all along?

      So, lets do something about that, this time.

  3. William Beeby says:

    Great result winning on the 1st ballot with almost 60% of the vote. I am now going to re-join the Labour Party which I left following the illegal invasion of Iraq. I voted Green at the last election as the only option I found for me. At last we have got someone as a leader who I can agree with as for right wingers who don`t like it , tough. We have to put up with Tory Blair for years.

  4. Tim broughton says:

    The size of the Corbyn victory is gigantic. It will mean pro-war, pro-Murdoch and pro-austerity “Tories in drag” will no longer be welcome in the party. I felt quite emotional watching Corbyn’s acceptance speech, I never thought I would live to see a left of centre leader, as Paul knows better than most, being an old labour supporter is akin to liking Northern Soul, you have to keep the faith!

  5. Sean Fitzsimons says:

    Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn on a magnificent victory. I hope with all my heart that he is able to bring about the changes that he has promised and are needed

  6. Michael Carlson says:

    It is a commonplace to note Labour lost votes to nationalists in both England and Scotland. But few note Millband actually increased Labour’s percentage of the overall vote, from 29 to 31 (approx 7 per cent) while losing 26 seats, while the Tory vote increased basically from 36 to 37 percent (approx 3 per cent) while gaining 25 seats. Labour’s increase may have come from LibDems or those who voted tactically for the LDP to stop Tories in heavily Tory seats, but we don’t really know how the voters moved as much as we do that the system, intact after Cameron euchred Clegg on the ‘PR’ referendum, does not reflect the public. Given that none of his opponents was likely to change the overall spectrum of support (in other words, none looks a winner against Osborne in 5 years) voting for someone who’s not Cameron-lite is understandable. And recall, this whole process, the Thatcherising of Britain and its electorate was enabled by the SDP, Labour MPs who thought Labour unelectable and helped ensure it was.

  7. Fiona Fall says:

    I write as someone who has recently rejoined the Labour Party. I think Jeremy Corbyn was right in that it was an emotional vote for many. The public is tired of politicians staying on script/spin. We crave honesty and straight talking. And politicians prepared to listen and to be confident enough to be open to debate about everything – immigration, Trident, unions, climate change and equality. And unafraid of the media who I predict will be more interested in divisions and the colour of a bus rather than the issues. The three candidates (shame one was not a women but people were voting for policies; but I am sure their cabinets will be fully representative) carry our hopes of a rebalanced Parliament and eventually a society more comfortable in its own skin.

  8. NV Parfitt says:

    ‘Uncharted territory’ isn’t necessarily a place of monstrous fear and terror.
    It can be a place and time where ‘all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.’

    thanks to WS Churchill for the quote

  9. Bil Wells says:

    As one who joined the Labour Party in the early 1940’s I had the pleasure of knowing Nye through helping to organised two of his big meeting and he will be smiling in his grave at the epic shift that has occurred today..So I agree with your sentiments about Clem and Nye.

    Corbyn’s integrity shows though and his traction is from people, especially young ones, who are attracted by this quality instead of the plastic PR soundbites that appear on their TV screens. I think Tom Watson will be the cement that binds together most of the MPs who at present are in shell shock.

    Keep up your good work as now it may not all be in vain.

    Bill Wells (DixiesMayor on Guardian’s CIF).


  10. extreme reading says:

    Thank goodness we’ve shaken off the last remnants of Blair [and his babes]

  11. Roger Archer-Reeves says:

    The issue for many of us who were supporters of Labour through the Kinnock years is that Tony Blair disappointed hugely, his wars in the end defined his premiership along with his belief that God was on his side. Gordon Brown chickened out of an early snap election and became a Premier of no distinction other than a bitter person who had lost the thread after so many years as a number two. The political children of Blair and Brown have no new voice or sense of direction; Corbyn has given a sense to many bright young people that there is a new way forward and their sense of socialism is not based necessarily on the edicts of earlier generations but rather the basic facts of life in the early 21st century of affordable housing and good jobs. Mr Corbyn may not be the next labour prime minister but he has been able to tune into the generation of people born since 1985.

  12. Patrick O'Sullivan says:

    At last the Labour Party has been reclaimed as the party of the working man and woman. And just in the nick of time too as the tories seem intent on destroying all the gains made by previous Labour administrations The choice is stark: Socialism or barbarism.

  13. Philip Edwards says:

    “Blue Labour” my arse. The Scots have picked the best label for them…..it’s “Red Tories.” A gang of tenth rate chancers, spivs, opportunists, warmongering mass murderers, institutionally corrupt barrow boys – that’s New Labour. They hid behind the only party founded on the principles of social fairness and cooperation. They subverted it and sold out. In the end they produced utterly rotten propagandists like Mandelson, Toynbee and McTernan. To say nothing of the Blair Brown gang of frontmen.

    Good riddance to all of them.

    No wonder people like you were and are incapable of seeing what’s coming. You’ve got your head too far up your arse.

    1. Peter Crook says:

      Like your style Philip, love the down to earth descriptions of “barrow boys”.

  14. BlackPhi says:

    Given the overwhelming support shown for Corbyn in all other sectors of the Labour Party, one has to wonder how the PLP became so completely out of touch with their own base.

  15. Owain Street says:

    Interesting times for the Labour Party. A shot in the arm for all our (serious) politicians, who, in my view, have spent too long fighting over “the middle ground” and desperately trying to placate the media. The lack of political double speak, or “let me very clear” interview replies, is refreshing from Jeremy Corbyn. It appears that he actually believes in himself and is unafraid of being seen as someone with distinct values.

  16. June Knight says:

    Don’t half talk a load of crap. Where did you get all this? From the vaulted halls of academia and inner London/City trendy bullshit?

    Nobody thinks or talks like this. You disconnected while the marketing and spin doctor just talked to each other and left out the vast majority of normal people.

    PR professional pricks talking to each other and missing the wider population.

    Corbyn GOT IT! because he goes to work on the tube and bus and mixes with normal people instead of going from one photo opportunity and media spin false crowd setting in back of a car without touch planet earth or normal people in between.

    Ye, need PR savvy politics, but do not need the bullshit which insults everyone.

  17. Mervyn Donnelly says:

    Well done Jeremy! It’s about time Labour came home to its raionne d’etre. Let’s now have some real Socialim and not the watered down Blairite shite that we’ve had to put up with for far too long under erstwhile labour leaders. I hope this sea change will be a breath of fresh air.

  18. anne yarwood says:

    Have lived in Ascot for over 50 years. Very “blue”. Very”lulled” Held our community environment (ASCENT)2nd. Festival today .Theme “Speak Truth to Power”.The audience was jubilant at news of Corbyn’s election.We knew that we were witnessing a moment in UK’s political history when a leader has emerged, held high on the shoulders of millions of us LONGING for principled leadership

  19. richard clarke says:

    i think the sea change has been coming, i was campaigning for labour in plymouth, we noticed the number of young people coming through as activists, it seamed obvious to me that the reality of conservative decisive policies had radicalised many young people they could really see the harm the tories were doing, however we lost both seats one a tory marginal hold with a small swing to us and 1 labour seat lost to a strong tory candidate, so we had more activists and lost votes i voted corbyn because i think we need to try to build a movement, i think the choice was social democratic decline or to roll the dice put forward a platform we believe in but risk being analiated, we need socialist social politics,, we need post Keynesian economic policies , but the nightmare scenario is we build a mass movement, which alienates people and we put forward sensible economic and kinder social policies but are beaten by the tory extend pretend and blame the poor propaganda in the mainstream media

  20. Platos cave says:

    If he changes his mind on Trident and defence generally, musters some economic credibility on alternative approaches and unearths and employs some credible and charismatic individuals to deliver a new message to a nation hungry for a vision to get behind, he has a chance. A lot of ifs in there though.

    Otherwise he is dead in the water in 2020 iin the unlikely event he even makes it that far.

    The heart ruling over the head in politics is a virtuous characteristic in an ever chaotic and cold hearted world. But it won’t get him elected and the Labour Party itself may yet pull itself apart under the left / right tension having most elected MPs to the right with the members directive clearly being the opposite.

    nothing to get excited about just yet, but I watch from afar developments with interest.

    Maybe he should give Richard Branson a call…….

    1. William Beeby says:

      I doubt if he will change his mind about trident and defence as you call it. NATO should have been disbanded when the Warsaw Pact ended and the Russians went home from Eastern Europe. Having nuclear weapons and being under America`s thumb in NATO is the real threat to our security and in any nuclear conflict we would be the first country wiped out , literally. America is still using us as an aircraft carrier as it has done since 1947 when it was made a condition for the loan they made to us then to keep us from starving. Why have the Americans still got thousands of troops all over Germany ? To protect them ? I don`t think so.
      Keep just as you are Jeremy as you are our only hope at the moment.

  21. Anne McLaren says:
  22. John Souttar says:

    I made a fairly innocuous comment yesterday saying that I thought it was a good speech but you seem to not wish to display any comments. Sorry Channel 4 but we cannot all agree with the media attacks on Corbyn even if the media agrees with itself. Democracy is not under threat from Corbyn but perhaps the news reporting should look at its role and be more introspective. Reservations about inequality, privatisation, trades union legislation and spending billions on a nuclear deterrent are not ‘far left’ but normal left. Blairites are pretty far right in fact.

  23. John Nelson says:

    Now that the membership has control how does the leadership keep the MPs in control?

  24. 10 pits and 10 mills, all gone says:

    Labour will now get destroyed in the working class areas outside London, the consensus being he will attract the dungaree wearing, tree hugging, limp wristed brigade who have never done a days work in their lives. Pigeon holed – most definitely, but folk up here are already laughing their danglies off at the bloke and the crowd he attracts. 20 years of Tory’s unless he implodes within a few weeks – which is a genuine possibility.

    1. tiggysagar says:

      I don’t think anyone has worn dungarees since the 70s. Are you suggesting Corbyn only appeals to extremely old fashioned lesbians? And have you got something against trees as well? Trees prevent pollution – that’s why my Conservative Council has planted them along a very polluted busy road. They are also nice to look at. And limp-wristed – is that another homophobic slur? What has anyone’s sexuality got to do with support for Corbyn? You really are full of nonsensical stereotypes! I know a great many people who are pro Corbyn and most of them are working, most of them are heterosexual and there’s nothing limp about them. Nor are most of them youngsters. I assume they like trees – who doesn’t?

  25. Phill says:

    Labour now unelectable for the next 15 years. Good news!!

  26. Robert Hall says:

    Dear Mr. Mason,
    An interesting article.
    I think too much of what you have said is based on history, in this way. This is 2015 and what the voters may decide may be divorced from The Attlee government, Old and New Labour. Times have changed. They are not the same as when Mr. Foot and Mr.Benn were on the scene.

    The problem that the voter faces is a very unrepresentative government imposing measures on the poor and the vulnerable and for which the vast majority of people didn’t vote. This Tory dictatorship has a slender majority; it certainly has no mandate from the people.

    The Labour party that lost the last election wasn’t so badly hit as the number of seats suggest but the media seem to be-ahem-labouring this point. Many people are looking for a more honest,approachable and in-tune leader. Mr. Prim Cameron, Paster Osborne, Ms.s Kendall and Cooper do not represent these qualities.

    I heard many references to people being loyal to Labour above all else and thus is the point; an MP’s primary responsibility is to his or her constituents. Mr. Corbyn has defied the whips many times, not because he is not loyal to Labour but because his Labour constituents come first.

    The average voter is fed up with the Westminster corruption of our democracy and in not being heard. Mr. Corbyn has offered an hope where nobody else has. Some of what he offers is politically risky and financially radical as opposed to the tired, well-tried and frequently unsuccessful policies that our sainted masters are pursuing today.It’s a risk I want to take in the interests of fairness.

    I an getting very tired of hearing people describing any policy that is liberal and or radical as being “loonie” when applied to the “left”. Try applying LOONY to some of the current Governments policies. The NHS needs more staff?We’ll cut its resources. The old need good care? Let’s make cuts there. Schools are failing? Let’s increase the class sizes and whilst we’re at it, the size of schools. We want better integration? Let’s create more faith schools. We don’t want people to run up debts? Let’s show the young what we mean by charging them for a University education. Affordable transport? Let’s put up the rail fares.

    It is the first time in decades that I’ve thought of voting again and possibly for Labour for the first time. I am 74, was a Young Conservative in the 60’s, a Liberal in the 70’s and then gave up in protest against the unfair voting system. i still believe that the system has to be changed and the abolition of political parties, beginning in the Lords, should perpetually adopted by the Commons.

  27. Sim says:

    Blair-private school Islington millionaire; Milliband – posh “comp” ,Primrose Hill millionaire; Corbyn- prep school ,Islington millionaire, all socialists of course and all about helping the working classes, me and the others.
    Well the party is still not listening, the Scots sent a message,the working class vote in the north and the Midlands sent a message, and the south -east in general always has. Working people want their kids to get on and do well,have access to good schooling and good jobs,they can do the rest. They dont want a party pretending it can run railways and power again, they were rubbish last time. If we want to control them bring back the capped dividend companies. They dont want the good schools shutting just because the worthies want to level down the playing field after they benefited from it, social mobility is good. They want to shop in upmarket places like the families in Islington, not Primark and Lidl all the time.They want the opportunity to get ahead not live on handouts,credits or any of the other stuff that makes the policymakers feel worthy. They know some people are not as good at getting on as others and should be looked after. They just don’t pretend that everybody is equal because they know they are not.
    Posh socialists,the SWP and these coordinated single issue groups are not the future for my Labour party.These new members are just signed up for short-term excitement, the tapas and demos crowd.This Corbyn party is just a version of the old man from the 80’s -Foot -another posh Fabian fairy story teller.
    Start listening and delivering what working people want not what the party worthies think is best for them then Labour might get elected again.

  28. Chrislongs says:

    History repeating itself? Remember Michael Foot and how that turned out.
    Meanwhile Cameron/Osborne repeat the Blair/Brown sucession saga.
    The new element is social media and how this disrupts Murdoch’s influence.
    Tory majority will decrease over life of parliament and EU referendum could open old wounds.
    Labour now need to deal with one policy SNP perhaps get Scots to pay all costs of next referendum?

  29. Curious says:

    “metropolitan, multi-ethnic, networked and with the Corbyn phenomenon young”

    In other words you just replace the group who set you up and gave you sustenance for a hundred years with your new followers who are the product of your 00s neoliberal policies – the policies which alienated your old base in the first place.

    The Left seems to be expert at p***ing off every who should vote for it.

  30. Curious says:

    “anti-racist values”

    Dear lord, does the Left ever give up going on about this? Ive been to 50+ countries and Ive yet to see a country less racist than the UK. One gets the feeling that its a stick to beat people with these days, at the same time as being a means to express one’s superiority.

  31. tiggysagar says:

    Only 12% of Corbynistas are young. I’m surprised Paul Mason has bought into this myth that all those joining the Labour Party who support Corbyn are youngsters. Those of us who hang out in pro Corbyn groups online will know that’s not the case and you only have to look at the crowds at his rallies to see there are plenty of middle aged people there. Many of them had given up voting till now.

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