Picture 15th June 2015. At 12 noon the deadline would expire for new entries to the leadership race for the British Labour Party, a leadership race paramount to the future of the party given it’s humiliating election defeat to the more right-wing Conservative Party just weeks before. That defeat prompted the resignation of leader Ed Miliband, a leader often portrayed by the British media as some sort of radical left-wing renegade, in a rather ironic twist of fate considering the fact that the vast majority of his policies followed the establishment line, bar a few very watered down policies leaning towards a more socialist mandate such as a price freeze on the largely out of control and poorly regulated public utilities giants who had held the British public to ransom for years on end.
Following the crushing defeat, senior members within the party vociferously turned on these supposedly left-wing, ‘anti-business’ policies of Miliband and demanded a return to ‘Blairism’, the centre-right ideology of Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, which had greatly contributed to the Financial Crisis of 2008 and which led to the spilling of blood of more than half a million Iraqi men, women and children, not to mention the thousands of coalition soldiers whose lives were lost in the process.
Up until now, this leadership race had comprised of candidates essentially mirroring this desire for a return to the “center ground” and to a more Blairist popular mandate; all three candidates had vehemently supported austerity, all three had previously served as loyal worker-bees of Tony Blair, and pretty much all three had discarded Jeremy Corbyn, the fourth Labour candidate who had not yet secured a place on the ballot paper due to an insufficient number of nominations by fellow members of parliament, as a joke. In fact, even the bookmakers had placed Corbyn winning the leadership election at odds of 100/1.
However, with 15 minutes to go until the noon deadline, Corbyn found himself just enough nominations, albeit from MPs who did not actually support his policies but instead were urged to nominate him to broaden the debate on the party’s future. He had made it. Now, those MPs who nominated Corbyn to simply broaden debate have since been described as ‘morons’ by John McTernan, Tony Blair’s former advisor, and more than half of the MPs who originally ‘gave’ Corbyn their nomination have now ended up deserting him; this joke candidate, a 66 year old veteran Labour MP and ardent socialist, is now the bookmakers’ favourite to win.
In a post-Thatcher and post-Reagan society, deterring away from the neoliberal line has been seen as political suicide; those who actively rebuke it are butchered by the mass media, such as the former British MP George Galloway, and this is so widespread and visible a phenomenon that any aspiring politician wanting to go far in politics, or in other words, any ‘career politician’, knows not to push certain boundaries or press certain buttons.
But perhaps that’s the reason for Corbyn’s success in Britain, and – to a lesser extent – the success of Bernie Sanders in the US – he is well past what many would assume to be his ‘political prime’; in other words, perhaps his age gives him a sense of security; even if he sticks to his principles and the media absolutely eviscerates him, he has absolutely nothing to lose; Corbyn has never been a member in Cabinet and has always confined himself to the backbenches in British politics. If this all goes hopelessly wrong, he can simply return back to those backbenches with the knowledge that he tried his best, or even just leave completely and retire on a very comfortable MP’s pension.
The truth is, irrespective of whether or not the Blairites want to admit it, Corbyn’s campaign is gaining momentum – and fast. He has now been backed by the three biggest trade unions in the UK – organizations previously deemed irrelevant under the Thatcher years and – by logical extension – the Blairite years, and is now looking very likely to win the leadership contest to Britain’s second largest party outright. His vocal opposition to austerity and his adamant demands for wealth and gender equality have resonated with the great majority of ordinary, British people, and his socialist demands of re-nationalising utility and railway companies have struck a chord with the great majority of British people from all social classes alike; high energy prices and poor transport services are issues we all face.
However, watching Corbyn speak, it becomes very clear that he has no exceptional charisma or oratory skills; he often mumbles and his choice of vocabulary is by no means eloquent. But perhaps there’s a point here: perhaps there’s nothing inherently special in Jeremy Corbyn to warrant this huge surge in popularity; perhaps all Jeremy Corbyn is doing is exploiting a deeply ingrained belief we all have hidden away: perhaps we are all socialists at heart. The successes of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and now Corbyn in Britain could point to something meaningful: perhaps a revolution is in the works; perhaps what was previously as the political mainstream is shifting, and perhaps we are getting one step closer to more equal societies.
Admittedly, Corbyn may not win. In fact, it is very possible he won’t win, especially with a voting system which factors in second preference votes. However, what we’ve seen with the huge surge in support for the Corbyn campaign suggests that, despite the media’s best efforts to paint anything outside the political mainstream as ludicrous or insane, there is a real hunger for socialism among ordinary British people, and, whether Corbyn wins or not, that hunger will certainly not go away.