Is Jeremy Coybyn the most left wing Labour leader ever?

Veteran journalist Tariq Ali goes down the list of all Labour Party leaders and makes the case that in Jeremy Corbyn, the party has elected the most left-wing leader in its history. But he says that Corbyn will have his work cut out for him. The Blairites of so-called New Labour had put the selection of candidates for parliament so much under their control that the current crop of Labour MPs in parliament (the Parliamentary Labour Party or PLP) will obstruct him.

The ironies of history never fail to surprise. Measured by any criteria, Jeremy Corbyn is the most left-wing leader in the history of the Labour Party. He understands that those who do evil abroad are unlikely to do much good at home. He is the staunchest anti-imperialist Member of Parliament.

No one who knows or sees and hears Corbyn can doubt his authenticity. I have shared numerous platforms with him over the past 40 years. On the key issues he has remained steadfast. What appealed to the young, who transformed the campaign into a social movement, was precisely what alienated the traditional political and media cliques. Corbyn was untutored, discursive, too left-wing, wanted to reverse the privatisations of the railways and utilities, etc. Many who registered to vote for him did so because of this and to break from the bland, unimaginative and visionless New Labour.

As Labour members elect their most left-wing leader, the overwhelming majority of the PLP is in the death grip of the right. Anyone listening to Sadiq Khan’s speech after being elected as Labour’s choice for London mayor would have noticed the difference with the Corbyn campaign. Khan’s clichés were a reminder of how isolated Corbyn will be in the PLP. Corbyn will call on the party to unite behind him. But there is no getting away from the fact that the PLP majority is opposed to his policies. I guess they will try to tire him out and force compromise after compromise to discredit him (remember Alexis Tsipras in Greece), but I doubt they’ll succeed.

Corbyn understands the key issues on which no compromise is possible. He’s been campaigning for them long enough. His closeness to the Green agenda is not a secret, and the single Green MP now has a solid supporter in the new Labour leader. Taking back public transport from the profiteers is another element; cheap public housing for the young and the old will help rebuild communities. A robust tax regime that reverses the decades of privileges afforded the rich will unleash a fierce offensive by the City and its media and political acolytes, but it’s considered absolutely necessary.

There have been many articles comparing Corbyn with Bernie Sanders in the US. While they are both taking aim at the obscene wealth gap and the control of their respective countries by the oligarchy, Sanders is not nearly as left-wing as Corbyn though his opponents in the US are painting them with the same brush. A group called Correct the Record, a SuperPAC associated with Hillary Clinton, has attacked Sanders for sending a congratulatory message to Corbyn, using tactics that would make the Republicans proud.

According to journalists who received an email from the group, it attacked Sanders for congratulating Corbyn on winning the Labour leadership election and drew attention to the British politician’s “most extreme comments” on foreign policy.

Many of the alleged comments, such as remarks referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” and the death of Osama bin Laden as a “tragedy” are similar to attacks on Corbyn from rightwing critics in Britain that his supporters say are based on distortions of his positions.

The email also reportedly compared Corbyn’s support for the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez with a decision by Sanders to help negotiate the purchase of discounted heating oil from the Latin American country for a number of US states.

This attack suggests that the Clinton camp is worried about Sanders’ rise in the polls and the drop in her favorability ratings.

One of the surprising things has been the number of young people that are flocking to both Sanders and Corbyn, despite the fact that they are both much older and unpolished in their appearance and manner. I think this may be because they have been holding to their positions consistently all their lives and talk seriously about issues that matter, and the young are seeing in them an authenticity that other candidates lack.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    There’s an interesting little linguistic trick here:

    cheap public housing for the young and the old will help rebuild communities. A robust tax regime that reverses the decades of privileges afforded the rich will unleash a fierce offensive by the City

    The above is written as though Corbyn has already been elected Prime Minister. That’s a very bold assumption going unstated there, and one that’s typical of the established leftist cliques. Labour lurched to the left under Milliband after the shock of the 2010 defeat. The lesson they appear to have taken from their even heavier defeat in 2015 is that they didn’t lurch far enough. That’s certainly one possible interpretation.

    the young are seeing in [Corbyn] an authenticity that other candidates lack

    Whoopy frickin doo. Who cares what the young think? They don’t vote.

  2. Chiroptera says

    Corbyn understands the key issues on which no compromise is possible.

    I don’t know how people think in the UK, but a problem that Sanders, should he be elected President, is going to be this:

    There are issues where compromise is not only possible, but will be necessary if Sanders is going to enact any part of his programs. That is a normal part of the representative democratic process, and it is the reality that any elected politician is going to face. The eternal question, of course, is where is the dividing line between “principled compromise” and “compromise of principles.”

    But when Sanders finally has to back down on one or another agenda item, either to set it at the bottom of priorities or to weaken it a bit, there will be current hard core supporters who will cry “betrayal” and “total sell out” and “I will never vote ever again.” This isn’t unique to Sanders’ supporters; it seems to happen every time anyone is elected (although it seems particularly bad lately among the Tea Party Republicans), and I guess we just have to view it as a normal part of the process, at least in the US.

    It appears that Corbyn is going to have a problem with his own party in Parliament. To get anything passed, he’s inevitably going to have to make some compromises. That’s politics. It’s egregious since, like Sanders, it appears that Corbyn’s views reflect those of a majority of the party members and perhaps the people, but that is the reality he is going to face. The question I have is whether Corbyn would face the same group of “all or nothing,” “never give a centimetre or you’re a sell-out” mentality among a significant faction of his current supporters if he became Prime Minister? Or even now, as he organizes the “official opposition”?

  3. Nick Gotts says

    Labour lurched to the left under Milliband after the shock of the 2010 defeat -- sonofrojblake@10

    In what respect? They remained solidly behind austerity, capping welfare benefits, staying in NATO, renewing Trident, and the privatised, finance-dominated economy and society of Thatcherism: the key event leading to Corbyn’s win may have been the official Labour failure to vote against the latest round of welfare cuts -- that was the last straw for a lot of people, I would guess. More broadly, if all sides are offering Tory policies (in one case slightly watered-down), why not vote for the ones who are more likely to believe in them -- the Tories? In Scotland, Labour lost out to the SNP in the general election in May, and the SNP ran on an anti-austerity and anti-Trident programme. In the rest of the UK there was no such established alternative, although Labour lost votes to both the Green Party and UKIP (the far-right populist party, which typically for such parties, includes some vaguely lefty economic verbiage in its propaganda). Of all those commenters now assuring us that Corbyn is unelectable, how many mentioned even the possibility of him, or anyone like him, winning the party leadership, before or just after the nominations closed?

  4. Nick Gotts says

    To take up what Chioptera@4 says, yes of course, Corbyn has a very difficult task ahead, and there’s no knowing whether he’s up to it until he’s had a go. I think he would rightly see himself as very much the person who just happened to be in the right place to ride a wave of grassroots enthusiasm for a left alternative to austerity. Corbyn’s friend and colleague John McDonnell (now shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer) would probably have stood instead if his health had allowed. However, Corbyn does have a reputation as someone who prefers listening and persuasion to coercion; and a mandate that can’t be disputed without making oneself ridiculous, so a break-away (as with the SDP in the 1980s) would be in obvious defiance of a clear election result. A lot of Labour MPs are careerists who will swiftly discover left-wing convictions they had previously overlooked, if that looks like a canny move. So unless Corbyn proves completely incompetent I think he’s likely in for 2-3 years at least; there’ll be a lot of pressure on him to resign if Labour are not ahead in the polls by early 2019.

  5. mnb0 says

    “Michael Foot as Leader of the Opposition was a rabid supporter of Margaret Thatcher’s war to retrieve the Malvinas/Falklands.”
    So when an awful military dictature (allied with the RCC in its country) attacks and occupies part of your territory against the specific will of the population there and you support military countermeasures you’re not really left wing?
    I have a problem taking this “veteran journalist” seriously.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    how many mentioned even the possibility of him, or anyone like him, winning the party leadership, before or just after the nominations closed?

    That hardly seems a fair question. Until LITERALLY TWO MINUTES before the nominations closed the only candidates were interchangeable Blairite clones Burnham, Cooper and Kendall. (Interchangeable from the point of view of anyone truly leftwing, that is.)

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