Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

New, old Labour

Tony Blair, back in the '90s, led the Labour Party to electoral victories some had thought impossible.

Margaret Thatcher, as prime minister, had broken the power of unions in ways nearly unimaginable and made privatization the flavor of the month. Blair, following the example of Bill Clinton in the USA, created "new Labour" by organizing support from moderates within Labour and outside the party.

That "third way" went down in flames in 2010, and the party has been thrashing around looking for the keys to success.

Labour has now elected a new leader, and there are warning flags in the wind proclaiming the death of the Labour Party. And there are cheers from those who suggest that newly active members will help push the party to future success.

Watch what happens.

What now for Jeremy Corbyn?
Jeremy Corbyn
He, and they, did it. Now what? Jeremy Corbyn's victory was not the work of Labour MPs, power brokers, or the party's once powerful machine, but the flex of an old muscle - Labour's left-wing rump - once so weakened, now strong, emboldened by thousands upon thousands of new supporters…

But now installed, there are problems everywhere for Labour's new leader. He has always been an outsider, an insurgent in his own party.

How can he expect loyalty from his colleagues, unite the party, when he has rarely displayed it himself? MPs have been discussing ousting him for weeks. There will likely be initial faint support from most…

It won't be easy for him to build a team robust enough to function in Westminster's brutal world. And wise Labour heads worry it's inevitable the party will return to a fight it's had before - moderates battling to squeeze out the left.

His opponents outside the party won't let him forget his past associations - reaching out to Irish Republicans and vocal opponents of Israel - peacemaking in his view, unacceptable to others. That, combined with his economic views, out of step with the mainstream, means for most Conservatives his success is a political gift. They believe his election is a chance, not just to poke fun week after week, at an accidental leader, but to maim Labour for a generation…

But the biggest gamble is this: Corbyn won against all the odds by stitching together old voices, new activists and union support. That was enough to win the party's own election. Could that powerful niche ever expand to become a true national movement capable of winning a general election?

That really would be breaking the rules.

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