September 12, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory in the Labour leadership election, coming as it did with a 59% majority vote in the first round of the contest, gives him a genuine mandate to lead the Labour Party. He didn’t just win from the votes of the new members of the party who paid £3, he won across the board. For the sake of the party, everyone, from its MPs to its grass roots members, should give him a bit of time and space to see if he actually has the capacity to lead. If he does have a capacity to lead, the way politics is conducted in this country may possibly change irreversibly.
Corbyn has never led anything. He has had no ministerial, or shadow ministerial experience, he has never led any organisation at all. What he has already, shown, however, is the capacity to understand that he will need to build a team around him to help him lead, and the new Deputy leader Tom Watson may well do that. He has spent the whole campaign talking about “we” rather than “I” and unlike many politicians he didn’t mean the royal “we”. Yet one of the ways in which Corbyn wants to change politics is that he wants to do away with centralised leadership, particularly on policy, organising the party from the bottom up, more than the top down. Listening to the grass roots and responding to what they say may be risky, but it may well re-engage the whole party in a way that had disappeared under the well organised, but highly controlling, Blair leadership.
In the next week we will find out a great deal of what a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party will look like. He will begin to announce the Shadow Cabinet, with each appointment likely to be closely scrutinised, giving him a choice of filling it with purely left leaning members or making a proper, genuine attempt to build a broader church by including some of the more right- or at least centre- leaning members of Parliment.
On the other hand, they might not have the chance, because, as part of the Boundary Commission’s proposals for reducing the number of constituencies, an opportunity may soon come for Corbyn to decide whether or not to put every single MP up for re-selection, which could well result in a full scale purge of MPs who do not subscribe “enough” to his political philosophy.
Corbyn may also decide to do away with the centuries old ‘whips’ system within the Labour Party. It will be very difficult for him to ask for discipline from MPs when he has personally rebelled more than 500 times in his voting from what the Party line has been. Should he do this, with the justification that it allows MPs to be like him and vote according to the wishes of those they represent, or according to their own judgement, it could either destroy the operation the opposition party OR put pressure on the Conservative Party to consider the same change. Jeremy Corbyn will certainly not approve of MPs, as they do at the moment, walking through the division lobby to vote with their party without some even knowing what they are voting on.
We will also find out in the next week what the Conservatives will do. An option could be to stand back and let Corbyn hoist himself on his own petard. Even his own supporters are admitting they are having to hold their nose with regard to his foreign policy, which can simply be boiled down in some people’s view to knee-jerk anti-Americanism and the appeasement of terrorists. So it won’t be a surprise to find the vote on intervention against Islamic State in Syria brought forward as soon as possible.
Monday will provide the first chance to see what the Conservatives will do, as the Trade Unions Bill will be debated. This bill, set out in the Conservative manifesto, which looks to address the lack of a turnout threshold for strike votes, will be highly controversial. Corbyn, supported by all of the Unions, will be acting out of a deep seated belief that workers’ rights should be protected, and how David Cameron reacts to that will be instructive.
On a personal note, everything I hear about Jeremy Corbyn from people who have met and know him, whatever their opinion of his political views, is that he is a humble and hard-working public servant. He has served his constituents assiduously for 32 years and his views, right or wrong, are delivered in a calm, non-aggressive manner, and come from a deep belief in what he is saying.
I don’t think he can quite believe what has happened, but he now, as leader of the opposition, has a massive responsibility, not only to hold the Government to account, but to remember that without power, he can’t properly help those he speaks for. Protest is easy, power is hard. I wonder what he will choose?