So it’s happened, Jeremy Corbyn – perennial back-bencher and left-wing stalwart – has won the leadership of the Labour party with a decisive and overwhelming victory amongst his party’s membership. That very well may be the easy part.
Corbyn has now had his first day in office, and from the off it seems like it will be an uphill battle for Corbyn to unite the Labour Party that is now his and direct them towards fighting their real enemy, the seemingly untouchable Tories.
Getting some of his recent rivals to come on side will help his cause a little. Andy Burnham being Home Secretary and Yvette Cooper taking up the offer of chairing a committee on refugees are very positive steps that signal that instead of breakaway factions forming that Corbyn can command the respect and loyalty of the party’s big-hitters. If those who lost to him by almost 40% of the vote aren’t staging a coup, then it seems implausible that anyone else can either. But it will take time before the rifts of the summer are healed, and luckily for Labour chances are they will be (one way or another) before they next face the Tories in an election.
But there are problems in his appointees. Chancellor John McDonnell goes along with Corbyn’s left-wing agenda very well, but when the man with the keys to the Exchequer is so brazen about his ideas of spending and with quotes supporting the IRA then it does strike as an appointment that will worry the voters a little, something Labour can ill-afford. There are also a lack of appointments of women into the top positions, leading to a missed opportunity to position itself as the party of equality and also depriving some of the finest politicians in the land some of the most important positions in the land, such as deputy leadership candidate Caroline Flint or many people’s shadow chancellor tip Angela Eagle. Of course there’s plenty time for reshuffles before the election, but it’s not exactly a cabinet of confidence for a leader whose authority over his MPs is shaky at best.
It is genuinely exciting to see a man of such socialist principles take one of the largest political posts in the country, and to paraphrase a Labour source it will be either “fantastic or fatal” for the Labour Party. If he can win, then it’ll be the biggest ideological shift the country’s seen since World War II and a sounding rejection of austerity and post-recession politics as we know it. If he loses, then the Tories will be in power for 15 years (longer even than New Labour’s stint in office) and will continue with their neo-Thatcherite rollback of the state. Labour’s defeat in May can be categorised by saying they didn’t offer an alternative to the Tories enough to change governments; that’s certainly not an accusation that could be levelled at a Corbyn General Election campaign.
An important part of the weekend’s revelations is that Tom Watson has been elected Corbyn’s deputy. He’ll be more of an enforcer type, in a way that might be needed to keep order within the party. And that’s what the next few months or even year could turn out to be for Labour: an exercise in discipline and order and a crash course in high level politics for a new leadership with old values.
Watson came out swinging in his appearance on the Andrew Marr show yesterday morning in an attempt to dispel rumours that Corbyn would back leaving the EU and NATO. It may well be that this sidekick is used an awful lot to be the sober and conciliatory yin to Corbyn’s more firebrand yang.
All of this adds up to what is going to be an unpredictable and almost wacky few years of politics where the left, the right and the centre all square off against each other in a cat and mouse battle that could end in any number of ways.
So Tom and Jerry are beginning their journey to lead Labour into the next era of British politics, it’s going to be a hell of a show.