Goodbye New Labour: Victorious Corbyn consigns Blairism to history

#JeremyCorbyn

By routing his opponents and breaking the neoliberal consensus, Corbyn has the strongest mandate of any opposition leader since Tony Blair

Peter Oborne's picture
Wednesday 28 September 2016 16:21 UTC
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According to the British media class, the last week has been an unmitigated disaster for Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Don’t believe a word of it.

According to the received version of events, Jeremy Corbyn leads a split party, has zero chance of winning the next election, and is driven by a demented political ideology which will take Britain back to the worst days of the 1970s.

As a Tory, I don't share many of Corbyn's political beliefs, but I am certain that most of what is written about the Labour leader is false.

He has not simply defeated his opponents. He has routed them. He therefore has the strongest mandate of any opposition leader since Tony Blair in 1994

The truth is that Corbyn has had an outstanding week which has vindicated everything he has ever done and said as a man and a politician – a point that the Labour leader drove home in his superb leader’s speech from Liverpool this afternoon.

The achievement is colossal, and Corbyn is still growing into his job. This week has won a massive endorsement from Labour Party members – and on a scale which would leave most politicians open mouthed with envy.

More significant still, it is the second endorsement he has secured from Labour Party members in just 12 months.

This means that Corbyn is now unchallengeable as Labour leader. He has not simply defeated his opponents. He has routed them. He therefore has the strongest mandate of any opposition leader since Tony Blair in 1994.

The hard way 

Unlike Tony Blair, Corbyn has to do it the hard way. He has achieved his triumph in the face of hostility from a deeply unfair and partisan British media, much of which is openly determined to destroy him and distort his actions.

He has been forced to pay a very high price for challenging conventional opinion.

I've been a political journalist for nearly 25 years and there is no question that Jeremy Corbyn should be celebrated for ushering in this new kind of politics

But in the space of barely a year, he has reinvented Labour as a political party, taking Labour Party membership from 200,000 in the wake of the 2015 election, to more than 500,000 today.

He has done this by reinventing public discourse itself. He has abandoned the discredited politics of spin and manipulation associated both with Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair’s New Labour and David Cameron’s Tories. Corbyn is not by any means a great orator, but he speaks in the simple, intelligible language of ordinary people.

I've been a political journalist for nearly 25 years and there is no question that Jeremy Corbyn should be celebrated for ushering in this new kind of politics.

Breaking the old model

As he explicitly set out in his hugely important speech this afternoon, Corbyn has broken from the consensus politics of the last quarter of a century. From the rise of Tony Blair in 1994 until the general election of 2015, there was – to use Corbyn’s potent phrase from Liverpool today – a "political stitch up" between the main political parties.

There was an unspoken agreement between Tories and Labour that they would only work within very constrained parameters. The Cameron Conservative Party and the Blairite Labour Party both advocated near identical spending and taxation targets. They both supported the marketisation of the public sector. They both agreed the same neoliberal economic model.

In foreign policy terms, both main parties accepted British subordination to the United States of America, and therefore a neoconservative doctrine of armed intervention in order to advance the interests of the West in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Nobody can claim that these twin doctrines -  neoliberalism at home and neoconservatism abroad - were successful. They led to debacles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, as well as the banking crash of 2008. But anyone who challenged these two orthodoxies was politically marginalised.

This afternoon, Corbyn became the first leader of a mainstream political party to directly challenge this paradigm, with his assertion that "the old model is broken and we’re in a new era". Corbyn deserves almost unlimited credit for offering an alternative.

Support, leave - or conspire?

Corbyn's triumph does, however, create a real difficulty for his many opponents inside the Labour parliamentary party. They have been overwhelmingly defeated not just once, but twice.

It is time that they acknowledged that they have been beaten. There are two honourable ways that they can do this. They must either come out and support Jeremy Corbyn as he tries to implement the settled, democratic will of the Labour Party. That means taking front bench jobs and supporting the leadership as it sets out its distinctive vision for the future of Britain or - at the very least - supporting Corbyn loyally from the back-benches.

Alternatively, they should leave the party altogether. This would be a painful course of action - but entirely honourable. The Blairites are completely at liberty to set up their own political organisation, just as Shirley Williams and David Owen set up the Social Democratic Party in despair of what they saw as the far-left wing taking over the Labour Party in the 1980s. They can then test their popularity with the electorate.

The Blairites are completely at liberty to set up their own political organisation, just as Shirley Williams and David Owen set up the Social Democratic Party

The third course of action is to continue to behave as they have over the last 12 months, and to carry on conspiring against and undermining Corbyn. That would be deeply dishonourable and wrong, but on past performance entirely in character. 

There are some intriguing parallels between the disloyalty of Blairite Labour MPs towards Corbyn and the attitude of the Egyptian deep state towards President Mohamed Morsi after he was elected president in free democratic elections in 2012.

The Egyptian Army and intelligence services, the business elite and the Nasserite left simply refused to recognise the legitimacy of multiple elections and would not enable Morsi to govern. They had their way, but the democratic transition was set back years in the process.

So far, that has been the approach of Hilary Benn, Tom Watson, Ben Bradshaw and the other Labour wreckers and saboteurs. They are refusing to accept that Corbyn has a democratic mandate and, as a result, are determined to destroy him from within.

Corbyn has earned his chance. He proved with his fine speech this afternoon that he has a vision. Labour MPs should now give him his chance to prove that he can reshape a new kind of British politics. God knows that it is badly needed. Even as a Tory, for the health of the British political system, I wish him all the luck in the world.

- Peter Oborne was named freelance writer of the year 2016 by the Online Media Awards for his reporting for Middle East Eye. With MEE colleague Nawal Al-Maghafi, he is among the few correspondents to have ventured into war-torn Yemen in recent months.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks on the fourth day of the annual Labour Party conference in Liverpool, north west England on 28 September 2016 (AFP)