Soon after Jeremy Corbyn is named the new leader of Britain’s Labour Party on Saturday, the leftwinger will be faced with the daunting task of building a functioning parliamentary party.
Less than two dozen of Labour’s lawmakers ever truly supported Corbyn. Others endorsed his candidacy in the leadership election for the sake of facilitating “debate” in a party that lost the May election against Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives.
Few expected Corbyn to win. But the influx of tens of thousands of left-wing activists and the disappointment of traditional party members in the other, less inspiring candidates appears to be deciding the contest in his favor.
Mere days after his victory is announced, Corbyn would have to install a shadow cabinet. Talented centrists who realize that Corbyn’s far-left program would doom their chances in the next election can be expected to turn him down.
He would also need to appoint a chief whip who, The Guardian predicts, is likely to be told by many lawmakers that Corbyn is entitled to receive the same level of loyalty he gave previous Labour leaders — none.
Since he was first elected to Parliament in 1983, Corbyn has voted against his own party hundreds of times. He has been one of Labour’s most predictable rebels. Yet he told The Independent newspaper last month that as leader, he would expect other lawmakers to respect the wishes not of those who elected them but of the party faithful.
“I will absolutely use our supporters to push our agenda up to the parliamentary party and get them to follow that,” he said.
After facing off with Cameron at prime minister’s questions the Wednesday after his election, Corbyn would be confronted with a series of votes on touchstone issues covering defense, public spending and welfare, “designed to show that Corbyn’s support is a million miles from the heartbeat of the country,” according to The Guardian.
It will probably be effective in depressing popular support for the Labour Party. But Dan Hodges, a former Labour and trade union official, cautions against assuming it will quickly undermine Corbyn’s leadership and allow Labour to move on.
Corbyn’s victory may have been unforeseen but it will not be accidental, he writes in The Telegraph. “The Corbyn ascendancy has been many years in the making.”
The coordinated attack on the Blairite think tank Progress and the targeted punishment beatings of Blairite and Brownite shadow cabinet ministers. The establishment of the independent left-wing think tank Class. The formation of the “People’s Assembly” anti-austerity coalition. These interventions weren’t part of a long-term master plan to secure the leadership for Corbyn. But they were part of a well-crafted strategy for increasing the left’s influence within Labour.
Corbyn and his supporters may have a tenuous grasp on political reality if they believe the most left-wing leader in Labour’s history can win in a country that just gave the Conservatives their first parliamentary majority in twenty years. But they’re not stupid either and will move to consolidate their control of the party, Hodges predicts.
Those who have taken at face value Corbyn’s warm words about unleashing a new egalitarianism through his party’s stultified ranks should brace themselves for first contact with his own unique brand of “democratic centralization.”
This Leninist concept refers to allowing debate on policy before calling a majority vote, the outcome of which all party members must uphold.
In his interview with The Independent, Corbyn urged lawmakers to recognize there was a “huge thirst for significant change in the party” and told them not to “stand in the way” of it.
One way of enforcing policy is to threaten deselection, in which case the party withdraws its support from elected officials. The mere chance of losing access to funding and organization should compel many parliamentarians who are far from convinced that Corbyn represents Labour’s future to fall in line.
“Part of this is instinctive,” according to Hodges: left-wing purists who allow no room for dissent.
But it is also pragmatic. Corbyn and his supporters know that it’s only a matter of time before their opponents come for them. He has been running on a platform of no compromise — with neither the “Red Tories” within and the “Blue Tories” without. As a result, argues Hodges, “they feel they have to get their retaliation in first.”