Corbyn: A Socialist phenomenon.
Jeremy Corbyn’s absolute dedication to Socialism, in a world ever changing, is something to be admired.
Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendency to leader of the Labour Party in 2015, appears at first to represent a glitch in the political network, a political anomaly. Beneath the surface however, his success was a direct reaction to the conditions that Britain had been forced to endure since 2010. His success was also due to a surge of young people seeing him as a gust of fresh, socialist air, which would blow its way through Westminster and breathe new life into a political system that had become stagnated and binary since the financial crash of 2008. The ideology which he built over the past five years will continue to guide and mould the radical left of the Labour Party, even though the man himself will slip back onto the very back benches of the Commons from whence he came.
There are three main factors that have surrounded Jeremy Corbyn throughout his leadership and his career as a parliamentarian, which have come to define him.
1. Austerity and Brexit.
2015 marked five years into Austerity, the surge of deep spending cuts to the public sector by the Conservative government, crippling every public service. Many people lost their jobs and fell into poverty. Corbyn’s election victory to lead the Labour Party was due largely to the mass Anti-Austerity movement, which Corbyn himself was a member of. Many people had been searching for a leader to rescue them from Austerity, and Jeremy Corbyn appeared to be that person. His deep ideological roots linked to state interventionism: nationalisation of the public sectors, and redistribution of wealth from these sectors, allowed many to believe that in order to end Austerity, a more radical leader was necessary.
Austerity however became directly replaced by Brexit. People failed to realise that their unemployment and lives below the poverty line were a direct result of the Conservative government, and instead were manipulated to believe that the EU were responsible. This issue proved to be a problem for Corbyn throughout his leadership. If Brexit had never occurred, then he would arguably have had greater success. But because many people became distracted by Brexit, they began to ignore the Austerity under which they had suffered for half a decade. The people that Corbyn needed to connect with over Austerity to win an election instead became focused on leaving the EU. As Brexit reached its anti-climactic summit in the December 2019 general election, Corbyn struggled to connect with the people he needed to win. The members of the electorate who had suffered most under Austerity, felt Corbyn did not respect the will of the people and the result of the 2016 referendum. Subsequently, Labour suffered the worst defeat since the 1930s.
Corbyn was a political chemical reaction to five years of Austerity. If history could be re-written, Corbyn would likely erase the referendum, as would many political figures and indeed a large majority of the public. Brexit stole the very people Corbyn was primed to connect with and convince. Instead, they were caught in the headlights of VoteLeave and eventually a Conservative government who promised to “Get Brexit Done”. If Brexit had never existed, Corbyn would likely have won the general election in 2017.
2. Theoretical vs Practical Socialism.
Corbyn’s success was due to a surge of theoretical Socialism, which would come to be a part of his eventual downfall. Over 100,000 people joined the Labour Party in order to take part in the election, many of which voted for Corbyn. Many newcomers were young and naturally ideologically undecided. They had been convinced not just by Corbyn’s words, but by his history of actions which began long ago. They saw the Socialism which Corbyn represented as a shining beacon of hope for themselves and their families. However, there was a difference between the voters that Corbyn attracted to the party and Corbyn himself that would also be a factor in his downfall. Many people who joined Labour to vote for Corbyn became ‘theoretical’ Socialists, in favour of what Corbyn was saying, but not sure if they actually wanted to experience Socialism in practise. These ideological supporters were reactive, but not proactive. Many wanted an alternative to the status quo, but many had no idea of what the alternative should be, or even if they would actually support it. They just wanted change. But ideology alone does not and can not suffice when transforming a whole nation. When such a seismic shift in the political construction of a nation is possible, ideology can only get you so far. Corbyn has always been a proactive, practical socialist.
Ideologically steadfast, he has been actively campaigning for Socialism his whole life. His mistake was believing that the public were as committed to Socialism as he was. This came into clear view in the 2019 election, when his party released their manifesto. Strongly socialist, ideologically radical, the manifesto was the most left-wing manifesto anyone had seen for decades. Many people who were previously ‘theoretically’ socialist began to realise that Socialism in Britain was an actual possibility. Many became anxious and withdrew support.
Corbyn’s most powerful trait ultimately became his hubris. His ideological superiority blinded him from the fact that the public were not prepared for Socialism. He failed to realise that many in society are easy to convince in theory, but when theory becomes reality, many withdraw out of fear of change.
3. An unorthodox leader.
John McDonnell, Corbyn’s right-hand and Shadow Chancellor, remarked in a GQ interview that “we [Corbyn and McDonnell] don’t believe in leaders”. Corbyn has never been a leader. Most of his parliamentary career has been spent residing on the back benches with his ideological colleagues: Tony Benn and John McDonnell. From there they repeatedly rebelled against the Labour Party on countless issues, believing that the party was fast transitioning towards the centre ground.
Therefore, when Corbyn found himself at the spearhead of the opposition, his dismissal of leadership was shown. He still led his party, but never adopted outright populism, especially to the degree that the Conservative government were attempting to. Instead, he led quietly and calmly, advocating a collective leadership of his entire shadow cabinet. He never believed that he should be the sole leader of his ideological army.
However, this would also prove to be an issue. Through his refusal to adopt a populist stance of leadership, he was made an easy target for attempted coups and many attacks from the government, the media, and within his own party. An attempted coup in 2016 from within his own cabinet threatened Corbyn’s leadership, and after a second leadership election, he remained leader with an increased majority of the voting share (61.8%).
No other open leadership attacks on Corbyn were made, however in February 2019, seven MPs broke from the party to form The Independent Group, claiming their resignations were due to Corbyn.
His leadership may have been unorthodox in today’s toxic political tank, but Corbyn never appeared to chase the populism that the likes of Boris Johnson had done since their establishment as an MP. His leadership was completely socialist. Never corrupted, always radical.
Jeremy Corbyn was a political phenomenon. Many now are attempting to brush away the past five years as something of an irregularity in the Labour Party’s matrix. The radical left that Corbyn came from and inspired are now more powerful than before. They have increased in number and will ensure that Labour’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, does not drift too far from the left-wing of Labour.
Corbyn himself continues. He remains on the backbenches as he always has done. And, like his mentor Tony Benn, will remain steadfast in his socialist morals and ideology. His total commitment to Socialism and creating a better, socially just world, will continue until his final days. Many disregarded Jeremy as not being a proper ‘leader’. However, he was more a leader than any other parliamentarian we have seen in a decade, because he refused to be moulded into what other people wanted him to become.
He was, and always will be, a true socialist.