The Anti-Candidate

Ross McKibbin on the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn

It was said of one of Neville Chamberlain’s ministerial appointments that it was the most improbable since Caligula made his horse a consul. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the Labour Party is in the same category. Not that it is a joke; just that it was highly unlikely and almost without precedent in modern British party political history. Corbyn is probably unique in his lack of conventional qualifications for the job. George Lansbury and Michael Foot, the former Labour leaders he most resembles, had been cabinet ministers; Foot was Callaghan’s deputy in the 1976-79 government. Corbyn’s lack of conventional qualifications, however, is the reason he won. He was in a sense an anti-candidate: he exposed the emptiness of the conventionally qualified. That Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper were members of the last Labour government did them no good. That the best candidate the Blairites could find was Liz Kendall, who never stood a chance, was a telling reminder of their collapse. It was also a reminder of the collapse of New Labour’s political strategies. Corbyn could be elected because there is no longer a ‘centre’ in British politics to be fought over. The Lib Dems, whose raison d’être is or was being of the centre, came close to being eliminated at the general election in May, and it’s fantasy to believe that the Conservative Party now occupies that position. Those who argue that Labour should move to the centre, the party’s perpetual ‘modernisers’, are in practice suggesting that Labour should adopt policies wholly incompatible with any version of social democracy, however ‘modern’. Kendall’s campaign was a return to New Labour’s media strategy, which was based on making an accommodation with the Tory press. But that strategy was always bound to fail once New Labour was finished and the Tory press had returned to the fold.

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