The left-winger Jeremy Corbyn today won Labour’s leadership election by a landslide, taking the party’s top job outright in the first round with 59.5 per cent of the vote. The victory—greeted in the hall by cheers from most of the audience and chants of “yes we did,”—was widely expected, but still marks a remarkable moment in British political history, with Corbyn easily the most left-wing leader of a mainstream British party for decades.
There is much news still to come, not least who Corbyn will place in his Shadow Cabinet—former Work and Pensions shadow Rachel Reeves, Education Secretary Tristram Hunt and others have said they will not serve under Corbyn, and other similar announcements may follow. But today’s result followed a long and eventful campaign, which has taught us much not just about the candidates for the leadership, but about the party they sought to lead. Here are seven things we’ve learned.
The great leap leftwards
While Corbyn and most of his supporters are not the rabid Trots of Tory caricature, it’s undeniable that—contrary to post-election expectations—the party has shifted once again to the left. Yesterday’s London mayoral selection was meant to be a close run between the “soft left” Sadiq Khan and the Blairite Tessa Jowell. In the event Khan won by a landslide, taking the party’s nomination in the fifth round with 58.9 per cent of the vote to Jowell’s 41.1 per cent. Behind the scenes, one if its most important economic influences is left-wing tax campaigner Richard Murphy, described as the architect of Corbyn’s anti-austerity “Corbynomics” programme, who has called in the past for HMRC to employ at least 20,000 more staff. It should be noted that Labour’s fully paid-up members were the only group among whom Corbyn did not win 50 per cent in the first round—49.5 per cent of them voted him in.
Don’t shoot the deputy
Labour’s Deputy Leadership, occupied relatively quietly but competently for the past eight years by Harriet Harman, is about to become a very important job. As was widely expected, the influential trade unionist MP Tom Watson, a former ally to Gordon Brown and campaign manager to Ed Miliband, took the position today with a clear lead in the third round of voting. Moderates are said to be cosying up to Watson, who will play an important role in bridging the gap between Corbyn’s relatively radical leadership and his significantly more right-wing parliamentary party. An ally says that Watson will initially continue to campaign for Labour to support Britain spending 2 per cent of its GDP on defence, which many fear the pacifist Corbyn won’t back.
When Corbyn scored a massive cheer for an anti-EU tirade at Sky News’s final leadership hustings last week, it cemented Labour’s new ambiguous stance on Europe. The party, under its past three leaders an internationalist and pro-EU institution, is now officially Out-curious. Corbyn has said David Cameron can’t rely on him to support the Prime Minister’s renegotiation unless Britain’s new terms of membership protect workers rights—but such protections are among the regulations which some right-wing eurosceptics want Cameron to weaken. That means we could see a referendum campaign in which the leader of the opposition argues for an Out vote. Even some Labour moderates recognise the party may need to be seen as more eurosceptic. One centrist Shadow Cabinet Minister recently told me the new leader had to copy Cameron’s example; being seen to “stick it to Europe” with combative rhetoric while remaining in favour of “In.”
Revolting on the right
The various factions on the party’s right, and their associate organisations like the Blairite Progress pressure group look weak, and seem despised by many. Their candidate, Liz Kendall, did as abysmally as predicted, taking just 4.5 per cent of the vote, despite interventions in her favour from high-profile figures including David Miliband. She spent much of the campaign being derided as a “Tory” by the selectorate (one typical opinion from a member I spoke to at the start of the campaign was that she is a “dangerous woman.”) The new centrist faction Labour for the Common Good, led by 2010-intake MPs Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Business and Education Secretaries, plans to be a breeding ground for moderate ideas and activism. But in a recent briefing to a think tank, Hunt implied that its ideas would take some time to come to gestation.
The party strikes back
Corbyn’s campaign was defined as much by a pledge to bolster “party democracy” and give members more of a say on policy as it was characterised by his anti-austerity message. Publicly and in some cases privately, even many of Corbyn’s opponents say that the party will benefit from an influx of new members and supporters. Just over 550,000 members and supporters were granted a vote in the leadership election, a stark increase on the under 200,000 members the party had shortly before the election. But some feel this influx is cause for concern—mayoral candidate David Lammy this week became the latest party figure to call for a review of the party’s electoral and sign-up process following fears of large-scale entryism.
The Scottish resistance
There is some cautious optimism about the prospect of a Corbyn leadership north of the border in Scotland. New Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale, a moderate in her personal politics, told my colleague Serena Kutchinsky recently that “I wouldn’t like to over represent it but [a Corbyn victory] would be helpful,” adding that “it’s one thing the SNP hasn’t planned for.” Labour, which for many years took Scotland somewhat for granted, desperately needs to rebuild its party campaign machine there. Corbyn, whose campaign has recruited 16,000 volunteers and attracted 50,000 people to rallies, including a sellout event in Glasgow, could help with that. His anti-Trident views may also hold sway with many Scots. But John McTernan, an opponent of Corbyn’s and former chief of staff to Labour’s last Scottish leader Jim Murphy, disagrees: “he has no organisational nous, and he just offers SNP-lite fantasy economics,” he said, “[Corbyn] brings no benefit for Scottish Labour.”
No compromise with the electorate
Polling during the campaign has highlighted the extent to which Labour members’ views very often differ significantly from those of most voters. A recent YouGov poll for Prospect found that six out of 10 Labour party members say that they are “very” or “fairly” left wing, compared to just 32 per cent of those who voted Labour in May, 18 per cent of those who voted for Brown in 2010 but not Miliband, and 15 per cent of the electorate as a whole. The majority of people, including Labour voters, back a £20,000 cap on welfare benefits, which Corbyn and the Labour electorate oppose. Most people, including Labour voters, are much more critical of mass immigration than Corbyn and his supporters. That said, Corbyn’s followers point to policies of his like renationalisation of the railways and rent controls, which despite being thought of as “radical” a majority of the public have been found to support.