Leftwing outsider Jeremy Corbyn has stormed to an emphatic victory in the British Labour leadership race. An all-star cast of politicians and commentators assess the impact for the Spinoff.
Britain’s Labour Party has swung dramatically away from Blairism and elected veteran backbench leftwing MP Jeremy Corbyn its new leader, with an astonishing 59.5% of support in the first-round at the end of an epic contest.
It’s a really big deal, a serious mandate, and a boot in the jugular of the “third way” New Labour project. The 66-year-old North Londoner was expected to win, but the scale is nevertheless astonishing – especially given the number of Labour grandees and commentators that lined up to warn that it would be a disaster for Labour to retreat from the centre ground.
Where does it all spring from and what does it mean for the UK, and for New Zealand?
Jim Anderton: a new beginning for the fair society
Politics and politicians around the world, including New Zealand, have shown little regard for the real life issues faced by the average citizen. At one time the causes of fairness, equal opportunity, full employment, decent and affordable housing, together with a free and high quality education and health system, were shared goals by both politicians and the society they represented.
This has not been the case for the last 30-40 years all around the world, including New Zealand. The mass membership of political parties, (Labour had 100,000 members when I left the presidency in 1984 compared to no more than 10,000 now), no longer exists. People have deserted parties because they feel that political parties have deserted them and the lives they lead.
Jeremy Corbyn represents a return to the politics of inclusion, egalitarianism and the principles of social and economic justice required of a fair society. The outrageous and ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor, with the resulting crisis of rising child poverty and social dislocation, is increasingly seen as simply unacceptable to more and more people throughout the world.
In speaking in a straightforward manner about these issues and the solutions to them, Jeremy Corbyn has struck a chord with a wide audience. It is one which all political parties making any claim to represent and build their society based on social and economic equality would do well to heed. Whatever the immediate election results in the United Kingdom, politics in democracies around the world will be the better for this new beginning.
Jim Anderton is a former NZ Labour MP and later leader of the NewLabour Party and the Alliance. He was deputy PM 1999-2002
Jacinda Ardern: What UK Labour can learn from NZ
I wonder whether the question might be, what can the UK Labour Party learn from the NZ experience? The UK are in phase one, otherwise known as “the contest that follows the loss”. It’s tough. You’re exhausted from an election, but are immediately thrown into the dual situation of trying to assess what happened, while also trying to find the right person to lead you back to success.
The key now? Getting on with it. The party has spoken, and now it’s time for phase two – the hard slog to win people back, to show them that you are a competent alternative to the current government, and most importantly, to give them hope. No matter what folks might think, there is no doubt that from the party’s perspective, Jeremy offered them that, and a break from the past. Now he just has to convince the rest of the country too. No sweat – right?
Jacinda Ardern is an Auckland-based Labour MP
Judith Collins: At least Corbyn stands for something
No matter how deluded and economically illiterate Jeremy Corbyn might seem to any centre-right voter, at least he stands for something. You know what you’re getting. UK Labour’s core voters want some reason to stand proudly for something. They need some reason to volunteer for the party, some reason to bother to vote.
At its best, politics is the contest of ideas. It shouldn’t be about playing the game. It shouldn’t be about doing anything to win. It’s only by galvanising the base, by giving people a reason to care, that those more centrist will give the party a chance. If a party’s base doesn’t see why they’re bothering, then why should anyone else. No matter what side of politics people are, it’s always easiest to sell policies that you believe in.
Judith Collins is a National MP and MP for Papakura
Bryan Gould: Corbyn fills a Labour ideas vacuum
Jeremy Corbyn’s unlikely campaign for the Labour leadership has confounded virtually all expectations. How did someone so long dismissed as a nonentity, a fringe figure and a relic of the past walk off with the party’s leadership and put himself in a position to challenge for the role of prime minister?
His supporters are of course elated, but it is the reaction of his opponents, from within as much as beyond the party, that is truly instructive. That reaction has developed from incredulity, then on to alarm and indignation, and finally to resentment and anger. How could someone as ill-fitted for the task and out of touch with political reality, deny power to those who had long grown accustomed to deciding the party’s fortunes? But there must surely be a more rational and constructive approach than this negativity. Is it not worthwhile, if not essential, to ask why so many people were ready to support him – to ask, in other words, not so much what disqualifies him as a leader but rather, what did he do and say that attracted so many to his cause?
We don’t need to look far for the answer. Jeremy Corbyn dared to suggest, along with the IMF, that austerity is an inappropriate and destructive response to recession, that government has the responsibility to use its power and resources to strengthen the economy and share its fruits more equitably, that the OECD is right to say that inequality is not the price we must pay for economic success but is a major obstacle to it.
Corbyn proclaimed that – as the Global Financial Crisis demonstrated – the market is not infallible and self-correcting, that the drive for private profit is not a guarantor of efficiency, that we should cherish our most important resources by raising the health and education levels of ordinary people, that we are all better off if burdens and opportunities are fairly shared and if every shoulder is put to the wheel.
He even went so far as to suggest that economic policy is the responsibility of elected governments and should not be sub-contracted out to the banking system, and he asked why – if quantitative easing was such a good idea when used to bail out the banks – it could not be used to promote productive investment and employment.
These may be unwelcome or unacceptable ideas in some quarters, but surely not in the Labour Party? They are certainly ideas that appealed to a significant part of the electorate who have not hitherto found much about Labour to enthuse them.
Corbyn challenged the mantra that “there is no alternative”, urged the voters to think about better ways of doing things, offered new hope that a healthier, more inclusive, society and economy are within reach. His rivals for the leadership, by contrast, vied with each other as to who could most thoroughly demonstrate their “realism”, through their readiness to accept the basics of Conservative orthodoxy. Those who paved the way for the rise of Jeremy Corbyn are, in other words, those who left a vacuum for him to fill, who did not dare to undertake any new thinking for decades and who were persuaded that running yet another circuit round a track defined by their opponents will somehow produce a different result. The election of Jeremy Corbyn contains a message that, like it or not, cannot be dismissed and that should have resonance with left-of-centre political leaders across the globe. Corbyn shows that it is not the extreme positions he has adopted in the past that matter. What struck a chord with the voters is what he had to say about the future – and the hope that that future might be different and better from an orthodoxy that has now hit a dead end.
He had the advantage, of course, of having nothing to lose – he was a 100-1 outsider at the beginning of the campaign. He was able to do and say things that his opponents dared not. But he tapped into good advice, particularly on economic policy. His difficult task now is to unite the party and to demonstrate that his successful appeal to Labour voters can be extended to the wider electorate. Despite the frenetic attacks he must expect from most of the media, you wouldn’t bet against it.
Bryan Gould is a former UK Labour MP and former vice-chancellor of Waikato University
Laila Harre: deeper democratic roots may now grow
My Dad, who’s 83, is re-reading Dickens. He reckons it resonates today in a way it didn’t so much coming of age in New Zealand after a couple of decades of war and depression. Pre-baby-boomers were naturally disposed to social solidarity; the Victorian co-existence of deprivation and inequality with establishment triumphalism seemed well past. Not so now. John Key’s (move away, nothing to see) rockstar economy, starfern flag and HD Hawaiian jaunts mirror the rub-your-nose-in-it smugness of a political class with no more perfect a prefect than Tony Blair.
While the Third Way asked not what it could do for its country but what Murdoch would let it do, Jeremy Corbyn said what he believed, voted accordingly and has now become the most supported party leader in the history of the UK. It’s not social democracy that’s going to be tested now. It’s democracy. Corbyn’s programme, plainness and purpose have resonated with Britain. Let’s hope the speed and breadth of momentum provide some cover for deeper roots to be put down. What scarily hopeful times!
Laila Harre is working in service, Ika Seafood Bar and Grill, and a former Alliance MP and minister
Jamie Whyte: A triumph for membership, disaster for winning elections
Jeremy Corbyn is farther to the left than Ed Miliband, who led Labour to defeat at the general election in May this year. Ed Miliband was farther left than Gordon Brown, who led Labour to defeat in 2010. Gordon Brown was farther left than Tony Blair, who led Labour to victory in 2005, 2001 and 1997.
Moving to the left doesn’t look like a good way for Labour parties to win elections. And most British Labour MPs know it. Jeremy Corbyn was bitterly opposed by the parliamentary Labour Party. But their say in choosing the leader was swamped by the vote of party members.
Labour’s MPs and its members seem to have different interests. The MPs want to win elections, if only because their incomes depend on it. The members apparently want a party that expresses their ideas, however unelectable that makes it. The members have had their way at the expense of the MPs.
Is this a triumph or a disaster? It depends on what you think political parties are for. In any event, the Conservative Party will be pleased.
Jamie Whyte is a writer and former leader of the ACT Party
David Shearer: If Labour stays on the margins, the people lose
Jeremy Corbyn deserves our congratulations for his successful election as Leader of the UK Labour Party. He has been a refreshing presence during the campaign, speaking with conviction and strong belief. I wish him well.
Corbyn managed to capture the imagination of most Labour Party members to win the leadership, no mean feat. Now he must now capture the rest of Britain. If he cannot convince a large proportion of the 99% who didn’t vote in the leadership race to support him at the election, he will never be Prime Minister.
Labour has only been in power a paltry 17 years across almost the entire 20th century. It had never won a second term until former Labour Leader Tony Blair swept to power in 1997, winning three elections in a row.
During that time, those pursuing a hard left agenda knocked heads with pragmatists who were prepared to tailor their messages to suit the masses and win power. Labour’s bitter internal battles kept a Conservative government comfortably in power for 18 years in the 80s and 90s, transforming Britain forever.
Labour arguably faces the same dilemma under Corbyn today.
Some say, if it’s about compromise then Labour is better staying in opposition.
The problem with that view is that implementing real change and policies that offer a better Britain for those who need it most only happens in power. If Labour stays on the margins, those people, and the country, are ultimately let down. That’s unconscionable.
The whole purpose of a political party is to be in government. Otherwise it may as well be a political coffee group. Winning, therefore, is not just important, it’s essential.
Corbyn may prove history wrong and go on to be the first Labour Leader advocating a hard left agenda to win government ‑ there are plenty who believe he will. In doing so, he will cause the biggest political upset in living memory.
To win, according to those who have done the numbers, Corbyn will need to make serious inroads into the centre vote and persuade those who voted Conservative in key electorates at the last election to accept a left wing agenda.
That’s a very tough ask. Corbyn will need all the skills of a political Houdini.
Corbyn starts his leadership facing some additional hurdles. Internally, Corbyn has until now enjoyed a maverick role within Labour, voting against the Party hundreds of times – reportedly more than any other Labour MP in history.
Building a team across a diverse group of MPs around his policy platform is a skill set that up to now he’s never exercised. He will have to learn fast.
As leader, no doubt he will expect his MPs to back his new agenda. However, this could be hard to swallow for some Labour MPs given he never supported his predecessors’ agendas while a Backbencher.
The challenge of commanding their support is heightened by the fact that overwhelmingly his MPs did not support his leadership bid. It’s estimated that only 25 – 30 MPs out of 232 voted for him. Therefore, policies like his plan to pull out of NATO are unlikely to get a majority of his own MPs behind it.
That said, we wish him all the best with his journey ahead. Above all else, we want to see a Labour Party do well and take power in 2020.
David Shearer is MP for Mt Albert and a former NZ Labour leader
James Shaw: a rejection of slick political managerialism
As of my writing this, approximately 15,000 people have joined the British Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader yesterday – about a dozen a minute. That’s on top of the roughly 350,000 people who joined in the lead-up to the leadership election. To say that Corbyn is a political phenomenon would be understating the facts.
He has been in Parliament since I was ten (1983), but the bearded, slightly dishevelled, 66 year old seems the antithesis of a professional politician. And that is the point. An extremely large portion of the British people, particularly the young, are utterly disenchanted by the sclerotic and self-perpetuating political class that governs them. They’re fed up with a First-Past-The-Post electoral system that delivers grossly unfair results such as the Scottish National Party winning 56 seats on 4.7% of the vote while UKIP won merely one seat on almost three times as many votes; the same seat count as the Greens’ who won only marginally fewer votes than the SNP.
The British and New Zealand political situations are very different right now, so I’m hesitant to draw too many parallels. But if there’s one that I do see, it would be this: Jeremy Corbyn won the UK Labour leadership because people have a real desire for politics that mean something. They are looking for vision instead of slick political managerialism. It shows that people are looking for politicians who actually believe in something – and who want to use government to meet the great challenges of our time, like climate change and inequality. They’re rejecting those politicians who want to be in government for its own sake, and whose approach to the great challenges of our time is to do the absolute minimum possible to be seen to be doing something, rather than doing what’s necessary.
I am unconvinced that the generally accepted wisdom – that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is unelectable – will hold out in reality. The Obama ’08 campaign, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and others, show that many people are desperate for hope and change in the face of growing inequality and a sense that their own and their children’s futures are being sold down the river. At the same time, I think the odds are certainly stacked against a Corbyn Labour victory. He will have to appeal to a much broader coalition of voters than those Labour members and supporters who elected him to the leadership. And he will have to do so in the face of the most brutal and unrelenting media campaign the British Establishment can throw at him.
Corbyn’s win and the General Election that preceded it show that British politics are in the greatest state of flux in at least a generation. It will take years, I think, to find a new equilibrium; and it will only do so if there is meaningful reform – a rare thing in Britain (there’s a joke that runs, “What do we want?! Gradual Change! When do we want it?! In good time!”). Whether Corbyn leads that reform or someone else does remains to be seen. But people – in Britain, in New Zealand, and everywhere else – want and deserve authentic, visionary political leadership that stands for hope and change and they will keep looking until they get it.
James Shaw is co-leader of the Green Party
Helen Kelly: A warning against deference to more-of-the-same
It was very exciting to be in the UK last week for the final week of the vote on the Labour Party leadership. There was a sense of excitement and new possibilities in the air and now with such a decisive result for Corbyn on the back of such a poor result in the election for the UK Labour Party, the issues could not be clearer – Jeremy Corbyn speaks to people about real life, real experiences and real solutions. The platform he stood on set out a new future for the party that meets the current economic challenges at the same time as reflecting the traditional party values.
It puts a nonsense to the proposition that Labour needs to be “Tory-lite” to win an election and instead supports the reality that people want a strong and convincing cohesive alternative to the policies promoted as “the only way” and responsible for stripping them of their rights and reducing their living standards. They want something they can understand, stripped free of jargon and confused messaging, clearly explained and realistic. Corbyn gave them this – radical yes, and also convincingly realistic for someone willing to play a new tune.
In an economy where there are virtually no mechanisms to ensure fair distribution of income, where young people incur huge debts for their education, where families can work all week and not make ends meet, where housing prices make owning a home out of reach for most and where the current UK government is destroying state and community housing stocks (does this all feel familiar?), he spoke as they say “truth to power” including to those powerful in his own party that have failed to address these issues and have been effectively exposed by his winning candidacy.
I think he will do very well and create new space for alternative policies including fiscal policies. I think the party will swing behind him and if they can organise those that recently joined, they will have a new invigorated movement come the next election. Jeremy Corbyn has taught us a lesson against deference, against minding our P’s and Q’s and being scared to challenge the dominant economic narrative. Speak up, name it, and call it for what it is – then work to change it.
Helen Kelly is president of the Combined Trade Unions
Grant Robertson: Power of an authentic message
It was actually the arch enemy of the left worldwide Lynton Crosby who said, “when in doubt stand for something”. And UK Labour has in Jeremy Corbyn found someone who is clear, and radical and, well, not that fashionable in the modern political sense of that word. And yet that is precisely his appeal. He is as far from the focus grouped, cautious pragmitism that has shaped recent UK Labour as you can get. The left in Britain held its nose for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in their latter years and hoped that young lad Ed would work out. He didn’t, and after a loss like that, the search is on for some hope. In Jeremy Corbyn they have the clarity and certainty of belief they have been missing.
Ahead lie huge challenges to win over a wider electorate, many of whom will have to consult a dictionary to find out what a socialist is. Translating Corbynmania on the left to the broader coalition of voters needed to win government will be a massive undertaking. Also to try to bring together a party that looks as dispirit as the late ’80s NZ Labour Party. And therein lies a reason why comparisons with New Zealand are hard to make. The battle for the soul of NZ Labour was fought 20 years ago, and MMP arrived and gave an outlet for those perched on either wing.
What we can learn is the lesson of the desire among supporters to have something to believe in. And the power of a clear, direct, authentic message rooted in the values of Labour. That might not look exactly the same in NZ as in the UK, but the importance of the principle of standing for something is a lesson worth remembering.
Grant Robertson in the NZ Labour finance spokesperson
Richard Adams: Another blow to conventional wisdom
Just how wrong conventional wisdom can be was demonstrated once again with Jeremy Corbyn’s crushing victory in the Labour leadership election. The party’s supporters rejected Labour’s prevailing political strategy – that elections are contests about managerial competency in government – and replaced it with one in which the common good is paramount. For example: industries should be renationalised even if doing so sacrifices efficiency for fairness. Remember the old days when it took forever to get the Post Office to connect a new phone line? That.
Any lessons for New Zealand politics aren’t obvious. NZ Labour was never so riven – in the early 1980s when UK Labour was going through internal convulsions, New Zealand was electing David Lange. On top of that, NZ’s electoral system is more forgiving than the iron law of first-past-the-post which dooms a Corbyn-led Labour Party in Britain.
New Zealand Labour have similar problem to its UK version: to win power it needs to gain seats currently held by National, particularly around Auckland. Until it figures out how to do that it will likely remain in opposition.
Richard Adams is education editor at the Guardian, London
Stuart Nash: Understandable but unelectable
To be honest, I am both surprised – and not – at the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Surprised, because I don’t think Corbyn is electable in an era where to win power means appealing to, and connecting with, a broad cross section of the electorate with progressive and realistic alternatives to the current government policy. Corbyn has obvious appeal to the hard and soft left, but I don’t think this appeal is nearly broad enough to win treasury benches.
I am not surprised, however, because it became plainly obvious during the contest that a significant number of traditional Labour supporters (and possibly members) had become seriously disillusioned with the political process. Blame for this needs to sit squarely with the party itself, because one of the key roles of the party organisation (of which MPs are only one part) is to ensure the party’s members and supporters remain engaged and informed.
Friends of mine I have spoken to from across the political spectrum in the UK are either dismayed or elated with Corbyn’s victory – depending upon which side of the political spectrum they sit …
Corbyn has a huge task ahead of him if he is to now meet the expectations of those who have placed faith in his leadership.
Stuart Nash is MP (Labour) for Napier
Clare Curran: Proof the left hasn’t lost its mojo
It’s quite simple and makes complete sense to me that Jeremy Corbyn has managed to light the flame of hope in a generation of new UK voters and to inspire others who may have thought the left side of politics had lost its mojo.
It’s authenticity. A voice of honesty and conviction emanating from someone who knows who he is and what he believes. Jeremy Corbyn’s secret lies in his security in himself. Without the need to pretend or to be manufactured or massaged with message creators he has cut through and spoken directly to hundreds of thousands of Labour supporters.
It might not seem like a magic formula but for so many, politics has become a dirty thing, cynicism about politics has become like a cancer eating away at people’s trust. Yes Jeremy Corbyn (with the inimitable Tom Watson at his side) now has a massive task to “unleash the implacable power of hope” to the wider UK electorate. But he has excited people in a way that hasn’t been seen in that country for a long time.
In New Zealand the main lesson for the left is to trust ourselves and to commit to a way of “doing politics” which is honest and real to our values. Restoring faith in politicians and politics is an important part of that. I agree with Jeremy Corbyn that new voters are not a non-political generation but have instead been turned off by the cynicism of political practice. As Tom Watson said yesterday British people want a fair crack. It’s the same in New Zealand. We’ve got the fundamentals right, we just need to back ourselves.
Clare Curran is MP (Labour) for Dunedin South
Kelvin Davis: A balancing act for General Custer
They have elected a General Custer when the reality is they needed to elect a Hongi Hika. Time will tell whether he has the goods, but in order to be elected there is a balancing act between the need to appeal to the masses without compromising values.
Kelvin Davis is MP (Labour) for Te Tai Tokerau
Peter Dunne: Lib Dems could be the winners
I think there is a real frustration within the UK and New Zealand Labour Parties that modern centre-right politicians like David Cameron and John Key – whom they despise as poll-driven lightweights – have captured the centre ground of politics in both countries and effectively shut them out of power for what look likely to be long periods. They do not see Cameron and Key as standing for anything, whereas they of course do – all of which makes Cameron’s and Key’s successes that much harder to take. Add all of that to a feeling among traditional working class voters that we need a “real” Labour Party to counter Cameron/Key and their ilk, rather than the moderate governments of the likes of Blair and Clark, and the pathway for a person like Corbyn is clearly set.
The fact that this might lead to an unelectable Labour Party is secondary to the belief that a “real” Labour Party will actually be more electable in the longer term. When British Labour lurched similarly left under Michael Foot in 1980-83 the big winner was liberalism. The formation of the SDP (Social Democratic Party) and the subsequent formation of the Liberal Democrats reshaped British politics for almost a generation. Corbyn’s election may well have a similar effect. Tim Farron [leader of the Lib Dems] could well be even happier than David Cameron tonight. Andrew Little would do well to ponder that.
Peter Dunne is leader of United Future and MP for Ohariu
Shamubeel Eaqub: A clear appetite for change
Voters are shifting to the ends of the spectrum. Corbyn is a shift to the nostalgic left.
This move has some clearly economic reasons, among many others. The cosy middle, both centre-right and -left, are bland apologists for their “final” policy reforms of 1980s. Elections are about their turn at the helm to conduct politics by polling. Yet, crumbling “promises” of home ownership, education, health, super and welfare for all suggest the work of our political leaders and policy shops is not done. We have simply been missing in action, through deliberate neglect.
By way of illustration, there is little current politics does to focus on millennials of renters. The biggest generation today are millennials. Over half of adults are renters, not home owners. Often they are the same. Both of these groups, like many others, are disenfranchised, atomised and resigned. But that is slowly changing. There is a clear demand for leadership and an appetite for revolution not evolution. But there is a deficit of leadership and ‘fire’ in our political leaders and political parties.
Corbyn presented one option for those in the left in the UK. I personally believe his policies will not be the solution. He represents leadership for the pains, issues and solutions of the past, not those of the future.
The lesson for our political parties in NZ is clear. There is an appetite for change. There is a mood for risk taking. There is a real need for leadership on issues that will shape our future. Corbyn shows you can win leadership battles by fighting old wars. But the coming revolution in our politics will not be those who invent the past. The premise will be realistic solutions, quite apart from some hollow ideology. Leadership will be someone who can unite the disenfranchised, give voice to their pains and show clarity of policy that will lead to credible solutions.
Shamubeel Eaqub is an economist and author of Generation Rent
Danyl McLauchlan: An over-correction in the leftwing market
I see Corbyn as a correction in the market of leftwing UK politics. Labour members were happy to compromise with the centrist doctrines of Blairism so long as it won them elections, but as it transformed to a political project associated with the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, the dominance of the finance industry over the real economy and subsequent global financial crisis they lost faith in it. Now that the centrists felt to have corrupted Labour’s values are also unable to win elections they have no value to their party.
Corbyn is probably an over-correction. He probably can’t win a general election (albeit mostly because the centrists in his party will white-ant him and leak against him to prove themselves right about his unelectability). But he’s likely to do better than his inept opponents. If you get effortlessly annihilated by Jeremy Corbyn then taking on the ruthless juggernaut of David Cameron’s Conservative Party is not for you. Leftwing parties the world over are still struggling to figure out what a popular, successful post-capitalist leftwing party looks like, and it’s not going to be the unreconstructed mid 20th century socialism of Corbyn but it really, really isn’t going to be the malignant amorality of Tony Blair.
Danyl McLauchlan is a novelist, blogging at The Dim-Post
Tau Henare: The left’s relevancy problem
The left have gone home. At least they will stand for something instead of being what they are not. I think, though, it will put them back a bit, there will be massive fights and it will all end up in another leadership bid inside 12 months. At the moment I don’t think the wider population want too much change. They want to be safe so will play it safe.
Generally speaking that is, across the spectrum. But the left have a problem, and it is “are we relevant? If we are, where do we go? Same here and around the globe. The left is not dead just asking are we relevant any more that’s all.
Tau Henare is a former MP for National and NZ First
Metiria Turei: Three tests to prove he’s the real deal
After many years of reading mostly fantastical analyses of new political leaders I remain suspicious of the many theories on what Jeremy Corbyn means to Labour and the left in Western politics. He has certainly shown the power of visionary political leadership. Politics is the art of the possible and he won’t achieve most of what he wants, let alone all of it. But he told people about the best possible Britain he envisioned and that won the day. It appears that he represents the shift to the progressive left not so much old left, promoting a better relationship between the state and the people – the Better Way, if you will. But, in the absence of knowing for sure, I have questions whose answers will indicate to me if this is true. Three questions to be precise.
First, will he prioritise the leadership of women in his reshuffle? It’s unclear from media reports whether he has an inclusive approach to the exercise of his personal power, albeit he described inclusive values in his campaign. These are two very different things.
Second, will he campaign for proportional representation? He says he would “consider” a mixed system for the House of Commons, not unlike our own with constituencies retained and “top up” lists. Proportional representation gives every citizen a much bigger stake in the governance of the country. Promoting proportional representation will indicate whether he does value the democratic participation of all Britons.
And third, will he reach out the UK Greens? Greens leader, Natalie Bennett has congratulated him on his win and offered to work closely with Labour on issues of common concern. His response in the coming months to the UK Greens (and to their more than one million voters) will indicate whether he is a genuine marker for progressive left politics, which values sustainability, justice and peace.
I’m hopeful. There is a thirst for a clear vision of a better world. The left, in NZ and elsewhere, often obsesses about the centre and in the process, loses sight of what it actually stands for. Voters want to know who we are and what we want for NZ. And what do you know, it seems to work when you say so.
Metiria Turei is Green Party co-leader
Morgan Godfery: About a movement, not a man
This was a victory for movement politics, not the ideas and charisma of one man. It was an odd alliance between the remnants of the counterculture, the leftovers from old Labour and a new generation of activists and thinkers reacting against packaged politics, managerialism and New Labour.
In other words, Jeremy Corbyn’s win had very little to do with Jeremy Corbyn.
Though we should be careful not to overstate what happened. In many respects #Corbynmania is a backlash against the political consensus rather than a statement for a political alternative. Corbyn will be given plenty of opportunities to fail, what’s interesting is whether the movements which put him in place stay for battles to dislodge him.
As for what NZ Labour can learn, well, not much: Britain is a declining Empire, we’re a relatively content colony at the edge of the world; Britain is suffering through savage cuts while our government maintains relatively high levels of expenditure; Britain is confronting social tensions, yet our social tensions remain unseen and unspoken. Also, MMP.
Morgan Godfery is a Wellington writer and activist
Josie Pagani: authentic, yes, but unelectable
Jeremy Corbyn will never be Prime Minister of Britain. He’s unelectable. A cruel and anti-worker Tory government set on scrapping the Human Rights Act, taking Britain out of Europe, and cutting welfare, is now free to rule, probably for at least a decade.
We’ve been here before. Michael Foot’s defeat in the 1980s condemned Britain to the cruellest years of Thatcherism.
We have to recognise that Jeremy Corbyn won because he was clear and authentic about his values. Only now he has to state how he will deliver on them. If he promises he can deliver public services without making hard choices about paying for them, he will not be believed. If he abandons his clarity about those services, he will betray the emotional surge that has brought him to the leadership. There is no way through for him that will see Labour elected. The reality of Corbyn’s leadership is the opposite of what it promises to be. It will actually betray Labour voters because it ensures Conservative rule by offering only comfortable and easy reassurance to Labour’s activists.
For Corbyn supporters, it’s more important to show their rage about inequality than to reduce inequality. Public opinion matters less to them than following their conscience. But Labour’s purpose is to do good not feel good. And the only way you get to do something about inequality is to get elected.
Those of us in New Zealand Labour who believe the Labour party must be a broad church which makes people better off need to defend our position that winning elections isn’t choosing power over principle. It is more idealistic because it believes we can convince thousands to join a movement to change lives if people trust us to prioritise policies that will make more people better off. The support for Corbyn has shown that people want their politicians to be courageous. They don’t want bland unity. They want Labour to stand for something they can believe in. Jeremy Corbyn, and those in New Zealand Labour who support him don’t have a monopoly on that.
Josie Pagani is a commentator and former Labour candidate
Jon Johansson: Random Thoughts about Jeremy Corbyn’s Victory
Full circle to Tony Benn. Same expected response;
Blair’s Neck Laid Bare like an Archbishop in Hell (See Canto XXXII-XXXIII);
No fresh formulation anywhere;
Mired in the present.
But real disgust by younger people at a seemingly unalterable status quo;
Searching for authenticity, everywhere, anywhere;
Dedication therefore to the British Labour Party (slightly adapted from Robert Frost):
‘Fire and Ice:’ Or Ode to the End Game
“Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in Ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would also suffice.”
Jon Johansson is a senior lecturer in Comparative Politics at Victoria University of Wellington
Tim Watkin: He’ll need a huge swing to succeed
One thing we know for sure is that he’ll be different. Possibly very different. But we know little else. Can the ideals of civility, internet-driven grassroots activism and “sticking to policy” handle the stress test of modern political realities? Will they translate to middle Britain? Can he overcome the mostly mocking media and the sense he’s from a bygone era? Or will he look like what Bill English might call a “nice to have, rather than a necessity”, even for the left?
Capturing the imagination of activists is very different from lighting a flame under a busy and bored general electorate; while getting thousands of volunteers is impressive, that’s barely a decimal point when it comes to actual voters. The fear for Labour is that this is a reaction vote – and a reaction to a particular moment in time, at that. And when that moment passes, the party will be left with an, er, “quirky” leader and a divided party.
For Corbyn to succeed it will take a massive swing to the left and an effort of political will and skill not seen a long time (arguably harder than Tony Blair’s push away from these very policies). So if he triumphs, it will be fascinating and phenomenal. But the reality is that centre-left and social democratic parties have long won elections in the centre; we’ve all heard promise of new social movements, reconnecting with disillusioned voters and about being unashamedly left (most recently in NZ from David Cunliffe), but it’s hard to remember when it last resulted in victory.
Tim Watkin is executive producer, The Nation, and editor of Pundit
Max Rashbrooke: New problems, old solutions
Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader shows how profoundly the party is struggling to come up to speed with the current century. As the philosopher G.A Cohen used to point out, the task of a political party is always to take its eternal values and apply them to the present moment. Corbyn clearly has the first part nailed: the reason that British Labour members love him so much is that he speaks, openly and directly, about his values, his belief in human decency, equality and solidarity, in a way that no Labour leader has in a long time.
But there is little evidence of his doing the second part. The 21st century offers unique challenges: unparalleled levels of opportunity for some, but life-denying insecurity and precarity for many; growing wealth and income inequality; runaway climate change. A Labour agenda to address those issues might include expanding the state’s role as an insurance provider, smoothing out the ups and downs of life; inequality-fighting policies like unconditional wealth grants for everyone entering adulthood; or what the British economist Tim Jackson calls policies for “prosperity without growth”.
Corbyn’s policy platform to date shows little sign of this thinking. Even where there is innovation, for instance in the idea that Britain’s railways should be run in part by passengers and rail staff, it is still dressed up in the old language of nationalisation. Corbyn has promised that, under his leadership, policy will be developed from the grassroots up, so a proper response to the 21st century may still come. But at this point, the omens are not good; and New Zealand Labour members, grappling with the same issues – and at least, through their Future of Work commission, asking the right questions – will be watching anxiously to see how that turns out, and whether a failure to modernise policy will cost Corbyn at the ballot box.
Max Rashbrooke is the editor of Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis and a research associate at the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies
Andrew Dean: It points up NZ Labour’s narrowness
It seems to me that Corbyn’s success comes from some of the same forces that have driven insurgency politics across Europe and the US. In the US, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have both gained significant levels of support, and both are outsiders in their own ways – Sanders is an independent who calls himself a “socialist”, and Trump a businessman, not a politician. In Europe, newcomer parties Syrzia and Podemos, along with the Five Star Movement, have had varying levels of success. In the UK two parties, the SNP and UKIP, have been fighting Labour in its heartlands, the former outflanking Labour to the left on a number of issues, the latter blaming immigrants and Europe for the struggles of working-class people. When Corbyn calls for “straight talking, honest politics” – his campaign slogan – he sounds more like Nigel Farage than he does like Ed Miliband, whose slogan in the 2015 election was “a better plan for a better future”. Insurgent politics is clearly connected to a broader popular disaffection with the prevailing political order as people ask, even if in an often incoherent manner, for the return of power and agency denied them in the contemporary political compact. Corbyn has managed to transform this disaffection with what politics has become, including the establishment Labour party, into a political force with positive content; his brand of insurgency threatens to return Labour to its roots. (Remember this is the party that in July couldn’t bring itself to vote against the Tories’ “Reform and Work Bill”, which cut £12b from the welfare budget; Corbyn, of course, went against the whip and voted against the bill.)
Yet unlike Syrzia and Podemos, Corbyn comes from within the ranks of a political party that is over a century old, and his electorate is those who are committed to the party in some way: his project has been one of taking Labour on from the inside. What this points to is something quite remarkable about Labour in Britain: it remains a broad-based party able to absorb members and MPs whose views span from Kendall’s to Corbyn’s, and one that commands an enormous amount of support even from those who feel it has departed from its mission. I have no doubt that the solidarities that produce the modern Labour Party mean that these members will continue to argue over the party’s meaning, and that these arguments will proceed energetically, and sometimes with great hostility. The ability of the party to continue to bring in voices from across the left is vital to its survival and to its place in the UK’s political culture: it is also what means that it will continue to be relevant.
Who is New Zealand Labour’s Corbyn? There is no serial dissenter – unless we count Damien O’Connor, I guess – in part because the NZLP is no longer able to hold such figures within its ranks, a transition that I cannot help but see as a weakness. What I think the leadership election over here has shown is how narrow the NZLP has become: bereft of its mass-membership, without a strong union movement, and with significant challengers to its left, it no longer seems capable of staging the kinds of debates that have taken place in the British left over the last few months. This presents a serious challenge to Labour in New Zealand: if it is to remain the primary party of the left, if it is to stay in voters’ hearts as the party “hacked from a totara when the land was young”, then it will have to engage the disaffected, and foster real diversity of opinion among both its members and its MPs — no matter how difficult that may be.
Andrew Dean is a Rhodes Scholar and author of Roger, Ruth and Me
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.