Jeremy Corbyn is the new Leader of the Labour Party. There should be nothing surprising about it. He has held a commanding lead for much of the leadership campaign that showed no signs of letting up. Yvette Cooper enjoyed a clear surge towards the end, but perhaps too little and too late. Corbyn’s victory was never in doubt from the time his campaign well and truly took off – and Stephen Bush deserves credit for seeing this take shape first.
And yet everything is so different. Corbyn was the almost candidate that nearly didn’t make it to the leadership ballot scraping through at the last pip. Literally. Whatever he lacks in designer clothing and smooth talking, Corbyn clearly makes up for in his passion and commitment to Labour’s democratic socialist roots.
Corbyn will now face a challenge in moving from backbench rebel since 1983 to frontline politics for the first time. This transition is all the more difficult given he’s not only at the top table, but calling the tunes. The principled rebel may find life as Leader of Her Majority’s Most Loyal Opposition difficult given past disloyalties.
During the campaign, I speculated that the real winner of the contest would be neither Corbyn, Cooper, Andy Burnham nor Liz Kendall, but David Cameron. The Tories have increased their lead over Labour since the general election to 14 points and growing with Ukip starting to fade away on 8% and shrinking.
We’ve heard much speculation for the causes and largely from those who had warned against a Corbyn victory. But I think the biggest danger to Labour’s electoral future is not its leader, but its internal struggles. The Tories are divided about issues like the UK’s membership in the EU. My biggest concern is that Labour’s division can run much deeper than that if not nipped in the bud fast.
Corbyn can help heal this rift quickly – and he shows every sign that he’s ready to do so. Party leadership campaigns can be healthy as different views are aired and challenged. But the battle for leader should end once the votes have been cast and counted. There will be another contest in future, but it is time all of us came together: whatever our disagreements, they are surely dwarfed by our shared overriding commitment to see Labour win the next general election.
A Corbyn shadow cabinet of a wide-range of talent from all sides of the party would help put this principle into practice. This is something I’ve advised before to make clear overtures to segments of the party that supported other candidates to help end whatever rifts exist. If we don’t end our differences, then the Tories will happily expose them and we’ll be no better off no matter who you supported during the campaign.
While there were some concerns about women in the shadow cabinet, I think Corbyn has done well to ensure that a majority of posts did not go to men. He is clearly setting out his own vision of leadership with a different view about what constitutes a ‘top’ role in the Cabinet and he’s right that jobs like Shadow Education and Shadow Health are not minor posts. This is all welcome news.
He’s also put his own stamp by introducing a new role in Shadow Minister for Mental Health, held by Luciana Berger, and Gloria de Piero is Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration. These are excellent positions filled by excellent MPs and a delight to see.
But it is surprising to find Corbyn has axed the post of Shadow Minister for Immigration previously held by the brilliant David Hanson. Whatever one’s views are on immigration mugs, immigration is clearly a huge issue where Labour lags behind other parties. This is especially true with an EU refugee crisis dominating the news daily—and likely to run and run over the weeks and months ahead. While Yvette Cooper will no doubt do sterling work looking into refugee policy for the Shadow Cabinet, refugees are only a small part of the total migrants coming to the UK. Immigration is perhaps the most rapidly changing – and expanding – area of legal practice with guidance changes happening virtually daily. There will be a need for someone to take on this large and crucial brief either soon or in the near future. So that’s one prediction I haven’t seen others make.
Inevitably, the media will exploit any detected rifts however it can. We learned much more about what might go wrong and who won’t serve in Corbyn’s cabinet than what might go right and who was likely to fill key jobs. Undoubtedly, Corbyn may struggle to keep his fellow MPs onside given his track record of going his own way.
But he’s won a commanding victory that cannot be ignored. And we should remember that MPs might have preferred David Miliband, but when the party chose his brother Ed the PLP came around immediately showing impressive solidarity and support for the new leader. Corbyn may surprise again by enjoying a similar reception. The Whips Office under Rosie Winterton does a superb job and her remaining in post a more significant boost than many may realise.
Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t my first preference. But he is the leader of the only political party for me. And so he can count on my support and I hope others will rally around him now, too. Winning back 10 Downing Street is an enormous challenge no matter who is Leader of the Opposition, widely recognised as the most difficult job in politics. That’s true for anyone in that position and yes that includes Tony Blair.
Let’s not make the job more difficult for Corbyn than it already is. We can each play our part in making the most of the positive energy and clear mandate he has to lead the Labour Party. The leadership campaign was just a warm up act for the real fight ahead. And we’ll need every supporter we can find if we’re to have a chance. I’m in. Are you?
Thom Brooks is Professor of Law and Government at Durham University, a columnist for regional newspaper The Journal and Communications Lead for Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson @thom_brooks