Left-Winger's Surging Candidacy in UK Taps into Anti-Austerity Energy

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Left-Winger's Surging Candidacy in UK Taps into Anti-Austerity Energy

Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy 'takes on a much wider significance, because it can be part of rebuilding a left committed to social movements,' says Stop the War Coalition

Jeremy Corbyn, pictured here at an anti-austerity protest in London earlier this month, says "prioritizing the needs of the poor and protecting human rights is what I do best." (Photo: Jason/flickr/cc)

Veteran UK politician Jeremy Corbyn, a 66-year-old left-winger whose stances against austerity, nuclear weapons, and war have been described as "uncompromising," is gathering steam ahead of upcoming Labour party leadership elections, according to new polling released this week.

A YouGov poll for the London Times suggests that in the final round of voting, the socialist Islington North MP would finish six points ahead of previous frontrunner Andy Burnham. The poll shows Corbyn as the first preference for 43 percent of party supporters.

"It's obvious that, for some young people at least, Corbyn is scratching a persistent anti-Blairite, anti-establishment itch."
—Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, New Statesman

The party leadership contest, the result of which will be announced on September 12, was triggered after the resignation of Ed Miliband in the aftermath of Labour's defeat in May's general election. Corbyn's candidacy stemmed from a desire within the party to present a view that differed from that of the other candidates—particularly on questions of inequality and austerity. 

In an interview with the Guardian's "Politics Weekly" podcast, Corbyn warned that unless a clear alternative narrative to Conservative (Tory) austerity was voiced by Labour, the National Health Service "will be largely parceled up and privatized out, if not destroyed altogether, and the gap between the rich and the poor will be bigger than ever."

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror published Thursday, Corbyn said there were "large numbers of people" who wanted to end the "grotesque inequality in Britain."

Referencing other fights against austerity across the European continent, Corbyn added: "I have been in Greece, I have been in Spain. It's very interesting that social democratic parties that accept the austerity agenda and end up implementing it end up losing a lot of members and a lot of support. I think we have a chance to do something different here."

"Jeremy’s candidacy takes on a much wider significance, because it can be part of rebuilding a left committed to social movements which can provide the antidote to a government committed to pro-war policies and to cutting welfare, including the benefits of some of the poorest in society."
—Stop the War Coalition

That message seems to be resonating, at least in some quarters. As journalist Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett noted for the New Statesman on Thursday, "a significant portion of the support Corbyn is receiving is coming from new, young Labour members."

"Better a passionate and interesting opposition that has moral conviction than a bunch of identikit shysters who will jettison their values as soon as electoral victory looks likely, is how the way of thinking goes," Cosslett wrote. "Those of us who are inspired by Corbyn can expect to be called young and idealistic, or be told we need to 'do our research,' but there it is. It's obvious that, for some young people at least, Corbyn is scratching a persistent anti-Blairite, anti-establishment itch."

And as the New York Times reports on Friday, Corbyn "got a big lift when Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, a crucial financial backer of the Labour Party, came out in strong support."

Corbyn upsets "the ruling elite," Unite leader Len McCluskey told the Times. "They try and rubbish it, they try to turn it into a joke, but secretly they will be worried sick that ordinary people are suddenly given something to inspire them and something to link onto."

For his part, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair—whose reign saw the Labour party dragged rightward and the country dragged into war—has warned, "You don't win from a traditional leftist position." Meanwhile, Blair's former adviser, John McTernan, told BBC Newsnight two of the other candidates should withdraw in favor of an "anyone but Corbyn" candidate.

But as columnist Russell Razzaque wrote at the The Independent on Friday, "If the Labour party keeps moving to the right in response to an increasingly right-wing Tory government, then we come to realise that it has no anchor. And that, far more than any perceived fear of the far left, is what will sound the death knell for the party I’ve supported all my adult life."

According to the Guardian, Corbyn, "who opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq and has defied his party's whip 284 times since 2005, has often been at odds with the Labour leadership, but he insists that the party remains a comfortable home for his politics: '[The Labour party is] a mass organization and was founded by trade unions and socialists and provides the only viable option for serious political change in Britain'."

As the Stop the War Coalition, on whose board Corbyn sits, put it: "Jeremy’s candidacy takes on a much wider significance, because it can be part of rebuilding a left committed to social movements which can provide the antidote to a government committed to pro-war policies and to cutting welfare, including the benefits of some of the poorest in society."

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