The leadership contest for the British Labour Party looks to be a very interesting race and one that’s going to be much talked about over the next few weeks.
After the May general election, the then Labour leader Ed Miliband, taking responsibility for the party’s disappointing performance, had resigned thereby creating a job vacancy.
Four candidates made it to the final contest (after a process of having to secure the nominations of at least 35 MPs), two ‘mainstream’ candidates (Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham) and two unanticipated candidates — of whom one is an old-style Labour leftist (Jeremy Corbyn) and the other (Liz Kendall) sounds so far to the right that she could well be a Tory.
The results of the Labour leadership ballot are to be announced on September 12, and while it is largely anticipated that either Cooper or Burnham will be elected, the presence of Corbyn on the ballot has made the contest a whole lot more interesting.
Corbyn, who is the MP for Islington North, is 66 while all the other contenders are under the age of 47. He is a backbencher, and a fiercely principled campaigner on issues (the anti-apartheid movement, opposition to the Iraq war, military dictatorships etc.) and since 2005 he has defied the party whip more than 200 times.
Corbyn is a leftist labour politician of a rather old-fashioned mould. He only made it to the ballot at the very last moment, securing his 35th nomination just before the June 15 mid-day deadline.
Although the Conservatives profess to be delighted by the possibility of Corbyn’s election and most political analysts scoff at his chances, his very presence on the ballot has shaped the debate around the leadership issue.
Read also: Labour’s left face
A first TV debate organised by the BBC programme Newsnight illustrated this very well: he was the only contestant to sound convincing, principled and well-informed — which was something the audience really responded to. Although Cooper and Burnham both have years of ministerial experience, they sounded unconvincing on the programme, with Burnham in particular coming across as somebody who was trying too hard to appear likeable, and whose appearance seemed overly packaged (he has amazingly thick eyelashes and looked as wholesome as one of the dolls from the Ken/Barbie group). The younger politicians all appeared to be spouting sound bites whereas Corbyn appeared to be speaking from a position of ideology and principle.
So, Corbyn might force all the candidates to actually take positions rather than continuing to be wishy-washy in earnest tones…
My personal memory of Corbyn dates from October 2000 when he joined us outside the Pakistan embassy in London at a protest against the military government. An unassuming, bearded man dismounted from his bicycle and came over and joined us — there he was a member of parliament, on a bike and delightfully down-to-earth. All of us South Asians marvelled at how different he was from our elected politicians, and even in the British political scene, he remains one of the most accessible of MPs.
It’s going to be an intriguing contest…