A species of primordial proto-human, homo a sinistris, long thought extinct, has just been unearthed in a cavern deep under north London. Its discovery is leading experts to question some of the most basic assumptions about who we are as a species, where we come from and how we came to be as we are. Long suspected by the more astute observers among us of existence in the unexplored caves deep under trendy Islington, north London, homo a sinistris had been postulated as a possible sub-species of the early Brit. Gnarled and bearded, devoid of clothes-sense and with a pronounced tilt to the left, this astonishing discovery confirmed what many had, for several months, thought might emerge. Interestingly enough, just a few days earlier there was another significant discovery of a previously unknown early human species, in caves deep below South Africa: homo naledi, which just shows that there’s really nothing new under the sun.
So Jeremy Corbyn, veteran left-winger and member for Islington, was duly elected, by a stunning majority of the votes cast by the membership, as leader of the British Labour Party. The party’s elite looks stunned. Corbyn is now the leader of a party of which a substantial section, particularly those in Parliament, profoundly disagree with him. He left his three opponents miles behind in the dust. Second-place contender Andy Burnham MP, who had named himself a front-runner a few weeks ago, polled only 19 percent of the votes cast and trailed far behind Corbyn who, with 59.5 percent, gained the leadership on the first ballot. This is the achievement of a man who could barely scrape together enough votes to get himself on the ballot-paper three months ago. Those who helped him get on to that ballot professed that they were doing so in order to present a picture of Labour as broad and inclusive; no matter what they might brief now, there was never any desire among them that Corbyn win. Now, the irony must be galling.
The new Labour Leader’s first move was straight to a large rally in Westminster’s Parliament Square, that had already amassed to call for a more generous UK government response to Europe’s refugee emergency. There, from the platform, Corbyn wasted no time in rehearsing some of the major planks of his platform, including NATO (he’s against), British possession of nuclear weapons and the £100bn renewal of Trident (he’s very against) and PM Cameron’s increasingly obvious desire to launch RAF bombing strikes on Syria (Corbyn is relentlessly opposed). These, and several other leftist policy planks, including renationalisation of the utilities, are causing consternation among some members of his own party and certainly in the Tory press. Fewer than twenty-four hours had passed since his election, and eight Shadow Cabinet members had already resigned, not willing to serve under Corbyn’s leadership. But the Deputy Leader of the party, Tom Watson MP, whose own election victory was announced only half an hour before Corbyn’s and who has significant policy differences with him, asserted on BBC TV that there is “zero chance of a coup”.
The stark figures of seats won and lost in the most recent UK General Election remain depressing for Labour, and had led to the immediate resignation of Corbyn’s predecessor, Ed Miliband. But a look behind the simple figures of seats lost last time, reveals that Labour’s share of the vote actually increased slightly. The Tories’ winning majority, although absolute, is thin. Corbyn's big test will be to build on that over the next four years. Regaining Scotland, the birthplace of Labour and for decades its heartland, will be one of his earliest electoral tests. The vibrant Scottish National Party under Nicola Sturgeon, on early evidence, could win another huge landslide in the Scottish Parliament’s own elections next May. Labour could again be devastated where they always expected to do best.
Most of the national newspapers here are Tory-owned and these are already doing their best to perpetuate the image of Corbyn as a dangerous leftie. They are trying to thus define him from the earliest possible moment and might be succeeding. One, the Telegraph, quickly started to report that a group of moderate Labour Members of Parliament “were said” to be holding “informal talks” about challenging Corbyn’s leadership in Parliament next week. Tory PM Cameron had already warned the nation that Corbyn is "a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security." There remain rumors, in the aforementioned Tory-run press, that Corbyn will not survive until the next election, that there will inevitably be a coup against him within the parliamentary party if not the party at large. The appeal of these attacks is targeted well beyond the Labour Party’s members who voted in the party’s own election, towards the national electorate who are assumed likely to be terrified by a Corbyn-led government in 2020. This could be mistaken. Many voters, particularly the young, frequently bemoan the apparent lack of choice and a lack of much perceptible difference between politicians—and with Labour MPs voting for Tory austerity, who can blame them? A Corbyn-led Labour Party will, if he succeeds in preserving at least some of the policies with which he begins his leadership, just possibly re-energize national politics, as he has done already within his party, offering a genuine choice and a visible difference next time round. The Nationalists did this in Scotland last year. He might not be the winner in 2020, nor in the many tests between now and then but political apathy might be reversed, surely a goal for our times for anyone interested in the common good. We may yet have reason to be grateful to Islington’s homo a sinistris.