A real reverse takeover of the Labour party
The Guardian, by Aditya Chakrabortty
More fluent than last year, but miles off actual oratory; snappier lines, but hardly an epigrammatist – Jeremy Corbyn is never going to conform to the lobby’s platonic ideal of what a politician should be. No memorised speeches or walkabouts on stage here. I always suspected that Ed Miliband psyched himself up for a big speech by watching box sets of The West Wing. I’d be surprised if Corbyn has even heard of Jed Bartlet.
But at the heart of today’s speech Corbyn was making a big new argument, one I haven’t heard from a Labour leader’s speech in my entire working life. In just over a year, the Labour party has gone from a being desiccated husk of worn-down old leftists and elbows-out young Blairites to being a mass movement. At half a million members, it is the biggest party in Europe – at a time when other political parties are dying. To use business terminology, we have witnessed something akin to a reverse takeover of the Labour party. It is incomplete and it is certainly contested, but it is real.
And what the head of this new movement – confirmed as its leader twice in 12 months – was sketching out today was the potential for a social movement in electoral politics. By invoking the victories of Sadiq Khan in London and Marvin Rees in Bristol, he was showing that a social movement can yield victory at the ballot box.
This will be the central argument within Labour until the next general election. The press and politicians have spent the past year asking whether this hitherto obscure backbencher can actually lead a party. Well, they’ve got their answer now, even if it’s not the one they’d have liked. The question is: how far can a social movement go? It’s what I kept hearing this week at the Momentum gathering in Liverpool, and sooner or later the keepers of the old orthodoxy will have to start grappling with it.
One last point: in 2016, Corbyn is one of a handful of prominent politicians willing to defend migrants. That in itself is a commendation for the man – but it’s also an indictment of the rest. When bright people within Labour are making their own Rivers of Blood-style speeches, I really do despair.