The New Old Labour

Jeremy Corbyn’s Unlikely Rise

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn waves next to newly elected deputy leader Tom Watson (L) after making his inaugural speech at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in central London, September 12, 2015. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

This past June, British politician Jeremy Corbyn was a thousand-to-one outside pick to become the new leader of the Labour Party. Yet on September 12, the 66-year-old socialist won the contest to become leader of the official opposition in the United Kingdom’s Parliament by a huge margin, with almost 60 percent of the vote. 

Corbyn’s long-odds victory is remarkable in multiple respects, not least because he reached the minimum threshold of nominations, 35 members of Parliament, to get on the leadership ballot only minutes before the June 15 deadline. Corbyn’s final-moment entry was helped by several Labour colleagues who, believing he stood no chance of actually winning, nominated him at the eleventh hour to help ensure a plurality of voices in the party leadership ballot, the first to follow Labour’s blistering defeat in May’s general election. Around half of the parliamentarians who nominated him ultimately backed one of his three rivals: Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, and Yvette Cooper. Plus, ex–Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown criticized his candidacy, alongside some other senior party figures, for his policies. 

Corbyn, for certain, is a politician of a different stripe—one who is far removed from the “New Labour” centrist political philosophy promoted by Blair and Brown, in their different ways, from 1994 to 2010. Corbyn advocates the renationalization of key industries, including energy and the railways. He has been a long-standing critic of U.S. foreign policy, favors unilateral nuclear disarmament in the United Kingdom, would seek withdrawal from NATO, and said he would not rule out campaigning for a Brexit during the referendum on continued EU membership promised by Prime Minister David Cameron for 2016 or 2017.

It remains to be seen how these positions will play out in the coming months, given that they are opposed by a significant body of Labour MPs. One immediate test of how Corbyn’s election could impact the British political landscape regards policy toward Syria. He has long expressed opposition to military intervention overseas—standing

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