Left and Gone

Corbyn's Labour Revolution and its Discontents

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair stands behind Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in central London, November 8, 2015.  Toby Melville / Reuters

In 1935, the British journalist George Dangerfield published one of the classic works of twentieth-century history, The Strange Death of Liberal England. In it, Dangerfield charted the rapid demise of the Liberal Party in the United Kingdom in the early twentieth century. The Liberals, formerly one of the titans of British politics, had by the mid-1920s suffered a precipitous decline. By 1922, the party was replaced by Labour as the main rival of the Tories.

Fundamental shifts in party systems are strange and rare things, but they can and do happen. The death of the Liberals in the United Kingdom showed it. Now, a century later, it might be happening again.


The notion that the Labour Party is undergoing major change arose in September 2015, when the party elected Jeremy Corbyn as its head. Corbyn comes from the most radical fringe of the party; in many respects, he had not even been a part of Labour. During the party’s last term in power from 1997 to 2010, he was its most disloyal member of Parliament, defying the party whips who grimly tried to enforce party voting discipline. 

Corbyn’s views on domestic policy differed sharply from those of former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, but it was on foreign policy—a favorite battleground of the crusading left in the United Kingdom—that Corbyn came into his own. He helped found the Stop the War Coalition in 2001 to oppose the war in Afghanistan. As Blair marched off to war in Iraq with U.S. President George W. Bush, Corbyn marched through the streets of London to protest the invasion.

As a result, Corbyn was probably more surprised than anyone to see himself elevated from the streets to Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. Corbyn was able to gain enough nominations to stand in the party’s leadership election only after a group of parliamentarians decided that it would be a good idea to “broaden the debate” by including a hard-left

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