Move Left and Win in the UK?

The U.S. is certainly not the only place where the major center-left party is under pressure to “get back to its principles” or “energize its base” or “prove it will fight the conservatives” or “stop pandering to wealthy interests.” The British Labour Party is in the midst of a leadership fight after Ed Miliband’s poor showing in the recent national elections, and the surprise leader in most measurements of party sentiment (Labour lets members and constituent groups vote on the leadership in a mail ballot) is outspoken lefty Jeremy Corbyn, who in tones that would be familiar to many a U.S. progressive tired of the Clinton/Obama brand of Democratic politics, is calling for an abandonment of all the vestiges of the Blair/Brown New Labour project, as reported by the British edition of The Week:

“It is the biggest non-revolutionary upturning of the social order in modern British politics,” Michael Meacher, a former Labour environment minister who supports Corbyn, told The Guardian…..

“After 20 years of swashbuckling capitalism, the people of Britain have said enough, and Labour is finally regaining its real principles and values,” said Meacher, whom the Daily Telegraph predicts will become shadow chancellor if Corbyn wins.

Tony Blair is responding in kind, predicting that a Corbyn win would doom Labour to a catastrophic defeat in the next election.

The repudiation of New Labour by the Corbynites goes beyond its taste for market devices in social policy and extends to Blair’s aggressive alliance with the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Corbyn has pledged to withdraw the UK from NATO and junk the country’s nuclear weaponry; he’s also been friendly to Hezbollah and Hamas.

The Labour system utilizes something like a instant runoff system, which means someone like Corbyn would probably need to win an outright majority against three major opponents. One of these, Liz Kendall, is generally considered the candidate of the residual Blairites; another, Andy Burnham, was the early front-runner but faded. The Guardian has just endorsed still another candidate, Yvette Cooper, who appears less embroiled in old intra-party conflicts.

We’ll be watching to see how a genuine “struggle for the soul” of a progressive party works out.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.