LONDON • Britain's main opposition Labour Party was due to start voting yesterday for a new leader, with Mr Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist who would move the party more to the left, most likely to win.
The 66-year-old entered the race as a wildcard but has attracted grassroots support, prompting backers to adopt the slogan "Jez We Can" in an echo of US President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign rallying call. But Mr Corbyn's policies are closer to Greece's hard-left Syriza. Many Labour figures warn that the party under him could not take power in a country where polls are won or lost on the centre ground.
"The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff's edge to the jagged rocks below," Mr Tony Blair, Labour's prime minister from 1997 to 2007, wrote in the Guardian newspaper on Thursday. "It is a moment for a rugby tackle if that were possible."
The results of the leadership election will be announced on Sept 12 and more than 600,000 Labour members and supporters can vote.
Supporters of Mr Corbyn say his unspun approach and lack of connections with figures such as Mr Blair give him a fresh voice at a time of deep public cynicism about politics. An MP since 1983, he has never held a front-line political job. He opposed austerity cuts and the 2003 Iraq war, which left Mr Blair deeply unpopular, from the backbenches.
TEETERING ON THE EDGE
The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff's edge to the jagged rocks below.
MR TONY BLAIR, Britain's prime minister from 1997 to 2007, one of the top Labour figures who warn that the party under Mr Jeremy Corbyn could not take power in a country where elections are typically won or lost on the centre ground
Mr Corbyn also wants to scrap Britain's nuclear weapons, renationalise industries such as the railways and involve Hamas and Hizbollah in Middle East peace talks.
"The mood is there and we happen to be in the middle of it," Mr Corbyn said in a Guardian interview this month. "We are not doing celebrity, personality, abusive politics - we are doing ideas."
The leadership election was triggered after previous leader Ed Miliband quit following May's general election defeat by Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives.
There are three other, more centrist, candidates - Mr Andy Burnham and Ms Yvette Cooper, both slick former ministers under Mr Blair and Mr Gordon Brown, plus backbench MP Liz Kendall.
Mr Burnham and Ms Cooper are "so burdened by their own complicity in the past failures that they seem unable to find a genuine personal voice" while Ms Kendall's campaign has "lacked substance", says Professor Charlie Beckett of the London School of Economics.
There have been concerns about the integrity of the contest after hundreds of non-Labour supporters registered to join the vote. While opinion polls tip Mr Corbyn to win, the system allows voters to pick their first and second choices, making the outcome harder to predict.