Stunning triumph for Labour's comeback kid Corbyn

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who began the campaign with historically low favourability numbers, acknowledging supporters as he left the party headquarters in central London yesterday after his stunning comeback.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who began the campaign with historically low favourability numbers, acknowledging supporters as he left the party headquarters in central London yesterday after his stunning comeback.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WATFORD • Mr Jeremy Corbyn's opposition Labour Party may have come in second in Thursday's general election, but the results amount to a stunning triumph for a far-left leader who many believed was headed for political oblivion.

Labour had been preparing for a crushing defeat, but the outcome yesterday will be cast by Mr Corbyn's supporters as a clear victory for the embattled leader and the leftist ideas he champions.

The election result may paradoxically be seen as Labour's death knell by those who want a new direction for a party that has not won a general election in 12 years.

"What the early results mean is that Corbyn has got more life in him than anybody might have thought," said political history professor Steven Fielding of the University of Nottingham and an expert on the Labour Party. "He has lost, but it means that he is probably safe from an immediate effort to get rid of him. It is Theresa May who now has no capital with her party."

Mr James Morris, a pollster who used to work for Labour, credited Mr Corbyn's "disciplined populism" for the party's performance, noting that Labour went into the campaign 20 points behind the Conservative Party.

Before he won an upset leadership victory two years ago, Mr Corbyn, 68, had spent three decades as a rebellious rank-and-file lawmaker. His political roots lie in the labour movement and the national campaign against nuclear weapons.

He promised to deliver "socialism of the 21st century", including such goals as nationalising the rail service, pumping billions into the National Health Service and raising taxes on the rich.

The Labour leader began the campaign with historically low favourability numbers. But he rose in the polls as Mrs May was forced to reverse herself on central campaign promises, such as a plan to make major changes to how the elderly pay for their social benefits.

Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn proved effective on the stump, and tapped into the enthusiasm of youth.

"People thought he was useless, incompetent and extremist," said Mr John Curtice, a leading British pollster.

"He ends up turning out a better manifesto than the Conservatives, and he can campaign well enough. Those who are not unsympathetic to the Labour Party have said he is not so bad after all."

Famous for his frugality, the bearded thrice-married politician and father of three holds the record among MPs for the lowest expense claims. He has been MP for Islington North in central London since 1983. He does not own a car and prefers to cycle. His hobbies include making jam and allotment gardening. "You do your job better if you give yourself time to collect your thoughts and do something else," he said.

WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Stunning triumph for Labour's comeback kid Corbyn'. Print Edition | Subscribe