The election of the rank outsider Jeremy
Corbyn as leader of the UK Labour party has sparked both hope and fear
across the European left.
The veteran MP captured the imagination of the British left, winning
more than 59 per cent of the vote. Challenger parties from Podemos and
Syriza to Sinn Fein have rushed to celebrate the new momentum injected
into their anti-austerity brand of politics (Ireland, Spain and Greece
all have elections that are approaching – the latter taking place this
Meanwhile, centre-left parties in power in France, Germany, the
Netherlands and beyond worry that their left wings will be emboldened by
the radical left shift that has been possible even in pragmatic,
market-friendly Britain. It is ironic that while France is experiencing a
‘Blairite’ moment with the tough reforms of its prime minister, Manuel
Valls, UK Labour is winding back the clock to radical socialism. It is
perhaps telling, however, that in Greece and Spain – the first to
witness an apparent far-left renaissance – it seems the stars of Syriza
and Podemos may have already begun to fade.
Corbyn has exposed the depth of the failure of Labour’s moderate wing to
update their politics in line with the huge spike in inequalities
across society as well as to put forward a defence – and new vision – of
the market economy as the best means to achieve social justice and
economic efficiency. He has also uncovered the huge levels of support
for doing politics differently, as championed in Policy Network's The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Needs to Change. But, as our new pamphlet and polling report Can Labour Win? shows,
Labour is in danger of meandering deep in to electoral wilderness
– a view supported by this edition’s lead comment piece from UK
contributor Hopi Sen.
In the bigger picture Corbyn is but another symbol of the struggle to
deal with and make sense of the great transformations that are
convulsing through open societies in Europe. Migration, technological
change, global competition, low growth, inequality, terrorism, an ageing
population and climate change. The migrant crisis is changing Europe as
we know it and as our observers from Sweden and Germany conclude,
welcoming refugees requires social democratic answers more than
ever. The danger is that if ill-managed, reactionary political forces
and the ugly sides of nationalism will prosper at the expense of the
extraordinary achievements of the European project (see Hungary).
Labour and other centre-left parties must situate themselves in the
vanguard of some of these great transformations, providing security and a
bridge to the future in our 'high risk, high opportunity societies' –
not fighting the battles of years gone by.