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 weekend).
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.