The Corbynism legacy shines brightly through Labour’s darkest hour

Labour may have suffered a crushing defeat on December 12, leaving supporters up and down the country feeling like they’d been punched in the gut. The party’s divisive leader might be on borrowed time, but, a world apart from the brutal critiques that equates Corbyn to the party’s worse ever leader, his legacy, which goes by the name of Corbynism, lives on.

Everything Corbyn achieved during his 4.5-year tenure as leader, is as important and prevalent as ever.

Step back to 2015 when, in the wake of a disappointing election result, Ed Miliband resigned as Labour Party leader and a hotly contested leadership race ensued.

Despite only being put on the leadership panel to create a more “broad debate” for the party’s future, there was something about the bearded, bespectacled 66-year-old ‘leftie’ and his uncompromising socialist beliefs that inspired Labour party members. So much so, that Corbyn won the race in a stunning victory, dwarfing even Tony Blair’s leadership landslide in 1994.

No-one seemed more surprised than Corbyn himself when he was named party leader and forced to give a victory speech under the glare of hundreds of TV camera lights.

For those hoping for a more centrist leader to take Miliband’s place, such as the ‘Blairite’ candidate Liz Kendall, lessons from 2010 had not been learned, when Ed Miliband – labelled “Red Ed” by some sections of the press – pipped his more centrist brother David to the leadership post. Grassroot Labour members still craved the more radical left-wing platform Ed Miliband had introduced.

Akin to many a Blairite’s reproach that blamed Miliband’s shift to the left under his 2010 – 15 leadership for Labour’s worse defeat in more than two decades, Corbyn’s significantly more crushing loss in the 2019 election has whipped centrist factions of the party into a finger pointing, “I told you so” frenzy.

In the wake of two disappointing general elections for Labour in the spate of less than five years, divided by a near-breakthrough in 2017 when Corbyn’s party garnered an unexpectedly good result that squandered Theresa May’s plans to gain a majority, it could be easy to contend that Labour needs to revert back to its former “New Labour” glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Though getting in the way of a centrist reformation is Corbynism, a broad and somewhat nebulous term coined to describe the powerful leftist ideology that Corbyn preached, namely a commitment to democratic socialism, an opposition to privatisation, an anti-war rhetoric and devotion to equality.

During his 32 years as a Labour MP, including the four and a half years as party leader, Corbyn’s politics never waivered. He deeply opposes Blair, regarding him as a Thatcherite capitalist and an instrument of US imperialism. Defining himself as democratic socialist, Corbyn’s a big advocate of reversing austerity cuts to welfare funding and public services.

A long-standing anti-nuclear and anti-war activist, Corbyn has never kept his support of a foreign policy of military non-interventionism a secret – which similar to other past associations, would be a subject of harassment from the right-wing media.

Labour membership surges

Such doctrines centred on creating a more equal society, undoubtedly struck a chord with the people of Britain, as, during his tenure as leader, membership increased from 201,293 on the day of the 2015 general election, to around 485,000 members today.

This compares to the Conservative Party membership of just 191,000.

Corbyn’s ‘youthquake’

Not only had the principles of Corbynism inspired tens of thousands to join Labour, but they also awakened a political spirit among young people. The 2017 election witnessed a surge in young voters, with the election’s ‘youthquake’ reportedly being a key factor in Corbyn’s advance in the polls.

In the 2019 election, Labour still dominated the youth vote, with the party winning all but three of the 20 constituents with the most 18 – 35-year-olds.

Energising people to be interested in politics

Corbyn’s pledges to do more to stamp out Britain’s growing homelessness, improve the country’s rapidly deteriorating public services and to make Labour the “party of equality”, grabbed the attention of compassionate listeners. People who had previously been disinterested in the same-old elitist politics suddenly sat up a listened.

Previously politically neutral Generation Xers, disengaged millennials, and even baby boomers realising there could be something in making the country fairer for everyone, began to take note.

A record-breaking Pyramid Stage appearance

It could be said that the peak of Corbynism fervour was in June 2017, when the Labour leader walked on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, a platform reserved for the greatest, most legendary of figures. The then 68-year-old managed to pull in one of the biggest crowds at Glastonbury of all time, as he spoke of unity and creating a fairer world to the deafening roar of supporters.

No matter how hard commentators and editors try to pin explanations on Labour’s collapse in the 2019 election, reasons for the party’s defeat are complex, predominantly founded by a ruthless blend of past associations coming back to bite, right-wing media manipulation and harassment, and a Tory-made Brexit mess.

Without anything now holding the Johnson administration back, the concept of Corbynism and the plight to invest in people to achieve a more balanced economy and fairer society, will be more important than ever.

Labour’s next leader will have a tough job on his or her hands.

And will have big shoes to fill.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead

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