The leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has held on to the position of Secretary after a campaign against moderate Owen Smith. In the short span of a year, it is the second time that the Labour Party has held primary elections.
This in itself is already very unusual and therefore interesting. It shows how the political class represented by the elite party (representatives and members of the old Blairite guard) is not resigned to losing control in September 2016.
And, despite the enthusiasm the new leadership has raised in terms of numbers (between May 2015 to January 2016 the number of subscribers rose from just over 200,000 to 388,000, and by now it is reaching 500,000), the old Blairite guard, which still dominates in Parliament, has managed to get a second round of primaries to try to overturn the internal strength equilibrium in the Labour Party.
It is a very important and delicate political game, for various reasons of a more general interest. First, it is a battle between the two souls of the Labour Party and two ways of understanding what the left is.
Smith is the soul of New Labour, which is a “left” that decided to support the market by making some limited redistributive corrections, primarily aimed at reassuring its traditional electorate while making sure not to hinder capital and entrepreneurs.
Corbyn is the more social soul of the party (in fact, he is backed by several trade union representatives) and already last year surprised many by winning the post-election primary. Given up for dead in 2015, Corbyn has earned attention and respect — and ultimately victory — thanks to a campaign geared to rebuild relations with those society’s sectors that have become more insecure and vulnerable by the crisis, and his message has proved very effective mainly because those who saw in him an answer move the party to the center.
Not surprisingly, Peter Mandelson, already an influential adviser to Tony Blair, stressed that “a coalition limited to putting together the state sector, trade union activists, the middle metropolitan class, young idealists and urban ethnic minorities will never be able to represent electoral majority,” omitting the fact that the political fortunes of Barack Obama in the U.S. shaken by the economic crisis were based precisely on a similar social coalition.
In addition, the current game is important because it could tell us something about the strength of the new “liquid” parties, animated mostly by the elected, such as the one built by Blair and his circle in over 10 years of government.
Blair’s leadership has led to the transformation of the Labour Party into elected representatives who make policy in double breasted suits, on television and in the finance lounges — with a perfect Oxbridge accent — rather than listening to the weakest and eventually taking to the streets with working men and women, victims of austerity policies.
The comparison between the two candidates is also important because it focuses the discussion on the relationship between the party and the movements: very faint, or even nonexistent in Smith’s case; much more complex and fertile in the case of Corbyn, who has repeatedly listened and paid attention to proposals from other sectors of civil society.
Corbyn’s win is a significant victory of a model of a social party that would say a lot to other parties that follow the European socialist tradition, or that refer to it. Like the Democratic Party, which is going through a crisis, perhaps not yet fully evident, like the one that hit the British Labour Party.
Right, maybe Italy’s Corbyn is nowhere in sight yet. But never stop believing in (earthly) providence.