Political parties in the English-speaking world seem to be awfully fond of drinking hemlock these days. The Republicans nominated Donald Trump, the one politician who Americans have a lower opinion of than they do the Democrats’ nominee. Seeing these two candidates, both with favorability ratings at historic lows, it is easy to despair.
Yet a similar madness has been playing out across the pond as well. Jeremy Corbyn, a hard left Member of Parliament who has expressed support for the Venezuelan style of government and cultivated close links to Irish Republican Army terrorists, has been re-elected leader of Britain’s Labour Party.
The race never seemed in doubt, and in the end Corbyn defeated his moderate opponent, Owen Smith, with 61.8 percent of the vote. It was never supposed to be this way…
After Labour’s surprise defeat in the 2015 general election, Corbyn was elected party leader by a massive influx of new – many young – members who rejected the centrist positions that had led Labour to power for over a decade under Tony Blair. They have apparently decided that such centrism, while tremendously popular (and quite economically rewarding to the British people) was a betrayal of hard left socialist values. They are on a mission to restore the party to the 1980s: Antagonistic to capitalism, in bed with unions, and eager to nationalize major industries.
Corbyn’s re-election after facing down a challenge from the party’s moderates represents a big problem for the left, and for the opposition. Corbyn’s fellow Labour MPs do not trust him and see him as an electoral liability. In June they passed a vote of no confidence by the massive margin of 172 to 40. Despite that shocking result, Corbyn insisted that his mandate was from the party membership, not the parliamentary caucus. So he has soldiered on, despite the fact that he cannot even form a full shadow cabinet (the spokepeople who challenge the various government ministers in the House of Commons).
Even with this new mandate from the party rank-and-file, dissenting MPs may still desert him. There is talk about the moderate and right of Labour forming a completely separate social democratic party to provide a coherent opposition and palatable party platform. They fear a wipe-out if they face an early general election against the popular current Prime Minister, Theresa May of the Conservative Party. The Conservatives lead Labour by 11 percent over all, and 50 percent of voters think May makes the best Prime Minister, compared to only 19 percent who favor Corbyn.
This may all sound great to people on the right of the political spectrum or lean libertarian. What’s not to love about the socialist left making itself unelectable? Yet there are real problems with this situation.
A parliamentary democracy relies on a coherent, strong opposition to check the power of the government and to call it out when it stumbles. When the opposition in weak and fractured it cannot perform this vital function. A governing party tends to do a better job when its policies are sharpened through interrogation and their leaders tested through serious debate.
The UK is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation transformation thanks to this summer’s Brexit vote, and there needs to be a responsible voice representing the millions of voters who wished to remain. Corbyn has proven he is no match for the task of leading a major political movement, let alone a government. People from all sides of the political spectrum should hope Labour comes to its senses, before it sinks into the oblivion of history.
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