How has Jeremy Corbyn rocked the Labour leadership boat?

17 June 2015


Staunch leftist’s surprise move to join race to lead the party has dramatically altered the spectrum of the candidate list, writes our political columnist

Jon Bennett

By the skin of his teeth, Jeremy Corbyn has squeaked on to the Labour leadership ballot. In doing so, he’s changed the balance of the contest and posed questions for the campaigns of his rivals.

Commentators have looked in particular at the implications for Andy Burnham, widely seen as the frontrunner. Until now, the shadow secretary of state for health looked to represent a more left-wing element of the Labour Party. Corbyn’s last minute arrival on the platform makes Burnham a more centrist candidate.

Does this mean Andy Burnham will lose some of his following – or will he seem like a more moderate option to a broader spectrum of party members who were previously nervous of his politics?

Roots manoeuvre?

In all likelihood, this is good news for Burnham. Human beings take short cuts when they make decisions, and given a choice of three or more options will plump for something in the middle. It’s why every restaurant has an eye wateringly expensive bottle of wine on the menu. No one buys it, and the restaurant may not stock it, but the others look good value by comparison.


More important is what Corbyn’s role in the contest means for the Labour Party as a whole.

For the purist, his position on the platform should be celebrated. It broadens the debate and allows the party to consider real policy alternatives. And for those with skin in the game? Opponents of Corbyn’s politics will see this as an opportunity to defeat the “old Labour” mentality once and for all. Meanwhile, those wishing to see Labour return to its traditional roots will hope he puts paid to Blairite politics, which have loomed large long after Blair’s departure.

But for those outside the Labour party, the view may be somewhat different. The danger for Labour is that the leadership contest presents a confused picture of what Labour stands for. The range of policies and positions on show is extremely wide – from Corbyn’s staunch socialistic approach through to Liz Kendall’s more pragmatist inclinations. Whoever wins the Labour crown will have a mountain to climb in rebuilding a consistent and widely understood Labour brand, particularly if Jeremy Corbyn does well and the left of the party needs to be represented significantly around the Shadow Cabinet table.

"Consistent front"

Contrast this with the Conservative Party leadership, to which attention will turn before too long. The favourites to replace David Cameron when he steps down – George Osborne, Theresa May, Boris Johnson – are very different personalities, but their politics are reasonably well aligned. By putting forward a consistent front to the electorate, a Conservative leadership contest might be less engaging, but would seem like a smooth transition of leadership behind a well-understood brand in comparison.

There’s no doubt Labour needs to reassess, ask questions and come back to the electorate refreshed. But with such divergent views among its potential leadership, the party will need even more time to rebuild. Good news then that the leadership contest will be relatively swift. There are reasons private sector companies tend not to manage their brand reviews in public.

Jon Bennett is managing director of corporate communications consultancy Linstock Communications

Image of Jeremy Corbyn courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

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