The challenge of a Corbyn leadership

By Virginia Moffatt
September 13, 2015

Three months ago, when Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the ballot for Labour leader with seconds to spare, I honestly thought there was no chance he would be elected. I was just pleased his presence in the contest would allow for austerity to be debated on the public stage.

Then, when I was on holiday, I picked up a newspaper article that said 800 people had turned out to see him talk at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, where the Ekklesia office is based. 800 people! I couldn't believe it. That of course, was just the beginning. So many events were packed out, he was forced to address crowds on the street, even, at one point from a fire engine. The more the media and party grandees decried him, the more his support seemed to grow, suddenly polls were suggesting he could win .

I still didn't think it was possible. After all, last year, the 'Yes' campaign looked like pulling off an astonishing victory in Scotland, only to be defeated in the closing stages, whilst the General Election polling suggested a coalition was on the cards. Even last week, as Yvette Cooper took a clear and passionate stance supporting refugees, I thought she might benefit from a late surge. To hear yesterday that 59.5 per cent of eligible voters voted for him was absolutely remarkable, and I'm glad that to see he had a clear majority across all sections of the party, putting paid to the nonsense his support just came from 'entryists'.

I am not a member of any political party and tend to use my vote to select the party that I believe will be best for the country at the time. So, I didn't participate in this election, and I will wait and see where the parties are in 2020 before I cast my vote. Nonetheless, today I woke up more optimistic about the state of British politics then I have been for some time.

I am optimistic because on the BBC news last night, the Leader of the Opposition said, "We don't have to be unequal. Poverty isn't inevitable. It doesn't have to be unfair. Things can and will change." I am optimistic that he wants to build bridges with opponents in his party, and develop policy from the ground up. And that he will work with colleagues in other parties to challenge the government's austerity agenda.

I am optimistic because I believe Corbyn has the strength of character and the detailed knowledge of the issues to get up at the despatch box and challenge David Cameron on everything from the bedroom tax to extrajudicial killing. Britain desperately needs an Opposition with teeth and Corbyn has plenty.

But I know there will be challenges ahead. Corbyn will have to work hard to bring the 90 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party who didn't vote for him, with him. He is likely to face some of the kind of poisonous arguments and infighting that hampered Rowan William's leadership of the Church of England, which might limit his ability to affect change. In order to lead effectively, he will have to make compromises and this in turn, is likely to disappoint supporters.

In addition, Corbyn will be up against a vicious media, who have already resorted to smearing articles (brilliantly exposed in 'Private Eye') and hatchet jobs.

He will be up against Conservative proposals to reduce the number of MPs and the change in registration rules, which could seriously hamper Labour's chances in the future.Even though his economic policies (developed by Richard Murphy of Tax Justice, with whom Ekklesia work closely) are supported by leading economists he will have a tough job persuading the country to trust Labour on the economy again. He will have to withstand Conservative accusations that he is an enemy of the State for daring to suggest that there is an alternative to bombing Syria and extra judicial killings of terrorists. The last three months will feel a picnic compared with that.

Having watched Jeremy Corbyn in action over many years, I believe he has the guts and tenacity to rise to such challenges. His passion for the causes he believes in, his willingness to work with people across a wide political spectrum and his strength of character to speak about unpopular issues, will all stand him in good stead. And whilst there is a risk that opponents in the party will use his democratic processes against him, I think there is a strong possibility the very act of debating issues and policies could actually strengthen his hand.

I don't believe in everything he stands for (I'm concerned about some of his views on Europe, for example). Nor do I believe one individual can save us. Nonetheless, I do think this humble man, who had to be persuaded to stand is what we need right now. It is time someone stood up to the bullying architects of austerity, and he is undoubtedly the person for the job. He is known for working collaboratively, so I hope to see him join with the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru as I'm sure that will increase the chances of the government being defeated.

On Wednesday 16 September 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn stands at the despatch box facing David Cameron at Prime Minister's Question Time, I will be watching for the first time in years. I can't wait to hear what he has to say.

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© Virginia Moffatt is the Chief Operating Officer of Ekklesia.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.