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Savior or disaster? UK's Labour divided on Corbyn victory

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Jeremy Corbyn speaks on stage after he is announced as the new leader of The Labour Party during the Labour Party Leadership Conference in London, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015. Corbyn will now lead Britain's main opposition party.


Soft-spoken socialist Jeremy Corbyn is the antithesis of Donald Trump.

But the British politician - resoundingly re-elected leader of the opposition Labour Party yesterday - is riding the same wave of anti-centrist sentiment that's propelling the brash US Republican presidential candidate.

Both are political outsiders who have unsettled their parties and energised their large fan bases, but whose ability to win power remains unproven.

To supporters like Carel Buxton, a retired school principal from London, the 67-year-old long-time leftist Corbyn is "authentic".

"People in this country are sick to death of well-spoken, booted-and-suited slimy politicians," she said.


But to detractors like John McTernan, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair, Corbyn "is nothing other than a complete and utter disaster for the Labour Party".

Last year, Corbyn, a long-time backbench lawmaker, was the shock choice of party members to head Labour, which has lost two successive general elections to the Conservatives.

He has strong support among local activists, but many Labour legislators believe his left-wing views are out of step with public opinion, and tried to unseat him.

It didn't work. After a months-long leadership battle, Corbyn won almost 62 per cent of the more than 500,000 votes cast by Labour members and supporters.

His challenger, Welsh lawmaker Owen Smith, got 38 per cent in a result announced yesterday at the party's conference in Liverpool, northwest England.

Corbyn's margin of victory is larger than a year ago, but he heads a party that's deeply divided about whether it values political principles over gaining power.

Accepting his victory to a standing ovation from delegates, Corbyn pledged to work for unity.

"We have much more in common than that which divides us," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, let's wipe that slate clean from today and get on with the work we've got to do as a party."


Like Bernie Sanders, who shares some of Corbyn's outlook, or Trump - who definitely doesn't - Corbyn is a sign of how the political centre ground has eroded.

Corbyn spent more than 30 years as a Labour lawmaker, never holding a senior role and best known for his frequent rebellions against the centre-left party's leadership. When he ran for leader, few expected him to win. But he was propelled to victory by thousands of new members who joined Labour to back him.

For Corbyn supporters, it was a chance to repudiate the centrist "new Labour" vision of Blair, who won three British elections starting in 1997 but became too cosy with big business for some tastes and took Britain into the unpopular US-led Iraq War.