Clash of Comments: Is Jeremy Corbyn the right choice for Labour leader?

Yes- Jacob Miller

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader has provoked a stream of accusations that he was the wrong choice for party leader and would make Labour unelectable. However, there are indications that he is more electable than is often portrayed.

A Survation poll in August revealed that he is the most popular candidate among voters of other parties.

This translates into public support for many of his policies. Nearly two thirds support nationalisation of rail and energy. Indeed, over 50 per cent of Conservative voters support rail nationalisation, as well as three quarters of UKIP supporters.

A recent poll confirmed that he is the best candidate to regain seats in Scotland, with a third of SNP voters more likely to back Corbyn’s Labour party.
He is also capable of attracting the 34 per cent of those registered to vote who failed to do so. The enthusiasm surrounding his campaign was evident – with young people trying to get into his packed rallies through a window. His inclusion of young people is important as they had some of the lowest turnout. The effect of gaining non-voters would be advantageous, as an apathy party would have commanded a majority at the last election.

However, electability is only one aspect of what makes Corbyn a good leader. If winning becomes the final determinant of success, then the values and principles of the party could be obscured. The phrase “picking his battles” implies that Corbyn should be choosing to fight for what is expected to gain a positive reaction from the majority. But the history of progress has often been swimming against the tide. If nobody had opposed racism, sexism and homophobia, even when opposition to these was a fringe position, then the progress made today would not exist.

Corbyn has been vindicated on issues which once made him an outsider, such as his invitation to Sinn Fein to visit parliament in an attempt to open peace talks. His vindication indicates good judgement – a favourable quality in any leader.

Simply trying to follow what is perceived as popular is very difficult because, as the vindication of Corbyn demonstrates, public opinion is contingent.

Even Margaret Thatcher was viewed as an electoral disaster by many of her colleagues when she became leader.  She was not seen as sufficiently close to the “centre” to attract new voters. Given the shifting state of public opinion, it would be unwise and arrogant to proclaim someone as unelectable when they have been in their role for just over two weeks.

A good leader creates positive change. Even if he does not win, Corbyn has already changed the political landscape by attempting to move away from the Punch and Judy politics, which so many have come to despise, with his policy of “no personal abuse”. A sensible, mature debate is the kind of positive change that so many have been craving.

 

No- Benjamin Reid

Jeremy Corbyn has emerged from the fringes of the backbench to become the new Labour leader.

Unsurprisingly, his first week on the job has ruffled a few feathers. From installing his far-left chum John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor to remaining silent during the national anthem, he has started his career with a peppering of gaffes.

According to a party insider in Corbyn’s constituency, the Labour leader has realised that his role “isn’t just about policies, but it’s a huge managerial task.”

This statement shows that Corbyn has a lot yet to learn.

He is, admirably, a man who has worked with great effort on the hard left of Labour. He was a successful trade union organiser before being elected as a Labour councillor in 1974 and an MP for Islington North in 1983.

Corbyn has sat on just three select committees in his entire thirty-two year career in parliament and there is a good reason why he has never held a position any higher: he is known for voting against the party whip over five hundred times, making him the most rebellious Labour MP of an era.

There is something honourable in Corbyn’s principled stance, but it stands to reason that a man who has defied his party countless times won’t be able to control rebellions against his leadership.

The fact that the hard-left of Labour has been in isolation for the last few decades is due to politicians like Corbyn.

The phrase ‘pick your battles’ is advice that he has so far ignored, from his passionate denunciation of the press to his anti-monarchist stance. Corbyn evidently lacks pragmatism.

His silence during the national anthem was bound to cause national outcry. His appointment of John McDonnell was controversial to say the least, and his Eurosceptic views have resulted in widespread criticism.

Additionally, a depressing amount of Labour talent has refused to serve in Corbyn’s cabinet. Chuka Ummuna, Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds, Tristam Hunt, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper are massive losses to the Labour frontbench.

Admittedly, Corbyn cannot be blamed for all of the drop-outs, but the news does reflect a widening split in the party.

As a result, I am pessimistic that Corbyn can hold together a party in political freefall. Many of his ideas are backed by solid support, but there is a big difference between having good ideas and possessing the necessary skills to lead the opposition.

It is true that Corbyn should always have a place in the Labour Party. However, just because he is a confident and long-standing MP does not mean he will be a successful leader.

A leader must command respect. A leader must be experienced. And a leader must be able to work with the full spectrum of their party.

Unfortunately for the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn lacks these qualities. He has spent his entire parliamentary career representing his own views to the party, and now he must prepare to represent the party to the country.

Can he do it? I hope he can, but I fear he won’t.

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