In Britain, what was once the successful “New Labour” Party has reverted to Old Labour form. Having recently lost a winnable national election under Ed Miliband, an ineffective leader perceived to be too beholden to outdated party verities, Labour has now lurched even further to port, into the embrace of hard left-winger Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s politics date back to the Labour program in the days well before Tony Blair took the marginalized party and crafted it into a more pragmatic, progressive organization, one that could actually win a national election.
Labour’s three national victories under Blair in 1997, 2001, and 2005 were the high-water mark for the modern Labour Party. But in 2010, under Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor, Labour lost its parliamentary majority. That loss enabled the Conservative-led coalition government that held power until the 2015 election, when the Conservatives won an outright majority.
During that time, party control slipped away from the moderate Blairites, and Labour started to tack left under Miliband. What enabled that shift was Blair’s fall from favor in Britain. The reason for his eclipse, however, was not his domestic record. Rather, it was accumulating fallout from his decision to commit Britain to joining the war in Iraq.
The election of Corbyn as Labour Party leader represents a large leftward lurch even from the politics of Miliband. Corbyn’s stands include such outmoded ideas as nationalizing the UK’s railroads and energy companies, imposing a maximum wage on private-sector salaries, and the widespread reimposition of rent control. Some prominent Labour MPs are already upset about his refusal to rule out joining the campaign to pull Britain out of the European Union.
On foreign policy, Corbyn has called for unilateral nuclear disarmament for Britain, is against air strikes targeting ISIS, and supports a ban on the sale of weapons to Israel. He has talked of having Britain leave NATO, though more recently has called for a rethinking of NATO’s mission. He labeled the killing, rather than trial, of Osama bin Laden “a tragedy.”
The prospects of him ever leading Labour back into 10 Downing St. are considered virtually nil. Indeed, some close observers of British politics are even talking about the possibility of Labour fading from major-party prominence. Some see a possibility of a more moderate centrist party supplanting Labour, others of the Conservative Party taking advantage of the return of Old Labour to sidle centerward and consolidate its majority position.
One thing, however, is apparent. If Labour is to regain the central role it played from 1994 to 2010, it won’t be under Corbyn. Rather, it will take a different leader, a modern-day Blair, to reverse the ideological excess that now holds sway. That’s probably at least one general election loss away, but the sooner it happens, the better.