“On September 12, 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was elected the leader of the Labour Party in Britain. Supported by several key unions, the victory of the veteran socialist member of Parliament (MP) has shocked the political establishment and dealt a crippling blow to the neoliberal consensus that has dominated British politics for more than three decades” (Eaton, 2017)
Following Jeremy Corbyn’s accession to party leader in September 2015, which Stafford (2016) describes “as something approaching a mass movement alongside a clear declaration of left-wing intent”, the Labour party has returned to its traditional socialist roots. However, controversy has sparked as to whether the persona of Jeremy Corbyn has either revitalised the party or condemned one of Britain’s two major parties to an untimely death with Labour MP Benn Hilary claiming “he is a good and decent man, but he is not a leader”. The point can certainly as be argued as relevant prior to the General Election of 8 June 2017, however the unexpectedly better electoral result for Labour and similarly the demise and increasingly factional dynamics of other parties, namely the Conservatives, suggests that the argument is currently of less relevance to Labour and more relevance to surrounding UK political parties. It is even arguable that Labour has successfully averted its death throes and is instead enjoying a period of revitalisation and new relevance in the UK political scene. And, if we are witnessing the death throes of any part of Corbyn’s party, it is New Labour.
Parliamentary labour as a whole are the principle group in politics advocating the idea we are currently seeing the death throes of the Labour Party/their own party, and “the media has been their constant ally” (Seymour, 2016, 60). Richards (2016) argues in favour of the concept we are seeing the Labour Party in their death throes because of the three way paralysis between Jeremy Corbyn, his party and the Labour supporters. “Corbyn is liberated by the membership and the mandate that he got in that election, but is trapped by the fact his parliamentary party on the whole oppose him and are already plotting to overthrow him” (p.12). This idea proposed by Richards is exemplified by comments made by the party throughout Corbyn’s leadership; in the forthcoming month to this year’s election, there were allegations that “Labour could be split into two after the election with as many as 100 MPs plotting to form their own breakaway group to force Jeremy Corbyn to resign”. Dorey and Denham (2016) broaden Richards’ idea of a stalemate undermining the party through the concept that the parliamentary party has intentionally prioritised the electability of the leader rather than his public approval.The contempt for Corbyn’s leadership has arguably been omnipresent since his election; little above 6 months following his election, a leaked list ranked MPs in terms of their hostility towards Corbyn with 36, including Sadiq Khan and Yvette Cooper, identified as members of the hostile group in the parliamentary Labour party. Eaton (2017) similarly acknowledges the parliamentary party as a core advocate that Labour is in the midst of its death throes. However, he associates a core scepticism from the parliamentary party being Corbyn’s ambiguous attitudes towards the European Union referendum, noting his reluctant association with the Cameron’s “Remain” platform, “which precipitated the most significant breakdown between the two competing wings of the Labour party” (p.27). Curtice (2016) debates the extreme as to whether Corbyn’s attitudes is to blame for Brexit, claiming the Labour parliamentary party reckon his “allegedly lukewarm response for remaining in the EU made a significant contribution to the Remain side’s defeat” . Although Labour supporters, similarly to the Labour parliamentary party, demonstrated some contempt to Corbyn’s stance in the forthcoming months to the 2016 referendum,
A consensus has emerged that, even if Corbyn was suffering and plunging his party into its death throes prior to the General Election of 8th June 2017, it can be convincingly argued that this changed thereafter. Dorey (2017) provides a comprehensive outlook on the perception of Corbyn’s leadership before, during and after the election; an election which had been expected to “show the futility of campaigning on a radical left-wing programme in Britain” (p. 308) . His main thesis is the dichotomy between Corbyn’s reception prior and subsequent to the election, and that the election in fact worked to Corbyn’s favour with his considerable support disproving the media and his own party’s slandering of his leadership and agenda (p. 308-334). The New Statesman (2017) builds on this idea through the suggestion that the Labour Party’s successful result in the election was a product of conservative misdemeanours and failures; the “Brexit vote was a cry for social reform and more government intervention, not less” (p. 5). Richards (2016) takes a similar approach to the New Statesman; he suggests that the election result was a largely predictable result and the negative press Corbyn received should, paradoxically, have been a clear indicator of his support (pp. 12-17). Citing the positive representation the Liberal Democrats received against their electoral result in the 2015 election (p. 13) as an example, Richards points plainly to the idea that “the media consensus is at any point nearly wrong” (p.13). This is best exemplified by the fact the consistently negative coverage of Corbyn during the months prior to the election, contrasted to Corbyn’s increasing coverage in the polls. Between the time of the announcement and month of the election, Corbyn was able to decrease the Conservative’s lead by 10 points. The revitalisation of the party is again exemplified by the likes of Harrop (2017), who, similarly to Dorey, speaks positively of Labour’s performance in the election; “a hung parliament was the realistic limit of Labour’s ambitions and it was duly achieved” (p. 395).
What may be more interesting to argue is that we are currently witnessing the death throes of not the party as a whole but a brand/faction of it: New Labour. Blair became leader following the sudden death of leader John Smith. “Blair quickly popularised his leadership under the mantra of New Labour as an alternative route between the New Right’s inequitable policies on competition and the top–down, all-inclusive egalitarianism of Old Labour” (Chandler, 2007, p. 280). Kenneth (1998) explores the historical roots of New Labours, and identifies it as “different from anything that has existed before” in three respects: leadership, use of technology and social composition. Dominiczak and Smith (2015) approach Corbyn’s election to party in 2017 as bringing Labour into its death throes through the death of New Labour, quoting Blairites on their claims the party was ‘fighting for its life’ and Lord Mandelson, one of the architects of New Labour, who urged “Labour is facing the fight for its life to remain a viable party of government”. Another argument that can be made in reference to New Labour is it is New Labour’s legacy that triggered and plunged the party into its death throes.