Corbyn isn't extreme, he a counter-balance to a tired right-wing dominance

Corbyn isn't extreme, he a counter-balance to a tired right-wing dominance
Comment: For far too long, mainstream rhetoric on multiculturalism and immigration has been shifting to the right. Corbyn's rise is a sign that many have had enough, writes Jamil Hussein.
4 min read
04 Jul, 2017
After UK politics lurched to the Right, Corbyn's politics is proving a success [Anadolu]

When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of Britain's Labour Party, many thought it would result in the party's demise. But the recent election showed that Corbyn is not only saving Labour, he's providing an important counter-narrative to right-wing populist views dominating much of UK politics.

For far too long, at least 30 years, UK politics has been shifting towards the right of the political spectrum. Tony Blair's success was down to New Labour moving away from traditional left-wing ideals, in order to appeal to a wider centrist base. As a result, the mainstream left-wing argument has been missing from British national discourse for quite some time.

UKIP took the conversation even further right, taking extreme right-wing ideas mainstream. Last year's referendum on Europe was in part legitimised by UKIP posturing on the issue, while debates around multiculturalism and immigration have become increasingly reactionary.

Although UKIP now appears essentially a spent force, its acceptance into the mainstream was a sign of just how far to the right public debate in the UK had shifted.

David Cameron, back in 2005, famously referred to UKIP as "a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". But six years later, he himself was aping UKIP's arguments, saying multiculturalism had failed and the UK needed a stronger national identity.

Corbyn though, isn't pandering to the negative discourse about immigration

Even Labour's Gordon Brown once stated that multiculturalism had "become an excuse for justifying separateness" and called for a "stronger sense of patriotic purpose".

All this demonstrates how right-wing discourse has seeped into the national psyche. It's created a haunting echo chamber, where solutions to problems do nothing but entertain more right-wing views.

But Corbyn is changing these parameters - and his politics is proving a success.

For people to take notice, Labour had had to pitch its tent further to the left, to jolt Britain out of its right-wing stupor. Benign centrist politics - a feature for nearly two decades - is not only incapable of taking the heat out of the right-wing narrative, it's also been complicit.

When Corbyn became leader, the Labour Right in the Parliamentary Labour Party were still regurgitating New Labour's mantra and insisting the UK wasn't ready for his brand of left-wing politics.

But unlike the Blairites, Corbyn isn't willing to compromise on his ideals to win power; he continues to say what he feels is correct. And this honesty and conviction has won him fans.

  Read more: Progressives must vote for Corbyn, then oppose him

After the Brexit vote, a few "centrist" Labour politicians performed a U-turn and called for an end to freedom of movement, urging politicians to understand the concerns some Brits have over immigration.

But Corbyn isn't pandering to the negative discourse about immigration. Although he acknowledges freedom of movement will likely end after Brexit, he's talked about the virtues of migration and refused to promise reduced immigration.

This is an example of how we should be reclaiming the debate from the right wing, and presenting alternative views to challenge perceptions.

Corbyn's single-minded insistence in ignoring the wishes of the PLP, and pushing ahead with his agenda resulted in a manifesto that largely represented his values.

And the popularity of Labour's manifesto showed that Corbyn's counter-narrative is making progress. It wasn't just lauded by traditional left-wingers and the neglected youth, even old Labour supporters who had switched allegiance came back on board.

See what happens when you challenge accepted norms?

Despite the negative press, more than 12 million people voted for Labour in the most recent election. Sitting Labour candidates, who tried to oust Corbyn less than a year ago, saw their majorities jump 10 percent. And after their disastrous campaign, the chastened Tories are now feverishly backtracking on austerity and a hard Brexit.

See what happens when you challenge accepted norms?

Corbyn may have killed off "New Labour" but he has given his party a new lease of life it now needs to build on.

Like any life cycle, over time, centrist politics will re-emerge. But at the moment - with so many years of right-wing politics dominating - there's a hunger for some left-wing discourse to even the playing field. It's a counter- balance that is needed in the UK now more than ever.

Jamil Hussein is a freelance journalist covering sport, politics, current affairs, lifestyle and culture.

Follow him on Twitter: @jam1lH

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.