Tea party victories provide hope for Democrats

The latest primary victories for anti-establishment and Tea Party candidates could give the Democrat

The electoral backlash from US conservatives has intensified, as Tea Party candidates once again confounded commentators by defeating mainstream Republican candidates in the latest round of congressional primaries.

Undoubtedly the biggest upset of the night came from the traditionally-Democrat state of Delaware, where Sarah Palin-endorsed Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell defeated long-serving Congressman and former governor Mike Castle to be the Republican candidate for Vice President Joe Biden's former Senate seat.

O'Donnell, who is pro-gun, anti-abortion, fiscally conservative and believes masturbation is a sin, defeated Castle with 53 per cent of the vote. Given that just a week ago O'Donnell was engaged in bitter in-fighting with some of Delaware's elected Republican officials and had been termed "unelectable" by some fellow Republicans, her victory in last night's primary is not only a blow to the GOP, which committed significant resources to the fight in Delaware in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the upset in Alaska, but also adds yet another dimension of unpredictability to the final outcome of November's midterm elections.

The majority of states have now held their primaries. Eight mainstream Republican candidates have been defeated by Tea Party or otherwise right-wing challengers, a number which could rise to nine pending the outcome of the recount in New Hampshire.

The consensus, especially from the left-leaning commentariat, seems to be that while these primary victories for anti-incumbent candidates demonstrate the power and reach of this new right-wing movement, it is very unlikely that any of these challengers will be victorious in the midterms themselves.

In an election season that had otherwise long been considered to be potentially disastrous for the Democrats, with the possibility that the Republicans could regain control of both the House and the Senate, these ultra-conservative candidates represent an opportunity to claw back some momentum in advance of polling day. For instance, Delaware, previously considered to be a serious prospect for the Republicans, is now much more likely to be a hold for the Democrats, especially if their candidate, Chris Coons, is able to capitalise on Christine O'Donnell's unpopularity with a significant faction of Delaware Republicans.

Just as a footnote, it's worth noting that the electoral fortunes of some of these insurgent candidates could have a knock-on effect for Sarah Palin's presidential hopes. Palin notably endorsed Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Carly Fiorina in California, as well as O'Donnell in Delaware. As she is apparently already moving into position for a 2012 campaign, embarrassing defeats for candidates Palin has personally endorsed and campaigned for could dent her appeal to Republicans beyond the confines of the Tea Party movement.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.