Labour members have a better instinct for picking winners than Labour MPs. Photo: Getty Images
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Seriously, could Jeremy Corbyn win?

The endorsement of Unite, tumbling odds with the bookmakers, and now second place among local parties all raise the same question - could Jeremy Corbyn really win?

Could Jeremy Corbyn actually win the Labour leadership? Over the last week, he’s secured the endorsement of Britain’s largest trade union Unite, and, is currently second in our rolling list of constituency nominations, with 19 nominations, just eight behind the bookmakers’ frontrunner, Andy Burnham, and ahead of Yvette Cooper, who is widely believed in Labour circles to be the most likely winner. William Hill, the bookmakers, have slashed his odds to 7/1, almost equal with Kendall, currently fourth place in our list of nominations.

Can Corbyn do it?

Well, it’s possible. Since Labour party activists were first given a direct say in electing the party leader, they have, variously, backed Tony Blair, David Miliband and Jim Murphy by large margins. The older Miliband got 55 per cent of the vote among party members, while Murphy and Blair both got 64 per cent and 65 per cent in the first round of voting.

You can say a lot about those three men, but you can’t really call any of them Bennites.  Just one candidate from the Labour left has won an election among party members, in fact: Ken Livingstone, who polled 60 per cent of the vote from members in 2000 and did even better in 2012, with 64 per cent. And that’s not because Labour members in the capital are to the left of the rest of the membership: they backed David Miliband by a bigger margin than the rest of the country.

“One thing people forget about Labour members,” a Kendallite MP told me recently, “is they hate losing. Hate it a lot more than the PLP, actually.” Another insider notes: “The membership voted for Ken Livingstone, an election winner, when the PLP were playing silly buggers. They voted for David Miliband when the trade unions fixed it for Ed.”

Although the other three candidates disagree about what Labour’s leader has to do to win, they are all pitching themselves to Labour members as candidates who can win an election.

Don't forget, either, that these nomination meetings hold no real force. They're more likely to attract ultras: and, almost by definition, Labour's left are more committed than activists from the centre or right of the party. 

But what if it’s different this time? The success of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the SNP north of the border might have convinced Labour activists that victory lies to the left, no the centre. The defeat of the Scottish Labour party, with a centrist candidate in the shape of Murphy, might have changed the party’s perception of what “a winner” looks like.  

As I’ve written before, Corbyn is the candidate best-placed to benefit from Labour’s new electoral system – he has the greatest ability to reach outside of the Labour movement, in his case to the broad left.  His campaign is also being run by Simon Fletcher, a veteran from Ken Livingstone’s bid for the mayoral nomination in 2000: that one-off triumph for a candidate from the party’s left.

It doesn’t, to me, feel likely that Corbyn will triumph in September. But his odds look good enough to me that I regret not putting a fiver on him when the bookmakers were offering odds of 100 to one.


Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

Photo: Getty Images
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Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.