Imagine you have just won the elections for control of a major national political party. And one of the first things you do is address a rally calling for refugee rights.
Hard to imagine, right? After all, in many countries, refugees usually don’t have the right to vote; so which politician would want to address a rally in their support especially soon after a stunning win in party elections?
But that is what happened in the UK, when Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected Labour leader, spoke at a major refugee rights rally shortly after his shock victory.
Look, some say he resembles Obi Wan Kenobi of Star Wars:
Seriously, Corbyn’s triumph spells the end of those championing a right-of-centre ‘New Labour’. The result returns the party to a more pro-people orientation that is more critical of the neoliberal era ushered in by Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher put the UK on a privatisation spree, along with other neoliberal measures including cuts in social spending, which eventually resulted in growing income inequality. The Gini coefficient (which measures income inequality) for the UK soared from 0.25 in 1979 to 0.34 in 1990.
Corybn opposes such welfare cuts. He has been extremely critical of privatisation, saying it has resulted in the people being “robbed” by swindlers whom he likened to “spivs snatching up the public assets being given the license to print money”.
Here is a younger Corbyn crossing swords with Thatcher in the House of Commons:
And this is Corbyn defending his less than dapper outfit, including the jumper his mum knitted. He says the job of an MP is not to look all dandy and to attend dinner invitations but to represent the voters:
Corbyn is also critical of Nato and British foreign military intervention.
No wonder, the right wing press in the UK went almost hysterical and even ridiculed his choice of shadow chancellor for having the temerity to suggest taxing the rich and removing subsidies for Big Business.
In the global context, Corbyn’s triumph comes on the back of recent events in Greece and Pope Francis’ critical views of capitalism and how it has contributed to the “cry of the poor” and the “cry of the earth” (environmental damage), which he put forward in his recent encyclical on the environment Laudato Si (Praised Be).
Corbyn’s unexpected win will give those political ideologues around the world who have been moving their parties to the right in the model of New Labour (which narrowed the ideological divide with the Tories until there was little to distinguish between the two) considerable grounds to pause and think again.