What does the Corbyn phenomenon mean? Difficult to say. I, for one, didn’t see it coming. An earlier version of this blog asked whether there was life left in the Labour Party and concluded there wasn’t. And I meant was wasn’t any life among Labour party members. They had allowed Blair an undisputed reign. After Brown’s defeat in 2010 the party congratulated itself on the calm that followed; no rebellions, hardly any critical reflection much less a post-mortem. The election of Ed Miliband might have been a pointer but when he picked a fight with the unions and threatened the party-union link there wasn’t a murmur much less an outcry.
Maybe that is a clue. The support Corbyn attracts may have little connection with the pattern of socialist/social democratic politics of the past, and specifically the version of ‘left wing politics’ that he actually represents. There is no sense of an organised or ideologically rooted movement of opinion. More a case of people turned off by the wooden Blair/Brown replicas among leadership contestants attracted to Corbyn for his authenticity and decency and attaching their own hopes to his candidature. More positively those hopes do appear to reflect an undercurrent of social democratic opinion; majority support for public ownership of the railways and utilities for example.
How will such a surge of opinion cope with a Corbyn victory subsequently sabotaged by the parliamentary Labour Party and leading Blairites; or a defeat which at best patronises the losers? The likelihood is that it will fragment and fade, maybe simply melt away as suddenly as it appeared, in the best case re-appearing elsewhere beyond the suffocating confines of a Labour Party returned to the centrist robots. The support for Corbyn may actually signal a further step in the hollowing out and implosion of the Labour Party rather than its revival. But then, I didn’t see it coming.