The Labour Party has been repossessed. Almost lifeless when Blair left it ex-members have flooded back and new, younger ones, joined. Corbyn did not win because mischievous Tories and hard-left interlopers among registered supporters carried him over the line. The votes of members and affiliates combined gave him a majority on the first ballot.
I doubt anyone really knows how it happened; not me, certainly not the legion of commentators venting their frustration in the press. Some of the latter – the more ‘progressive’ ones of course – are demanding that Corbyn be inclusive by which they mean he should concede to his opponents the space he won in the election. I hope he doesn’t. You have to ask why Labour’s MPs are so unrepresentative of the party; how the members were so drastically dispossessed in the first place? And you have to fight hard to prevent it happening again.
The new members are likely to be a mixed bag, some ex-members, some ex-liberals, some old-fashioned socialists and some bringing new kinds of popular revolt to a party that won’t quite know what to do with it. That is where the excitement lies. It is a chance to strike out afresh. There will be familiar elements in the new politics – public ownership of the railways and the utilities, for example, already overwhelmingly popular – and an attack on inequality. But neither Jeremy Corbyn and the people around him, nor the left more generally, have all the answers, far from it. Defending the welfare state and opposing austerity is one thing, finding the right way to overhaul the tax system and create something like full employment at wages that provide independence from state support is another.
But that is the beauty of the moment, the chance to talk about how to put socialist principles into practice free from the suffocating conventional wisdom of the decaying politics that Corbyn has so dramatically overturned. We should take advantage of it, it might not last.