Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully

Labour Party Leadership Battle

Dr Melanie Sully writes in the Austrian quality daily "Die Presse" analysing an unusual candidate on the Left. In 2016 Melanie wrote an article in Die Presse on the crisis in the Labour Party which was reprinted in Euractiv. Also interview in Der Standard on the threat of a split in the Labour Party. And interview in Der Standard on controversial choice of shadow cabinet ministers.

English Version of an op ed that appeared in "Die Presse" 12.8. 2015 by Dr Melanie Sully "Zurück zu den Labour-Wurzeln"

The British Labour Party has an unlikely rising star, Jeremy Corbyn – a golden oldie who is on record as saying the country can learn a lot from Karl Marx. His role model is the Socialist intellectual Ralph Miliband, father of the former leader which led the party to ignominious defeat this year. Labour not only lost in Scotland to the left of centre Scottish Nationalists but in its heartland in England.  Under Ed Miliband Labour was unable to communicate in simple terms a coherent message relevant to the “working class”. Since then in parliament the party voted for the Conservative package to cut welfare prompting the Scottish Nationalists to occupy Labour seats in the House of Commons proclaiming it to be the true opposition.

Anyone can vote in the leadership contest who pays three pounds for a membership card. Since May Labour has enrolled around 100000 new recruits including Tories who see Corbyn as the gravedigger for Labour and a motley collection of Communists but also young people inspired by “new politics”. Corbyn’s popularity  reflects the disillusionment with the “Westminster bubble”, the synonym for the British Establishment and out of touch politics. Some have compared the Corbyn phenomenon with the sudden rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party und Nick Farage that last year dominated the headlines. These stars often go as fast as they come and many speculate that even if Corbyn won the leadership in September he would just keep the seat warm until the real leader returns to mastermind the 2020 election. The leader in waiting is reckoned to be none other than the son of Ralph Miliband, David trounced by his brother Ed in the last bitter leadership battle.

The intriguing thing about Corbyn is that if elected he could in the meantime capture the party with his distinctive left wing politics. Possibly he would call for an EU exit if the renegotiations did not include sufficient social reforms for the workers of Europe and a loss of Scotland with an anti-Labour majority might not bother the new unorthodox line.

It is said that the party under Corbyn would repeat the mistake of the early 1980s when it lurched to the Left and opened the way for years of Thatcherism. But then the mood was anti-trade union and fatigue with the chaos of the 1970s. Today people are fed up with wars and are still scarred by the decision by Tony Blair to invade Iraq. The recent scandal involving a member of the House of Lords and former ally of Blair, allegedly snorting drugs with prostitutes does little to raise the image of politicians in the country at large.

The other runners in the race for the Labour leadership look much like a reincarnation of policy advisors who would not recognise a worker if they bumped into one on the street. Corbyn could be Labour’s answer and it might just work.

♦ Interview with Dr Melanie Sully on the controversial choice of shadow cabinet ministers to serve under Corbyn in Der Standard 19.9. 2015 in the section which focusses on gender issues.

Corbyn fulfilled his promise of gender parity in his shadow cabinet but was criticised also internally and by the Labour womens section for giving the plum jobs to men. The big announcements of finance, foreign affairs and home affairs were all made first to the press and after negative reaction also on social media it was decided to do a kind of repair job or spin and promote one of the women to a better position. Further it was argued that the important jobs are in fact what has come to be seen as more soft ministries such as health and education which were assigned to women and undoubtedly are an important part of the Labour agenda. However the name of the game is still governed by media attention which focusses on finance ministers meetings etc and it is the relevant shadow minister that will get if any the media reports. The Corbyn argument was not even convincing to women in the Labour party. Such hiccups could be due to inexperience, lack of management or thought but add to difficulties in the Parliamentary Labour Party, the achilles heel for Corbyn. His support came from and is still there from outside the Westminster bubble and can be effectively mobilised via social media but to win important elections coming up next year eg local and regional, Scotland and London, he will need the backing of his own party in parliament. Also it only take a few of his own Members of Parliament to mount a leadership challenge. The Press too were snubbed by Corbyn which many may see as admirable but in the long term if journalists are not given material newsworthy to write they seek information from rivals and rebels only too glad to divulge negative news. Not the best of starts for the new Opposition leader but early days. The exercise throws up once again the criteria that are used in making selection for top jobs and how are the top jobs defined either in terms of importance for the country or in terms of political influence, power and punch.