“Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” is what was sung by the jubilant crowds greeting the Labour leader at Glastonbury last year. He had pulled off the impossible, by wiping out Theresa May’s majority and defying the mainstream media in the process. The crowds were predominantly younger supporters of Mr. Corbyn, who see him as the “absolute boy” and had an ounce of hope that he could fix the problems that were plaguing Britain.
Jeremy turned to Michael Eavis, the founder of the festival, and said that he would be Prime Minister “in six months”. We now know, of course, that this never materialised, and Corbyn is still in opposition, but in the weeks, months and year, since this day at Glastonbury, the cult of Corbyn is starting to fall apart.
The supporter base of Mr. Corbyn is one of the reason why the cult of personality around him is unsustainable. It is a paradigm, between old and young, blue collar and white collar, europhile and eurosceptic. On the one hand, Corbyn, appeals to older, working-class trade unionists, who were more likely to endorse Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. However, on the other hand, Corbyn also appeals to younger, cosmopolitan millennials who are generally enthusiastically supportive of Britain’s place in the European Union. This dichotomy has provided a problem for the Labour leadership for sometime, generally referred to as the Hackney Hull problem, but has yet come to the forefront.
As Abraham Lincoln said “you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time” and Mr. Corbyn will soon have to decide whether he endorses, just a slightly lighter version of Theresa May’s Brexit, and appease his trade unionist Bennite supporters or become the voice of anti-Brexit and appeal to the younger supporters in metropolitan cities. The latter would be immensely difficult, given the fact, that Corbyn for the last forty years has been deeply critical of the European Union, perceiving it as a capitalist club. If Corbyn, had been a backbencher during the referendum, it would not be hard to envisage him being a backer of ‘Leave’, the same can be said for Mr. McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor.
Whatever option Corbyn chooses, he risks alienating a big chunk of his supporter base. It is highly unlikely that he will be able to please both Len McCluskey, of the Unite Union, and Jon Landsman, founder of Momentum.
This split has already begun to emerge, the cult of Corbyn is starting to fall apart, but for the time being it is not because of Brexit, but rather because of other issues.
Since last year’s General Election, we’ve witnessed the Grenfell Tragedy, a botched reshuffle from the Prime Minister, a handful of Cabinet Resignations and the Windrush scandal, however Corbyn still lags behind May by 3%-4% in nearly every poll published. He failed to capitalise on this during the Local Elections earlier this year, by only making minor gains and failing to pick up Barnet and Wandsworth councils.
One of the most notable divisions within Corbynism was oddly in relation to defence spending. The Prime Minister refused to say that Britain would remain as a ‘Tier One’ military nation, implying that she would continue to make cuts tot he Ministry of Defence, however Corbyn responded by stating that he would give a spending boost to the department. Initially, it could be argued that this would be expected, Corbyn supports a larger state role in life, however many on the left, see the MoD as one of the only departments that they would endorse cuts.
The younger supporters of Corbyn are more likely to oppose defence spending, as they are generally pacifists who want to end the Trident nuclear programme, however the older, trade unionists who support Corbyn would be more likely to be increased spending in the MoD as it would protect jobs and allow for Britain to regain some of its manufacturing capabilities, something that has been in decline since the late 1970s.
The same division emerged over Heathrow expansion, however this time it was in the face of Union opinion. Corbyn opposed the expansion of Heathrow, while Mr. McCluskey issued a statement in support of expansion, meaning he was actually in line with the Prime Minister, rather than the Labour leader — something that is really hard to imagine, however this is likely to be an anomaly.
The Cult of Corbyn has started to wane in relation to areas of policy such as Defence and Transport, however this is likely to intensify when we approach Britain’s exit from the European Union. If he endorses much of Theresa May’s Brexit plans, he will alienate much of his younger supporters (and possibly haemorrhage votes in big cities to the Liberal Democrats), however if he ends up becoming the voice of a ‘Soft Brexit’, then he will likely alienate his Northern, working-class backers and allow room for the Conservatives to pick up votes.
This split on Brexit, was seen at the recent Labour Live event, when protestors interrupted Corbyn’s speech because of his stance on Europe, with some even calling for Tony Blair to come back
To be honest, Jeremy is damned whatever route he endorses. Trade unionists will not like the taste of Kale juice and Avocado toast, enjoyed his younger supporters, while they will not like the taste of warm beer and prawn sandwiches of the union leaders.
Corbyn’s coalition is too diverse to be sustainable and allow him to become Prime Minister one day, meaning what he said at Glastobury will never happen.