The era of New Labour identified with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 1994 to 2010 came to an end on Saturday as the ‘hard left’ Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the party with an overwhelming majority, beginning a new phase in British politics.
For one who managed to just about get the required support to contest the leadership election, Corbyn touched a chord among all age groups as he promised an end to austerity, higher taxes for the rich, protection for people on welfare benefits, no wars, no air strikes and no nuclear weapons.
His election is seen as something of a political earthquake in British politics. If former leader Ed Miliband was seen to be 'too left wing', Corbyn is further to the left. Many veered to him as he came across as a conviction politician in an age of spin identified with New Labour.
The party leadership election was triggered by the resignation of Ed Miliband after Labour lost the May election to the Conservative party. As the party struggled to come to terms with the defeat and find a way forward, Corbyn arrived and captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of people inside and outside the party.
Corbyn, who was backed by powerful unions, polled nearly 60 per cent votes in the first round itself, which meant second or third preference votes were not needed to decide the winner.
The deputy leadership election was won by Tom Watson, most known in recent times for his campaign against Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in Britain during the phone-hacking controversy, and for demanding answers about Britain’s involvement in Operation Bluestar in India after declassified files from 1984 raised questions.
Labour’s turn to the ‘hard left’ is evident from the election of three leaders in the last 24 hours: Corbyn (leader), Watson (deputy leader) and Sadiq Khan (elected candidate for the London mayor election).
Leading lights of the Labour party – including Blair and Brown – had openly criticised Corbyn, believing that he would be disaster as the party leader. Blair’s former aide and spin doctor Alistair Campbell called it: ‘ABC: Anyone But Corbyn’.
There were fears that the party could split if Corbyn were elected, or many would refuse to join his shadow cabinet, but Corbyn and others called for unity to hold the David Cameron government to account and prepare the party for the 2020 election.