Jeremy Corbyn Could Bring Spirit of Syriza to UK's Labour Party

Jeremy Corbyn Could Bring Spirit of Syriza to UK

Greece has Syriza, Spain has Podemos and Britain may soon have its own anti-austerity political force if bearded socialist veteran Jeremy Corbyn...

Greece has Syriza, Spain has Podemos and Britain may soon have its own anti-austerity political force if bearded socialist veteran Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader of the main opposition Labour party.

Corbyn, 66, only stood for the Labour leadership as a wild card to broaden debate over its future following a dismal showing in May's general election won by Prime Minister David Cameron's centre-right Conservatives.

But to everybody's surprise, including his own, the softly-spoken vegetarian who wants to scrap nuclear weapons is now the bookmakers' favourite to win a ballot whose results will be announced on September 12.

"I have been in Greece, I have been in Spain. It's very interesting that social democratic parties that accept the austerity agenda and end up implementing it end up losing a lot of members and a lot of support," he told the Daily Mirror newspaper.

"I think we have a chance to do something different here."

To his supporters, Corbyn is a breath of fresh air and a return to Labour's left-wing roots as a movement for working people after the market-friendly New Labour years under former prime minister Tony Blair.

The party's last leader Ed Miliband, who quit in May, had tried to shift Labour leftwards but still accepted the need for spending cuts, only at a slower pace than those advocated by Cameron.

"We think that it is time for a change... There is a virus within the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn is the antidote," said Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communications Workers Union (CWU), as he endorsed the MP, praising his left-wing values.

'Sexy old sea dog'

Corbyn grew up in a political family -- his parents met as activists during the Spanish Civil War -- and worked for trade unions before being elected to the House of Commons in 1983.

He has never held any major office, instead championing human rights and policies to help the poor and often voting against his party's leadership.

He opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq under Blair, is against to austerity measures which have seen cuts to public services and welfare and believes "we can learn a great deal" from Karl Marx.

So committed is he to socialism that his second marriage reportedly broke up over his opposition to sending his son to a state-funded school that selects children by academic ability.

Many of Corbyn's views are at odds with mainstream political opinion, but that has not dented his support in his inner city north London seat of Islington North. In May, he won his eighth successive election and increased his vote share to 60 percent.

For some, his appeal goes even further -- users on parenting website Mumsnet recently discussed how he is "very sexy", albeit "in a world-weary, old sea dog sort of way".

Could he win a general election?

With six weeks to go until the Labour leadership election, some polling suggests Corbyn is on course to emerge victorious.

Iain Begg, a politics professor at the London School of Economics, believes one reason Corbyn is doing so well is because his more centrist rivals are "second division -- none of them are inspiring".

But he said Corbyn would be a "disaster" for Labour, noting many of his views were party policy in 1983 when Labour secured just 28 percent of the general election vote with a manifesto dubbed "the longest suicide note in history" by one MP.

"The possibility of winning the election in 2020 would be nil with Corbyn as leader," Begg told AFP.

Corbyn insists that he is "as electable as the next person" and argues Labour can win back voters by taking a stronger line against cuts to public spending.

Blair, the most successful Labour leader in history, made a rare public intervention last month to make his disagreement clear.

"You win from the centre," he told an audience of activists in London. "You don't win from a traditional leftist platform."
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