Corbyn win could prove rude awakening in UK

11th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

A Jeremy Corbyn victory in Saturday's leadership race for Britain's main opposition Labour could split the party while providing Prime Minister David Cameron with opportunities but also headaches, experts say.

Most agree that the veteran socialist has little chance of becoming prime minister even if he does win as his policies, including higher taxes on the rich and scrapping nuclear weapons, are too far outside the political mainstream.

But despite the euphoria surrounding his grassroots campaign, a Corbyn victory would prove deeply divisive within Labour and could lead to an exodus of centrists closer to Tony Blair's New Labour than Corbyn's anti-austerity policies.

"If Corbyn is elected, he will soon discover that his job as Labour leader will be hellish," said Eunice Goes, author of a forthcoming book about the party's last leader, Ed Miliband.

"Mass abstentions and rebellions, threats of splits and embarrassing stories planted in the media will be the defining features of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn."

For all these reasons, many members of Cameron's centre-right Conservative party are greeting the prospect of Labour under "Comrade Corbyn", whose rise has drawn comparisons to Greece's Syriza, with glee.

Some even signed up as affiliated Labour supporters to back the 66-year-old, encouraged by a five-step guide published by the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Representatives of Britain's business community, which traditionally backs the Conservatives, have made a handful of interventions in the debate to warn against policies like capping executive pay and renationalising some industries.

Fifty-five economists signed a letter to the Financial Times this month saying Corbyn's policies would be "highly damaging", after 40 other economists wrote to a different newspaper backing him.

The prospect of a Corbyn victory "doesn't concern business leaders, they don't care," because they believe he is unlikely to win the next general election in 2020, said Iain Begg, a professor at the London School of Economics.

- 'Glorious opportunity' -

Despite Conservatives welcoming the prospect of years of Labour infighting, a Corbyn leadership could also cause complications for Cameron, especially on foreign policy issues such as Syria and the European Union.

Since his party defeated Labour under Miliband at May's general election, the Tories have had a working majority of 16 in the House of Commons.

This slender margin makes it difficult for the government to push laws through if a small number of its own MPs rebel.

On Syria, Cameron wants to Britain to join air strikes on Islamic State (IS) group targets -- it is already involved in Iraq -- but will likely need support from some Labour MPs in a parliamentary vote as some of his own MPs oppose the idea.

But Corbyn, a pacifist who chairs campaign group Stop The War Coalition, would oppose the move.

"I'm not convinced that air strikes in Syria will do any good other than kill a lot of civilians and other people," he said this month.

Amid blanket media coverage of the refugee crisis in which thousands of Syrians have fled to Europe, Cameron's announcement this week that two British jihadists fighting with IS were killed by a British drone in Syria was seen as ramping up pressure for military action.

With Cameron also fighting for Britain to stay in the EU subject to reforms in a referendum due by the end of 2017, a Labour party under Corbyn could also complicate that campaign.

Labour has traditionally been strongly pro-EU but Corbyn's stance is less clear. "He has remained vague on Europe," said Begg.

Corbyn has criticised the EU for "damaging workers' interests" and over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal with the US, which left-wingers say reduces regulatory barriers for big business.

Despite some potential bumps in the road, though, many commentators believe Labour under Corbyn would give the prime minister an unprecedented chance to consolidate support for his own party by wooing disillusioned centrists.

The Conservatives now have a "glorious opportunity" and "Cameron must seize his moment," leading Tory commentator Fraser Nelson wrote in the Telegraph on Friday.

© 2015 AFP

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