UK Labour's leadership vote closes with Corbyn favourite

10th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Voting closed Thursday in the leadership contest for Britain's main opposition Labour party as radical leftist favourite Jeremy Corbyn vowed to "change politics" to rapturous applause at his final campaign rally.

Corbyn, a 66-year-old veteran rebel who only entered the leadership contest as a wildcard, has energised the race, drawing support from young and old alike with policies which include opposing austerity cuts and scrapping nuclear weapons.

At a final rally in his home constituency in north London, he modestly declined to predict victory when the result is announced Saturday but hailed his "phenomenal" campaign.

"The inspiration that's been the last 100 days, Saturday is simply one staging point in it," he said.

"We change politics in Britain, we challenge the narrative that only the individual matters and instead we say the common good is the aspiration of all of us."

The low-key Corbyn is closer to European anti-austerity movements like Greece's Syriza and Spain's Podemos than to former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, whose centrist, pro-business policies alienated many of those now supporting Corbyn.

Despite strong trade union support, Corbyn only just managed to gain the support of 35 fellow lawmakers needed to make it onto the ballot. Reports suggest that around half of them did not actually vote for him in the end.

This has prompted fears that a Corbyn victory could lead to a split in the parliamentary Labour party.

His three centrist opponents -- Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall -- are lagging well behind him, bookmakers' odds suggest.

Based on bets placed with them, one betting chain, Ladbrokes, predicted that Corbyn would win 53.5 percent of first preference votes, Cooper 21.5 percent, Burnham 17.5 percent and Kendall 7.5 percent.

Burnham said in an email to supporters Thursday that he had an "outside" chance of winning.

Corbyn's opponents have also complained that thousands of people had not received their ballot papers.

But experts say the three centrist candidates have simply failed to galvanise support.

"He has triumphed because he represents a rejection of conventional politics and also because Labour's mainstream candidates failed to inspire excitement or hope," Andrew Harrop, general secretary of left-wing think-tank the Fabian Society, told AFP.

- 'Minimal' chance of being PM -

The opening up of the vote -- previously reserved for members of the party and trade unions -- to anyone willing to pay £3 (four euros, $4.50) is likely to play a key role in the outcome, with over 600,000 people having applied.

Corbyn has run a good campaign, largely avoiding "difficult questions" on issues such as his views on the Middle East and Britain's place in the European Union, said Iain Begg, a professor at the London School of Economics.

He has still drawn plenty of controversy, though. A pacifist who wants to scrap Britain's nuclear weapons, Corbyn believes Islamist movements Hamas and Hezbollah should be involved in Middle East peace talks.

Finance minister George Osborne, the second most powerful figure in the ruling Conservative Party, said such policies risked Britain's safety, hinting at how his party will target the likely new leader.

"I regard these things as a real risk to Britain's security were they ever to have the chance to be put into practice," he wrote in the New Statesman.

Corbyn also seems to be keeping his options open on the EU ahead of Britain's referendum on whether to leave the bloc, which must be held by the end of 2017.

Few believe the cycling and railways enthusiast can ever be elected prime minister, though.

"With Corbyn, the chance that Labour could win in 2020 (the date of the next general election) is minimal," said Begg.

Harrop added that Corbyn's legacy could be long-lasting if Labour splits between centrist and leftist elements, even threatening its future as a single party.

© 2015 AFP

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