UK's Labour expected to anoint leftist Corbyn as leader

12th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Britain's main opposition Labour party was expected to name radical leftwinger Jeremy Corbyn as its new leader Saturday, embracing the anti-austerity sentiment sweeping Europe but threatening deep splits ahead.

Corbyn would be the most left-wing political leader in Britain for over 30 years and his policies of ending cuts and taxing the rich are close to those of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain.

The 66-year-old has electrified the race, drawing support from students who had never voted before to older people disillusioned with Labour since it tacked to the centre under Tony Blair in the 1990s and led Britain into the 2003 Iraq war.

It is not the power of Corbyn's rhetoric which has made bookmakers slash his odds of winning the race -- whose result is due around 11:30 am (1030 GMT) -- from 100/1 outsider to 1/7 favourite.

The bearded, grey-haired vegetarian has crammed in 99 campaign appearances, eschewing soundbites and usually wearing sandals, a vest under his shirt and carrying a cup of tea.

"Can't we change the mood music, change the language, stop being so brutal about people who are going through misfortunes and start to approach them in a much more civilised way?" he asked at one rally in eastern England last month.

His policies include spending more on public services like schools and hospitals, scrapping nuclear weapons, renationalising industries like the railways and involving Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah in Middle East peace talks.

The three other more centrist candidates in the race -- Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall -- have struggled to build momentum despite having far stronger support from Labour MPs.

"Corbyn's current popularity has little to do with his own charisma," Andrew Harrop of left-wing think-tank the Fabian Society told AFP.

"He has triumphed because he represents a rejection of conventional politics and also because Labour's mainstream candidates failed to inspire excitement or hope."

- Jagged rocks below? -

Despite the "Corbynmania" of his grassroots campaign, some warn that his leadership would split Labour and consign the party to electoral oblivion for the immediate future.

"The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff's edge to the jagged rocks below," Blair, Labour's most electorally successful leader who is now deeply unpopular over Iraq, wrote last month.

Kendall, seen as a Blairite, says she would not serve in Corbyn's shadow ministerial team if asked, while other prominent Labour figures are expected to do the same.

And some Labour MPs are already talking about getting rid of Corbyn as soon as possible after he takes power. "I would give him about 12 months if he does become leader," one, Simon Danczuk, told LBC radio last month.

Eunice Goes, author of a forthcoming book about Labour's last leader, Ed Miliband, whose resignation after losing May's general election triggered the contest predicted that Corbyn would be "torn apart by his parliamentary party and the media".

Even if he does somehow manage to keep his party together, few believe Corbyn would be elected prime minister at Britain's next general election in 2020 as his ideas are well left of the political mainstream.

For many of Corbyn's supporters, that barely seems to matter.

"For the first time in a long time, I feel there is somebody representing me, my family and the wider world," said Gill Whisson, a 55-year-old gardener from south London, after Corbyn's final rally Thursday night.

© 2015 AFP

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