The new politics
With Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning ascent to the leader of the second largest party in Parliament, it might be easy to assume Labour will be a non-entity in elections for some time to come. Certainly, that is the feeling of most of the chattering classes, with plenty of references to Labour’s ‘suicide’ in appointing the long-time rebel to the top job.
Few inside Westminster give him any chance of gathering enough support outside his left-wing fanbase to mount a credible and effective assault on Number 10 in 2020. And the early signs have not been particularly encouraging for his party, either. In his first week in charge, when Labour should have been rallying round to target government welfare cuts and frame the debate of the ‘new politics’ versus the ‘nasty party’, all the headlines centred around Corbyn’s apparent refusal to sing the national anthem.
Nonetheless, everyone with an interest in politics – and particularly the business community – should take note of his triumph. The mere fact he is in control of the second largest party in Westminster will give him a platform, and while he may never lead the country his actions could well leave a lasting impression on it.
Nowhere is this more obvious than on the issue of Europe. Many in the infrastructure community understandably roll their eyes when it comes to the referendum, recognising that European companies and individuals have long played an important role in British infrastructure. What happens to them in the event of a so-called Brexit?
The orthodoxy, since prime minister David Cameron confirmed he would hold an in-out referendum on the EU, has been that the main political parties would all campaign in favour of remaining in.
But Corbyn’s rise to power changes that. There are growing murmurings that he could opt to campaign to take Britain out of Europe, and that in itself could significantly change the course of the debate.
Similarly, Corbyn’s approach on a number of issues – from housing (a target in his first Prime Minister’s Questions this week) to his anti-austerity stance – will force the government to respond in different ways than perhaps it might have against a different opponent. Whether that results in more, or less, opportunities for the infrastructure community in the UK will depend to a large extent on how strident the voices who got Corbyn into power remain in the weeks and months ahead.
The 66-year-old, who has spent over 30 years as an MP without ever holding a top job in the Labour party until now, will have to hope his supporters have as much staying power as he has.