‘Outsider’ Corbyn hopes to become PM
Jeremy Corbyn started Britain’s election campaign as a rank outsider, but the opposition Labour leader is riding a surge in support ahead of the June 8 vote.
The 68-year-old socialist stalwart is no stranger to upsetting the odds: his candidacy for the party leadership in 2015 was widely dismissed as having no hope but he swept to a stunning landslide victory. Corbyn is lionized by his leftist grassroots followers but opposed by three-quarters of his MPs, who tried to oust him in 2016.
Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has branded him as weak, shambolic, unfit for office and a risk to Britain’s security and prosperity.
He has come under criticism from right-wing commentators for his apparent failure to condemn the actions of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Northern Ireland conflict. Following three terror attacks in nearly three months, that record has come under scrutiny but Corbyn has defended himself saying he was attempting to negotiate peace.
He has also drawn attention to the axing of 20,000 police jobs under the Conservative government and has promised to create an extra 10,000 officers.
In the election campaign spotlight, he has come across to many as an amiable underdog making a principled stand for the poorest in society. May’s 20-point lead in the polls has been cut down to just one, according to one survey. A lifelong protest politician, his anti-establishment credentials have endeared him to waves of young voters disillusioned with mainstream politics. It would be easy to think Labour started the snap election campaign in April seeing him as a liability rather than an asset.
“Corbyn has fought and won two leadership campaigns in two years, seems to have benefited from that experience and is at least authentic rather than, like Mrs May, robotic,” Tim Bale, a politics professor at Queen Mary University of London, told AFP.
Corbyn survived a live television grilling by interviewer Jeremy Paxman and members of the public, and felt emboldened enough to join in a live seven-way televised leaders’ debate, carrying the Labour message himself.
From an impeccable socialist background, Corbyn worked for trade unions before being elected to the House of Commons in 1983.
He never held major office. Instead he spent decades on the backbenches championing human rights, leftist and anti-war causes, and was a serial rebel against his party’s line. His surprise election as Labour leader in September 2015 came on the back of left-wingers signing up to the Labour party in droves to support him.
Having lost the confidence of most Labour MPs, he faced a leadership challenge in July by little-known MP Owen Smith. However, Corbyn saw him off with an even larger mandate.
He has had to moderate his views for the Labour election manifesto. Britain would retain its monarchy, nuclear deterrent, NATO membership and private retail banks under a Labour government.