The almost impossible has happened. The left wing rebel MP, Jeremy Corbyn, has been elected to lead the Labour Party. From being an absolute outsider, Corbyn has seen a huge surge in support over recent weeks that has been so great, that he won Labour’s leadership election in the first round. Labour now has its most left wing leader since Michael Foot. Despite Tony Blair’s ability to win elections, he failed to provide many people with hope or social justice. It’s this disillusionment and mistrust of Blairism that fuelled Corbyn’s victory. But how should the Liberal Democrats respond to the Corbyn victory?
If Corbyn is successful in moving Labour to the left, it’ll be the first time in a generation that the entire Liberal Democrats are less left wing than the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats are not a socialist party, we are a liberal party. The distinctive philosophies of democratic socialism and social liberalism will naturally find areas of both agreement and conflict. Liberal Democrats must oppose some of Corbyn’s more left wing policies such as leaving NATO, re-nationalising the energy companies and re-opening the coal mines. In addition, there is some doubt as to whether Corbyn is a pro-European or whether he harbours some of the Euroscepticism of the traditional Old Labour Party.
Although there are some areas of strong disagreement between Jeremy Corbyn and the Liberal Democrats, there is no point in opposing Corbyn for opposition’s sake. The Liberal Democrats could find room for cooperation with Corbyn on policies such as housing, opposing Trident and opposing the welfare cuts. Ultimately, Britain’s progressive parties must work together to oppose Tory policies and to deprive the Conservatives of a majority in 2020.
There will be some in the Liberal Democrats who will believe that the party should return to the centrist position that it adopted during the general election. However just because Labour now has a socialist leader, it doesn’t mean that the centrist strategy that failed only a few months ago will now magically work. In fact quite the opposite is true. The Liberal Democrats are now the only political force left in England to defend centre-left values. Now that Labour is moving away from the centre-left, we in the Liberal Democrats must take advantage of this opportunity and embrace our centre-left liberal heritage.
We Liberal Democrats must reclaim our position as the party of progressive welfare capitalism. We can achieve this by becoming the party of cooperatives and small businesses on the one hand, and the party of Beveridge’s welfare state and Keynesianism on the other. We should have a social liberal economic platform distinctive from Corbyn’s statist socialism and Cameron’s Thatcherism.
With Tim Farron leading the Liberal Democrats and Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party, both parties now have the breathing space to develop their distinctive progressive political philosophies. The revival of liberalism and socialism will enrich our democracy in the face of an increasingly ideological Conservative Party. Where Liberal Democrats disagree with Corbyn, we must oppose him. Where we agree with him, we must work together. Above all, liberalism must reclaim the centre-left; the recovery of the Liberal Democrats depends upon it.