In yet another unprecedented week for the country, it would be easy to let another milestone pass us by: the final appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions for outgoing Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn, whose replacement as Leader is set to be announced at the end of next week, has had political epitaphs written about him for years, having lost two elections, most of his shadow cabinet, and a national referendum (but, they did win the argument, didn’t they?).
Corbyn’s Labour will likely go down in history as a great failed experiment. A huge coterie of passionate devotees provided a groundswell of support for the unlikely candidate in 2015, who had little backing from most of his PLP colleagues. Radical ideas were brought to the mainstream but there were so many that it was difficult to know what Labour was putting forward or would prioritise. During the election, ideas were championed on one day and forgotten the next. Too often Corbyn looked into the party and not out to the country. Throughout his tenure, battles raged on about key issues like where each Labour MP appeared on a spectrum of ‘core’ to ‘hostile’ to the Dear Leader.
Darker elements of his tenure should not be forgotten either. The scourge of antisemitism that split the party time and time again, forcing out Jewish members and others, some of whom went on to found their own ill-fated spin off party; the aloofness during the 2016 EU Referendum and subsequent hand wringing over an identifiable Brexit policy; and his being ‘present but not involved’ with countless radical groups.
So, what will Corbyn’s legacy be? He has undoubtedly changed his party. It consistently has 500,000-600,000 members, the largest number for several decades. Corbyn’s policy agenda is also weaved intrinsically into the party – anti-austerity, more interventionist and planted on the left. Much will be likely to endure regardless of who takes over as the new leader, including frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer. At his last PMQs, Corbyn declared he ‘will not be stilled’ and will ‘still be campaigning’, which means he probably will not be retiring quietly (when Labour was in government, he broke the whip more than any other Labour MP).
But, Corbyn surely wouldn’t have thought ‘his legacy’ would be a programme that the Government is currently undertaking. It must be beyond what he could have dreamed. To look around the country as it stands is to behold Corbyn-land: a place where trains are nationalised, NHS workers treated like demigods and the state is directing economic sectors. However, it will be left to his successor on how to respond ahead – criticise or commend the Government’s approach.