Jeremy Corbyn wins UK Labour leadership on first round

Left-winger succeeds Ed Miliband as party leader with Tom Watson as deputy leader

Left-wing veteran Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the British Labour Party in a stunning victory that marks a dramatic ideological shift for the main opposition party.

The 66-year-old MP, who began his campaign as a 100-1 outsider but struck a chord with left-wing voters and drew huge crowds at his rallies, won the leadership election with 59.5 per cent of the vote. His closest rival in the race to succeed Ed Miliband was Andy Burnham, who won 19 per cent.

Yvette Cooper won 17 per cent while Liz Kendall came last with 4.5 per cent of the vote.

Mr Corbyn’s supporters cheered as the result was confirmed at a special conference in central London this morning.


His resounding success is a repudiation of the centrist policy programme initiated under Tony Blair and a triumph for a grassroots campaign build around opposition to austerity, action on income inequality and a radical-left foreign policy.

Mr Corbyn, a serial party rebel who was relatively unknown outside the party before the campaign, opposes Britain’s nuclear weapons programme, says the Bank of England should print money to fund infrastructure and favours the nationalisation of energy companies and railways.

“There has to be public investment in order to bring about a growing economy,” he told reporters at a triumphant final campaign rally in London on Thursday. “You can’t cut your way to prosperity, you grow your way to prosperity,” he added.

He is a critic of Nato and the proposed EU-US trade deal, TTIP. A longtime anti-war activist, in the 1980s he was a leading figure in campaigns to get the Birmingham Six and other Irish victims of miscarriages of justice in the UK released.

Dismissed by his opponents as unelectable, Mr Corbyn’s first task will be to project a sense of unity in his parliamentary party, where it is estimated he had the support of less than 15 per cent of members.

His victory could mean a wholesale change of personnel at the top of the party, with senior figures including Ms Kendall, shadow chancellor Chris Leslie and shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt already declaring they will not serve in his shadow cabinet.

Mr Corbyn is expected to invite other representatives of the centrist and Blairite factions to join his shadow cabinet.

Conscious of the damage the party could suffer from protracted public dispute, senior Labour figures called for unity in the wake of Mr Corbyn's victory. Tom Watson, who won a separate election for deputy leader this morning, said the party was at "a critical moment" and called on colleagues to come together under the new leadership team.

Only through unity would Labour be able to fight the Conservative Party, he said, adding that Labour was “the last line of defence” for those threatened by David Cameron’s party.

With his low-key, unspun style and his anti-austerity platform, Mr Corbyn attracted support among disillusioned young voters and socialists who had drifted away from the party after nearly two decades battling for the political centre ground.

That, combined with an opening up of the Labour leadership contest to non-party members, saw the MP for North Islington pull ahead of his three rival candidates. He faced two former ministers, Cooper and Burnham, who both campaigned on moderate fiscal platforms similar to Mr Miliband, and Liz Kendall, who made a centrist Blairite pitch.

The likely abandonment of the political centre ground, particularly on the subject of balancing Britain’s books, is seen by many as a gift for the Conservative Party that could herald a prolonged spell in power for the centre-right party.

However, Labour Former mayor of London Ken Livingstone said Mr Corbyn was a "consensual" politician who could rally people around him.

"It will work if Jeremy starts to connect with people," he told BBC Radio. "He is nice and that connects with people. Don't forget, a big factor in John Major's surprise win in 92 was the fact that people thought John Major was nice."

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the Editor of The Irish Times