Great Britain

The slow rise and swift fall of Jeremy Corbyn – from the fringes to the very top of Labour and back again

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or most of his 37 years as an MP, Jeremy Corbyn was in the wilderness inside his own party. Now, after unexpectedly being at the very top of the Labour Party for the past five years, he is back on the margins to which is he accustomed.

I first came across Corbyn at the Labour conference of 1981, one of the most dramatic in its history. A left-right struggle came to a head in an election for the deputy leadership, with the incumbent Denis Healey challenged by left-winger Tony Benn. Corbyn, then a trade union official and Haringey councillor, worked on his hero Benn’s campaign and was his warm-up act at a series of packed, electric fringe meetings. It was a high water mark for the left but not quite high enough: Healey defeated Benn by 50.4 per cent to 49.6 per cent.

When Labour then moved to discipline members of the Trotskyist Militant tendency group, Corbyn was in the forefront of the opposition as convenor of the “stop the witch hunt” campaign. Although he was not a member of Militant or other far-left factions, this was an early display of the tolerance towards fellow left-wingers that would later cost him dearly when it came to the issue of antisemitism.

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