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Jeremy Corbyn Lost U.K. Election, but Is Still Its Biggest Winner

By Friday afternoon, some of his critics were eating their words.

“He’s had a brilliant campaign,” said Chuka Umunna, a senior member of the Labour Party who was among those openly disgruntled with Mr. Corbyn’s leadership last year. “Jeremy has fought this campaign with enthusiasm, energy, verve, has clearly loved being surrounded in the mix with people. That’s what politics is all about.”

And a striking contrast to Mrs. May, who was roundly criticized as wooden, robotic and manifestly uncomfortable when meeting voters.

When the election campaign started last month, few took the 68-year-old Mr. Corbyn seriously. But his unorthodox path fits a broader pattern of outsiders and, some would say, populists who are shaking up the political center in Western countries from left and right.

A five-time winner of the parliamentary beard of the year, Mr. Corbyn is Britain’s Bernie Sanders, another grizzled firebrand who inspired a generation of young voters to become politicized and, at least this week, turn out to vote. Mr. Corbyn’s fans call themselves Corbynistas.

Some already say that with his rejection of free-market economics and his quiet but more compromising approach to Britain’s exit from the European Union, he might not just change the Labour Party but also shift British politics more broadly.

“This was about millions inspired by a radical manifesto that promised to transform Britain, to attack injustices and challenge the vested interests holding the country back,” wrote Owen Jones, a columnist for The Guardian. “So, yes — to quote a much-ridiculed Jeremy Corbyn tweet: the real fight starts now.”

Mr. Corbyn is a different type of politician, one happier on the campaign trail speaking to fellow activists through a megaphone than debating in the neo-Gothic splendor of the British Parliament with its arcane rules and obscure traditions.

In 2015, after more than three decades as a lawmaker, he had to be persuaded to stand for the party leadership, agreeing only reluctantly and in order to enable the left to present a candidate. No one, not even Mr. Corbyn himself, expected him to win. If ever there were an accidental leader, he is it.

During his 34 years in Parliament, Mr. Corbyn has essentially been in permanent opposition, not just to Mrs. May’s Conservative Party but also to his own Labour Party. He voted against the Iraq invasion, has opposed successive attempts to roll back civil liberties in the fight against terrorism and has long argued against deregulation and free-market reforms.

The biggest problem, he has said, is that since Margaret Thatcher established neoliberalism as the dominant economic consensus in Britain in the 1980s, Labour allowed the Conservatives to set the agenda on the economy and never offered an alternative narrative.

Mr. Corbyn offered that alternative: Under the banner of “For the Many Not the Few,” he vowed to nationalize the railroads, make universities free again and inject billions into the National Health Service by raising taxes on companies and the top 5 percent of income earners.

Yet how he might turn what he called a “good, losing campaign” into a winning strategy remains unclear, said Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.

Labour “bet the farm” on increasing the turnout among young voters by promising to abolish student tuition, at a cost of 11 billion pounds, Mr. Fielding said. “It gave a very tangible retail offer to young voters — the first time young voters have been given this.”

Mrs. May could not compete. When asked to reveal the naughtiest thing she had done as a child, she mentioned annoying a local farmer by running through a field of wheat. Predictably, Twitter users responded with humor and scorn. (On Snapchat, one filter included an image of Mr. Corbyn and the message “Labour Today.”)

Even Mr. Corbyn’s political enemies concede that his politics are principled, with one Conservative lawmaker saying that the Labour leader at least practiced what he preached.

When dozens of lawmakers had to resign over rigging their expense accounts in 2009 and journalists scrutinized the finances of members of Parliament, Mr. Corbyn apparently had the lowest claim of all his colleagues: £8.95 for a printer cartridge. He makes his own jam and rides a bike.

Mr. Corbyn grew up in a political household (his parents met during the Spanish Civil War) and was himself galvanized into activism by the Vietnam War and environmental issues, particularly his opposition to nuclear power — and Britain’s nuclear deterrent policy.

The causes that he has been passionate about are many, including the rights of Palestinians and South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle. But he has also come under fire for showing sympathy over the years to the Irish Republican Army and Hamas, the militant group ruling Gaza that is dedicated to eradicating Israel.

He and his inner circle have been accused of anti-Semitism for their strong criticism of Israel; of a latent anti-Americanism; of wanting to do away with Britain’s nuclear deterrent policy; and of being lukewarm toward NATO — accusations that he denies.

All of that faded into the background on Friday.

Yet while Mr. Corbyn is flying high, he still has not made the case that he can — and, perhaps more important, should — lead the nation.

Mr. Corbyn, said Mr. Fielding, “has rewritten the rules, but he hasn’t won.” The question, he added, was “how viable is a Corbyn approach to winning power, rather than doing well in defeat?”

With his core vote for now still far to the left of Middle England, Mr. Corbyn seems unlikely ever to run Britain. But that may not trouble a man who, almost uniquely among prominent politicians, shows few signs of wanting power, at least in any personal sense.

Asked in a hostile television interview earlier this year whether he truly wanted to be prime minister rather than a “serial protester, objector,” Mr. Corbyn studiously avoided the obvious affirmative reply.

“I want to be in government so that we can conquer the housing crisis in Britain,” he said. “I want to be in government so that people get a real chance in life.”

Source: NYT > World

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