Jeremy Corbyn’s emphatic win to become leader of the Labour party could divide the party’s MPs but boost its grassroots power, commentators said on Sunday.
The veteran socialist’s victory with 59.5 percent of the vote also marks a break with the legacy of controversial former prime minister Tony Blair and his centrist “New Labour” movement of the 1990s.
“Death of New Labour,” read a front-page headline in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
“Labour isn’t dead, Blairism is. Jeremy Corbyn finally killed it,” the pro-Conservative weekly said, adding that Corbyn had defeated “boring Blairites”.
“Red and Buried” crowed a headline in the right-wing Mail on Sunday but the socialist Morning Star daily hailed the result saying: “Jeremy Storms to Victory”.
The paper noted that Corbyn had achieved a better result than Blair, who won the Labour leadership in 1994 with 57 percent.
Guardian columnist Rafael Behr said Blairism was “buried beneath the rubble and a different structural and cultural divide has been revealed”.
“It is between established Labour… and insurgent Labour, a complex hybrid of organised coup by dogged old warriors of the left and spontaneous, organic uprising by idealistic new recruits.”
In a sign of the change of style, Corbyn asked supporters to send in questions to ask David Cameron at Wednesday’s weekly prime minister’s question session in parliament.
Senior Labour figures including former leader Ed Miliband have called for party unity after a result that was hailed by Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain.
Corbyn was starting work Sunday on putting together a shadow cabinet, with several senior Labour figures ruling themselves out of serving under him.
Labour’s new deputy leader, Tom Watson, told BBC television there was “zero chance” of a successful coup against the new chief, saying moderates had to respect Corbyn’s “huge mandate”.
“He wants to build a broad-based party, he wants a front bench that represents all the talents and all the views,” said Watson, whose role involves overseeing party unity.
He said he hoped to persuade Corbyn of the merits of Britain staying within NATO and not going down the path of unilateral nuclear disarmament.
In his victory speech on Saturday, Corbyn welcomed the thousands of new supporters that his campaign has drawn in and reached out to “disillusioned” former Labour members who had returned to the party.
But there were many stony faces at Saturday’s Labour Party conference where the result was announced.
David Blunkett, a former minister under Blair, complained he had been heckled after the event by someone who told him: “Corbyn in, Blairites out!”.
Another former Blair minister, Margaret Beckett, warned in a BBC radio interview: “Divided parties do not win power.
“To change things you have to have power. Speaking, demonstrating, marching doesn’t really change very much,” she said, in an apparent reference to Corbyn’s long record of protest politics.
Many commentators, however, noted the vibrancy behind a Corbyn campaign that successfully harnessed the power of protest movements and social media.
“A genuine buzz and excitement has surrounded the election of a British political leader,” Dan Hodges wrote in Daily Telegraph, although he concluded the result would be “suicide”.
Corbyn was a dissenter against New Labour and a co-founder of the Stop the War movement which organised Britain’s biggest ever march against Blair’s drive to take part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The 66-year-old has said he now wants to apologise for Britain’s role in the war. Blair warned ahead of the vote that Corbyn would be an “electoral disaster”.
Labour was in power under Blair and his successor Gordon Brown between 1997 and 2010, with Blair winning three consecutive general elections.
But Laurie Penny, writing in the New Statesman magazine, said New Labour figures were part of “a political class that chose power over principles long ago”.
“The paradox is delicious. For the first time in years, Labour is popular and interesting, but apparently it would rather not be,” she said.