Meet Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected head of Britain’s Labour Party. He will lead the opposition to the Tory government of David Cameron until the next elections, and he’s probably more like Sen. Bernie Sanders than any other American politician of any prominence.

He doesn’t look the part any more than Sanders does, either.

Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in north London. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

See if he sounds a little different on foreign policy:

It is clear, too, that the prime minister will soon again be asking us to bomb Syria. That won’t help refugees, it will create more.

Isis is utterly abhorrent and President Assad’s regime has committed appalling crimes. But we must also oppose Saudi bombs falling on Yemen and the Bahraini dictatorship murdering its democracy movement, armed by us.

Our role is to campaign for peace and disarmament around the world.

Either that’s a recipe for permanent irrelevancy for Labour or the beginning of a very new chapter in Britain’s role in the Middle East.

He’s also completely opposed to austerity measures, which probably explains his stunning upset victory over three mainstream opponents.

For the Conservatives, the deficit is just an excuse to railroad through the same old Tory agenda: driving down wages, cutting taxes for the wealthiest, allowing house prices to spiral out of reach, selling off our national assets and attacking trade unions. You can’t cut your way to prosperity, you have to build it: investing in modern infrastructure, investing in people and their skills, harnessing innovative ideas and new ways of working to tackle climate change to protect our environment and our future.

That kind of rhetoric sounds basically like the Democratic Party under Barack Obama, but the Labour Party establishment is reacting to this victory like scalded cats:

This is not about mere differences in political opinion. No-one likes it when their candidate loses, just as others do not when their football team does. But today is about much, much more than that.

My team, and that of thousands of friends and colleagues, has just somehow jumped from the Premier League into the Third Division, with little chance of promotion for at least a decade.

Those of us who backed Liz Kendall for leader would have accepted Yvette Cooper. We would have, perhaps more grudgingly, accepted Andy Burnham, although neither would probably have won in 2020.

But Corbyn? Words fail me.

Today there is a howl of anguish, not just from the party’s centrists but from all those who understand the slow, grinding slog of making a party respectable in order to win power. It takes years to win that respect, but you can lose it in a day.

This is one of those days.

Hyperbole? Well, it’s gets more panicked.

Following the train wreck of this year’s election defeat, today Labour is sucking its collective thumb and rocking catatonically. Like some post-trauma patient, it has retreated into a nice, secure bubble, hermetically sealed off from the views of the public its politicians aspire to serve. YouGov’s recent polling confirmed the vast gulf between the views and attitudes of the Corbynites, and the British public in general. Labour is saying “la la la, I can’t hear you”.

Imagine: we have just chosen a leader considerably less electable than Michael Foot, after whose election it took Labour seventeen more years to regain power. And before that, the last time it elected a peacenik leader, George Lansbury, it had also been crushed and it was another thirteen years before a Labour leader would again be Prime Minister.

But forget the man himself. Corbyn is not a leader; he has not so much as held junior ministerial or Shadow rank in 32 years in Parliament. It is the fellow-travellers we should worry about, who will take advantage of his “collegiate” leadership to push their own, even-harder-left agendas on his behalf. Purges and de-selections of the politically impure are not an exaggeration: they are a likelihood.

We know, because we have been here before, in the 1980s. Right now, the party has little to look forward to but an extended period as a glorified protest movement. As it was then, when Corbyn first entered Parliament, but worse. And that is, frankly, if it survives at all.

How did we ever get here? Put simply, those who voted were either too young to know the 1980s, or too foolish to realise that they were the desperate nadir and not the zenith of the party.

No, Labour has had no darker hour in my lifetime. Or my parents’.

Against that, we have a lot of new people who have been brought into the British political process. Here’s how Corbyn put it:

Labour’s leadership election has been an extraordinary demonstration of grassroots democracy and public participation, which has turned the conventional wisdom about politics on its head. We have drawn in hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds from across the country, far beyond the ranks of longstanding activists and campaigners.

Who can now seriously claim that young people aren’t interested in politics or that there is no appetite for a new kind of politics?

Above all, it has shown that millions of people want a real alternative, not business as usual, either inside or outside the Labour party.

So, which is it? A genuine movement towards peace and economic justice or a political party completely out of touch with the values of the Empire?

Or both?

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