Anti-Austerity Corbyn Favorite as Labour Prepares to Name Leader

The U.K. opposition Labour Party names its new leader Saturday, with a 66-year-old hard-line socialist the favorite to win.

Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent his 32 years in Parliament on the fringes of the Labour Party, has gone from the 200-to-1 outsider to runaway favorite to succeed Ed Miliband, amid a surge of people signing up to support the party following its election defeat on May 7.

Also running are former Health Secretary Andy Burnham, former Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. None was able to sign up to Corbyn’s total rejection of the Conservative government’s austerity program. Corbyn has also called for the nationalization of energy companies and the railways, opposes Britain’s nuclear-weapons program and says the Bank of England should create money to fund infrastructure spending.

Corbyn has the support of less than 15 percent of Labour members of Parliament, and having voted against his party hundreds of times, he may struggle to unite them. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has already set about painting him as a risk to both economic and domestic security.

“You need a good opposition to hold the government to account,” Cameron said during a visit to Leeds, northern England, on Friday. “I just hope that we’re not going back to a whole lot of arguments we had in the 1980s. He does sound a bit like that.”

The Tories surprised everyone, including themselves, by winning a parliamentary majority, while Labour suffered one of its worst ever results. Miliband immediately resigned. Research among voters afterward found they thought him an unconvincing leader and said they worried he would spend too much.

‘Political Upset’

As Labour activists prepared for the announcement in central London, bookmaker Ladbrokes Plc were describing the prospect of a Corbyn victory as “the greatest upset in political betting history.” William Hill Plc were offering odds of 1/12, or a one-pound ($1.5) profit for every 12 pounds bet, and 4/7 on him winning in the first round of voting.

Under Labour leadership rules, a candidate requires more than 50 percent of the vote to win. If no one does, the second preferences of eliminated candidates are redistributed until a victor emerges.

A victory for Corbyn would signal a further retreat from the free-market policies that helped Tony Blair win three successive general elections. Blair himself has warned that Labour risks “annihilation” under Corbyn.

It’s a shift seen across Europe in recent years, from Syriza in Greece to Spain’s Podemos, as working-class voters deserted center-left parties after the financial crisis forced governments to slash public-sector jobs and benefits.

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