In Depth

How Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn remodelled their parties

Leaders have dramatically changed the direction of Tories and Labour

In less than 24 hours, around 50,000 polling stations up and down the country will open their doors and Britain will vote for its next government.

Rarely has the choice on offer to voters been so stark, with Boris Johnson’s Brexiteer Conservative Party going up against Jeremy Corbyn’s high-spending Labour Party.

Both leaders have overseen a remodelling of their parties, casting them in their own image and changing their politics.

Boris Johnson

As a leading light of the campaign to leave the European Union, Johnson has overseen a transformation of the Conservatives into the party of Brexit.

As The Guardian reports, former Conservative MP and cabinet minister David Gauke has described Johnson’s Tory party as “Farage-lite”, with Johnson pledging to “get Brexit done” at any cost.

In a symbol of how the party has changed under Johnson, Gauke, alongside 20 other Tory MPs, had the whip removed in September after he backed legislation aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit. The rebels included party grandees and ex-ministers such as Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond, Justine Greening and Dominic Grieve.

One rebel, Guto Bebb, backed the legislation saying: “I will do so knowing that my party’s leader and, sadly, more than a few of its members will regard me as a traitor to the Conservative Party.” Clarke added: “I am a Conservative, of course I am… But this leader, I don’t recognise this. It’s the Brexit Party, rebadged,” iNews reports.

The Times says that Johnson has transformed the party “into the party of Leave”, selecting Conservatives who backed Leave in the 2016 referendum to replace at least 16 Remainer politicians who have left politics or defected to another party.

According to the Financial Times, “Brexit is propelling a profound change in the Conservative party’s electoral base”.

The newspaper notes that under David Cameron the party “blended pro-business credentials with an image of modern, socially progressive conservatism and liberal internationalism”. Under Johnson, however, the “Conservatives have acquired features typical of rightwing populist parties on the continent of Europe”.

Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn’s leadership has swung the Labour Party to the left, undoing almost 20 years of Blairite New Labour consensus.

Since his shock election as leader in 2015 Corbyn has “rebuilt the Labour Party entirely in his image”, according to CNN. “The centrism and pragmatism that gave Tony Blair’s Labour Party a decade in power appears to be gone,” the broadcaster adds.

Corbyn’s Labour is totally opposed to public spending cuts, supports nationalisation of UK utilities and has a distinctly anti-interventionist foreign policy agenda. It also advocates for a high tax, high spend economy, setting it apart from the economic pragmatism of Blair and Gordon Brown.

Like Johnson, Corbyn has removed dissenting figures - such as former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn - from key positions.

As the BBC reports, “it’s certainly true that the party has changed rapidly under Corbyn’s leadership. The levers of power in the party are now controlled by his supporters.”

Jon Lansman, a close ally of Corbyn and the founder of activism group Momentum, told the broadcaster that Corbyn’s leadership “has changed Labour irrevocably”.

“We are never going back to neoliberalism,” Lansman said. “That’s been decided forever – well, for a generation. The party is a fundamentally different party and there is no going back.”

A number of Labour MPs have resigned from the party, citing Corbyn’s leadership and his new direction. When John Woodcock quit in July 2018, he said Labour was “no longer the broad church it has always been”, but had instead been “taken over by the hard left”.

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