Dan Hodges of the Mail urged Labour to kill the vampire Jeremy. His former Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn called Corbyn a ‘good and decent man’ but not a ‘leader’ and Cameron compared him to the, ‘it’s just a flesh wound’, black knight from Monty Python. He’s thus far rode out the attempted MP coup, with the plotters being described by his right hand man John McDonnell as ‘fucking useless’, and finds himself automatically on the ballot for his second leadership election in under a year. The Islington North MP still lies at the head of the party shaping Labour’s future; battling for Labour’s soul and, crucially, winning.
The leadership election comes at a time when British politics has major stories at every turn. In her first speech as Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May seemed to hit all the notes required to deliver a premiership of the much talked about one nation and compassionate conservatism. To make Britain a country that ‘works’ she outlined the need to tackle the injustices of inequality in the UK based on factors such as race and class. However, Robert Hutton (@robdothutton) highlighted ‘Worth remembering that Thatcher in 1979 didn’t say: “Where there are mines, may we bring strikes.”
Similar to May, Cameron in 2010 claimed his government would be built on ‘values of freedom’ and ‘fairness.’ In fact both in coalition and as a majority government the Tories have continued to make those at the bottom pay for the 2008 financial crisis, pursuing austerity policies that have both hampered growth and dragged down the standard of living for so many. They’ve been the government of the bedroom tax hitting poorer UK families unfairly hard whilst cutting the 50% top rate for taxpayers earning more than £150,000 to 45%. Cameron’s ‘big society’ policies oversaw the creation of 1,068,411 more foodbanks in Britain whilst his chancellor celebrated the collection of a measly £130 million of taxes from Google UK (France in comparison sought out £1.3 billion in back taxes). In George Osbourne’s 2010 spending review he set out government plans for £6 billion worth of cuts, the exact same amount of money it was deemed Vodafone did not have to pay HM Revenue and Customs in taxes. The Tories will always be a wolf in sheep’s clothing; May talks about social justice but, as Angus Robertson of the SNP put it, she has put in place ‘one of the most right wing cabinets in the modern era.’
A rhetorical claim for the centre ground by May seems at first glance a worry for traditional Labour. May, as Andrew Neil put it (@afneil), sounds like she has ‘parked her tanks on Ed Miliband’s lawn’. If David Cameron can successfully convince enough people that deep public sector cuts is the conduct of a party adopting the ‘centre ground’ then the new PM can certainly follow in these footsteps. The Conservatives have taken a strong ideological view on the economy and will continue to push the Labour broke it so we will fix it line – whilst in real terms creating an ever more unequal society. For that very reason Labour need a clear and distinct message – and that is why Labour need Jeremy Corbyn as its leader.
However, Jeremy Corbyn, of course, holds views that automatically make him unelectable and his politics would see the end of Labour. This is despite consistent polling showing public support for the nationalisation of the railways and other utilities, increasing the minimum wage and increasing the top rate of tax paid by those earning over £150,000. Some of his flagship policies have polled extremely successfully to those who have left Labour to vote for UKIP as well. If it has not been noticed traditional social democratic parties across Europe, and further afield, are failing with the momentum lying with those parties holding similar views to Corbyn rather than Owen Smith of the centre/centre-left. By both adopting the neo-liberal agenda and attempting to broaden its appeal, social democratic parties (Labour, Parti Socialiste, PSOE and the PD) have ignored its core and traditional voters. On top of this has been the likes of New Labour in the UK and Renzi in Italy continually holding a level of contempt for the trade union movement. This anger has turned people away from these traditionally left parties leading to positive upsurges on the further left with Podemos and Syriza but sadly also the right with UKIP and the National Front.
In the context of the Labour party the search for the centre under Blair and acceptance of austerity-lite after the crash has seen UKIP making surges in the North and its near demolition in Scotland. Labour needs to reconnect with its core before it can look to connect with the wider public. For Labour to get its message out and start the recovery it needs its activists, members and support of the trade unions, all of which largely support Corbyn’s campaign. If he is toppled by the plotters they will find no base to campaign, rally and fight for them. As Paul Mason wrote (https://medium.com/mosquito-ridge/corbyn-the-summer-of-hierarchical-things-ab1368959b80#.gdmykhlhc) ‘if we get it right Labour could become’…’a mass, democratic and participatory opposition to the rule of the 1%’.
183,451 people paid £25 to register as Labour supporters in 48 hours (The total Conservative membership is in the region of 150,000). In very practical terms the debate Labour is having is inspiring people to pay up to vote which in turn helps aide an ongoing financial problem in the party – the simple maths shows the registered supporters paying £25 has put over £4.5 million into Labour’s pocket. Corbyn is the figure head but not the be all and end all. The movement that he is inspiring will shape the Labour party for the better. Brexit showed over half the country are so disconnected from the political system that they flat out rejected the status quo and the ongoing advice of technocrats. Labour members don’t want a closed parliamentary Labour party and the wider public are fed up of the Westminster and international elite. Its time for Labour to be the party to bring participation in politics back to the people. Through surges from the bottom up things can change: the 250,000 homes needed to be built each year, increased opportunities to all in society and a break down of the rule by the 1% over the masses with greater regulation on the financial sector.
First past the post and boundary changes will make it hard for any Labour leader to regain power in the UK, but a centrist, like Owen Smith, will leave it dead in the water. The erosion of the core must be held back, the members must be encouraged to campaign and a ideas of a different politics must be spread. Labour cannot forget its roots, cannot ignore the ongoing catastrophic failures of the economic system and cannot be thrown into the dustbin of history. Free market ideas of Hayek and Freidmen were once seen as outcast as the post war consensus reigned supreme – now free market neo-liberalism is the only game in town in the UK, and it is coming apart at the seams. If a consensus can be created that hurts people one can be created that helps people. Politics can be for the 99%. In his own words, Corbyn can be the ‘leader of the Labour party that turns us into a force to change economic justice, opportunities and hope in are society’.