Monday, September 14, 2015

Corbyn and the Labour movement

by John Pickard

The Corbyn campaign and leadership election victory are unprecedented in more than a generation. Even at the height of the swing to the left of the Labour Party in the early 1980s, when Tony Benn came within a whisker of being elected deputy leader of the Labour Party, there were none of the enthusiastic and youthful mass meetings we have seen around the Corbyn campaign. It is even arguable that it would be necessary to go back to the 1930s to find a similar phenomenon.

Adding up all the mass rallies, the overflows and street meetings, hundreds of thousands of the best workers and youth have listened to Jeremy Corbyn personally. It is completely unprecedented in the history of the British or European labour movement – perhaps in the world – that 500,000 workers and youth should consciously involve themselves in the direct election of the leader of a workers’ party. Moreover, despite the overwhelming hostility of the press, the media and using all the prestige of the former leadership they can muster, the right-wing were unable to block a Corbyn victory. Threats of legal action and scare-tactics about ‘entryists’ had little effect and the more the right wing cried ‘disaster’ the more support went to Corbyn.

His final vote of 60 per cent, with a majority in every section of the voters, was a crushing defeat for the right wing. The most openly Blairite candidate got less than 5 per cent of the vote – if it had been a Parliamentary contest, Liz Kendal would have lost her deposit. Breaking down the figures into the three voting sections, it is clear that the further removed from full Labour Party membership one goes, the greater support Corbyn got. In the full membership section he got 122,000 votes, (50%), among affiliated TU members he got 41,000 (58%) and among registered supporters he got 89,000, an astonishing 84% of the votes. This is an indication that the average Labour voter is more to the left than the Labour Party membership. Altogether, more than a quarter of a million voted for Corbyn. There is no precedent for this in the whole history of British politics. This is a phenomenal result, and an indictment of the whole policy of New Labour over two decades.

This election demonstrates what the Marxists have been arguing all along, that the Parliamentary Labour Party is completely, comprehensively and utterly out of touch with the huge majority of Labour members and supporters.

The day after the result was announced, the general secretary of the Labour Party tweeted that 15,500 had joined the Party in the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 325,000, a figure far higher than it ever was under the leadership of Blair, Brown or Miliband. In fact more people voted for Jeremy Corbyn than there had been members only a few months ago.

In a somewhat muted form, the same tidal wave that brought Corbyn to the Labour Party leadership catapulted Sadiq Khan into the position of Labour candidate for the London mayoralty and Tom Watson into the deputy leadership position. In London, Khan’s radicalism was more muted and less clear-cut than the anti-austerity message of Jeremy Corbyn, but he still won in the final round with 59 per cent of the vote against Tessa Jowell, who was seen as the candidate of the old leadership ‘establishment’.

In the deputy contest, Tom Watson, who had the backing of the biggest unions, won on the third ballot with over 50 per cent against his next two nearest rivals. Tom Watson does not have the overwhelming endorsement and the moral authority of Jeremy Corbyn. But nevertheless, the Press and Labour's Right Wing will build up Watson as a counter-weight to the leader. Watson has already stressed that he has his own “mandate” as elected deputy and went on TV the day after the election result to declare his support for renewing Trident – despite the fact that the scrapping of Trident was a corner-stone of Corbyn’s election victory.

Tom Watson will be the focus of the enormous pressure from the Parliamentary Party –the big majority of whom detest Corbyn and his policies – to ‘tone down’ polices and interpret them in a more ‘reasonable’ manner. He will be the transmission belt for the pressure to water down all the radicalism of the Corbyn campaign, once the new leader begins to work. Tom Watson will be praised and puffed up and he will be contrasted, as 'statesmanlike' and 'reasonable' compared to the 'hard left' and 'unelectable' Corbyn. In the short term, he is the only hope the right wing have got. In the meantime, they will be conspiring and engineer a new election.

The most far-sighted and able commentators in the capitalist press understand perfectly well what ‘Corbynism’ represents. As one commentator in the Financial Times put it:

“In many respects, the big surprise of the populist insurgency is that it has not been bigger. In another age, the 2008 crash might have triggered a revolution.  Instead, Mr Corbyn and his fellow travellers are now capturing the seething popular resentment. They do not have answers. Many simply preach hatred of the outsider. They have understood, though, that something has to give.”

The majority of the Tory press, of course, will be doing their best to undermine Corbyn from the beginning, aided and abetted by Labour’s right wing. On the Monday after the election, the Daily Mail and Daily Express were screaming headlines to frighten their readers, about Corbyn including supporters of the IRA in his team and disbanding the army.

On the day after the election result, Labour MPs Simon Danczuk and John Mann were writing in the Mail on Line, of all papers, in such a way as to undermine and belittle Corbyn’s landslide victory.
“Corbyn is on probation”, Danczuk wrote, “…if it does not look as though he is going to lead Labour to victory in 2020, there will be a vacancy. We will have to find someone who can.” John Mann, added his own dose of poison on the same website. “I make no apology,” he wrote, “for being one of the first Labour MPs to say Jeremy Corbyn is not remotely up to the job of leading my party back to power.” These people have always been utterly contemptuous of ordinary Labour members and voters because they think they know best.

But we must be clear, the
Blairites are not yet dead and buried. They are political zombies, the living dead. But like zombies in all the B-movies, they will keep coming back and preying on the living. The Danczuks and Manns of the Parliamentary Labour Party will be gleefully waiting for their opportunity for a new leadership election at the earliest opportunity.

The election of Corbyn is a massive defeat for Labour’s right wing, but it is only the opening battle in a long war to reclaim the Party for Socialism. As Gandalf famously said in Lord of the Rings: "Now it begins"

No comments: