To the shock and surprise of mainstream political commentators, Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing Labour MP, has emerged as the clear winner in the first televised Labour leadership hustings. The Blairites are becoming concerned by the popularity of Corbyn’s anti-austerity message and the possibility that he could actually win the leadership contest.
To the shock and surprise of mainstream political commentators, Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing Labour MP, has emerged as the clear winner in the first televised Labour leadership hustings. 82% of respondents on an online poll by the Daily Mirror considered Jeremy to have won the debate. Even the arch Tory paper, the Daily Telegraph was forced to admit he ‘wowed the audience with his Left-wing agenda’.
Headache for the Blairites
Following his last minute inclusion on the ballot paper, Jeremy’s campaign for Labour leader has quickly gathered momentum. At the time of writing, over 25,000 have ‘liked’ the “Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader” Facebook page. Many have written on the page, indicating that they will be joining the party or becoming an official supporter (for £3) in order to vote for Jeremy. Meanwhile, ASLEF, the train drivers union, has given its official backing to Corbyn’s candidature, with general secretary Mike Whelan stating that, “Jeremy understands what Labour has to do to win back the hearts, the minds, and the votes of ordinary working people in Britain.”
Originally, the veteran left-wing MP was considered by the media to have only an outside chance of winning, given 100-1 odds to become Labour leader. Then, before the first leadership debate, the odds of a Corbyn victory stood at 16-1. Following Jeremy’s performance, however, Ladbrokes shortened the odds further to 12/1.
The Blairites within the Labour Party are now seriously concerned at the prospect of a Corbyn victory. Under pressure from below for a left-wing Labour leadership candidate, a number of Labour MPs lent their nominations to Jeremy so that he could reach the 35 MP threshold and get on the ballot. Now the right-wing Labour careerists will be ruing this decision.
Ironically, the changes to the voting system for the Labour leadership contest could actually end up working in favour of Jeremy. The reduction of the trade union vote and move to one-member-one-vote, along with the introduction of registered supporters, was designed to dilute down the weight of the unions and Labour activists in the leadership election, and thus strengthen the hand of the Blairites.
However, the Labour bureaucracy underestimated the significant left-wing mood and desire for change that exists in wider society, which is not necessarily reflected at this stage inside the party. Hence, by allowing people to vote in exchange for a simple one-off £3 affiliation fee, Labour have actually made it easier for people to push the party to the left. At the same time, the recent changes have also reduced the weight of the MPs’ vote, which could normally be relied upon to support a right-wing candidate (such as David Miliband, the 2010 leadership election).
Given their diminished role in the leadership election, it is all the more important that the other major unions come out in support of Corbyn. With the exception of ASLEF, the other big trade union leaders have remained silent on the question of the Labour leadership contest. With millions of members between them, Unite, Unison, and GMB could play a decisive role in ensuring a Corbyn victory – the only candidate who would truly fight for the unions, their members, and working people everywhere.
Ivory towers and echo chambers
The wider bourgeois establishment are now also beginning to be worried by these latest developments and the actual possibility of a Corbyn victory. Initially, both Blairites and Tories alike considered Corbyn to be a harmless subject of ridicule; a political outsider whose principled left-wing stance would never resonate with either Labour supporters or the wider public – hence reports of Tories signing up as Labour supporters in order to vote for a Corbyn, a potential leader who they consider would make Labour “unelectable”.
But now ridicule has become concern, and the right-wing press are waking up to the fact that Corbyn is a serious threat to be reckoned with. As a result, the left-wing Labour MP has begun to be attacked by Murdoch-owned the Sun (who described him as a “terrorist-loving leftie”) and other such mouthpieces of the capitalists.
The bourgeois political commentators, not to mention the Blairite careerists, cannot comprehend how Corbyn’s left-wing message has managed to find such an echo. Living in their ivory towers, and completely acclimatised to the pro-capitalist echo-chamber of the establishment, they are completely out of touch with the real mood in society. As John Wight writes in the Huffington Post:
“Their ire reflects discomfort at the airing of ideas that run counter to the cosy consensus that has prevailed for far too long when it comes to the economy and the role of government. For ‘them’ the economy should be a tyrant rather than a servant, its role to punish poverty rather than end it, wherein moral virtue is ascribed to unfettered wealth rather than its taxation and redistribution for the common good.
“The manner in which Jeremy Corbyn and the ideas he stands for have been patronised and dismissed is instructive. In so doing, however, ‘they’ – this smug commentariat – merely evince the complacency of those sitting on top of a mountain that is about to erupt with the volcanic rage of millions whose lives have been reduced to a daily struggle against unremitting despair as destitution threatens.
“The huge disparity in wealth and power that exists today in British society has created an chasm in outlook, with the decimation of Labour in Scotland irrefutable evidence of an end to politics as usual. Decades of Thatherite nostrums, embraced by both Tories and Labour alike, has left millions marginalised and effectively disenfranchised, yet going by the response of the Labour Party hierarchy to the party’s humiliating defeat at the last general election, you would think they were living in a parallel universe.”
Anti-austerity message resonates
Whilst the bourgeois press were stunned by Corbyn’s success in Wednesday evening’s televised hustings, Jeremy’s triumph in the debate comes as no surprise to us. Mirroring Nicola Sturgeon’s success prior to the election, it was Jeremy’s anti-austerity message that resonated most with the audience, not the vapid soundbites of the other contenders.
On the question of Labour’s annihilation in Scotland at the hands of the SNP, Corbyn asserted that, “Our fundamental mistake in Scotland was the Better Together campaign – when we joined up with the Tories instead of promoting our own Labour values and what we would want for a more radical Scotland in the future.” Elsewhere in the debate, Jeremy stood firm – and stood out – by opposing suggestions that Labour needed to be harsher in addressing issues such as immigration, benefits, and austerity.
Distancing himself from the legacy of New Labour, criticising Blair for “the promotion of markets rather than the planned economy”, and calling for a “more radical” economic programme than the anti-austerity SNP, Corbyn stood out sharply against the right-wing candidates with their Tory-lite message. Whenever he questioned the massive rise in homelessness or condemned the war in Iraq, his points were met with huge applause from the audience in the Tory constituency of Nuneaton, while the reaction to three Blairite candidates ranged from lukewarm to outright hostility.
This reflects the reality that the majority of the population stand to the left of Labour on many issues, as underlined by countless polls that show mass support for policies such as rent controls and nationalisation of the energy companies and railways. The idea that such left-wing policies could be popular is a closed book to the Blairite triumvirate of Burnham, Kendall and Cooper.
Rather than aiming their demands and rhetoric at the millions who voted for the anti-austerity message of the SNP and Greens, or at the millions more who chose not to vote for anyone out of a “plague on both your houses” sentiment, the Blairites are convinced that the key to success is to win over Tory votes, and so all they can talk about is how Labour needs to be ‘responsible’ on the economy – i.e. call for cuts and austerity – and support ‘aspiration’ in order to win. In reality this amounts to little more than supporting the Tories’ programme, with a few cosmetic differences for appearance. Indeed, Liz Kendall, the most Blairite of all the candidates, has even been asked why she isn’t in the Tory Party herself!
The question must be asked to these Blairite candidates, however, (and indeed was asked from the audience in the hustings): how can you win over Tory votes if you offer nothing fundamentally different? Rather than accept the Tory (and UKIP) line that immigrants or benefit claimants play any role in the crisis afflicting the country, Labour must answer the Tories lies and offer a bold socialist alternative. After all, 42% of Tory voters in fact support rent controls, and a majority of Tory and UKIP voters are in favour of nationalising the railways – and yet the Labour Party offered neither policy at the last election. Surely such people could be won to a Labour Party putting forward a radical programme to address the housing crisis and take transport and utilities into public ownership?
Looking for a genuine alternative
Indeed, it was clear that many of the audience who spoke were to the left of Labour, yet did not vote for them. The first question of the hustings was from a former Labour supporter who asked how Labour can move past Blair’s legacy and recapture its routes. Another audience member commented that benefit claimants were scapegoated and the real enemy were the corporations who didn’t pay their tax.
But perhaps most interesting was a fireman who described how his profession was facing savage cuts, along with the rest of the public sector. He didn’t think that Labour would stop these cuts, so he voted UKIP as a protest. Only Jeremy’s left-wing, anti-austerity programme can appeal to these voters.
The Blairite position of Burnham, Kendall and Cooper flows not from mere ideology and careerism, but from a commitment to the maintenance of the capitalist system. The bourgeoisie and their media flunkies demand support for cuts as a necessary condition for the continuation of the capitalist system, and the current Labour leaders happily comply. As Jeremy explained in his powerful opening statement:
‘We have been cowed by powerful commercial interests, frightened of the press, frightened to stand up for what we absolutely believe in.’
The global crisis of capitalism has reduced the living standards of millions of Britons whose lives have been reduced to a daily struggle for a decent life amidst poverty wages, sky-high rents and bread-line benefits. The situation is ripe for an explosion. Jeremy’s aim should be to put forward a programme that could channel this discontent into a movement for fundamental change.
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When asked what the most important economic objective is, Jeremy replied: “The most important thing is to ensure our community has a health service, an education service, that people are housed.”
We agree: an economy planned to meet the needs of the many and not the few must be the ultimate objective of the labour movement. But we have to be clear about how that can be achieved. For example, Jeremy talks of raising corporation tax as a means of funding these aims; but the experience of Hollande in France – who capitulated from his “tax-the-rich” promises, and has instead carried out cuts and austerity – demonstrates the limitations of taxation alone.
In this epoch of endless economic crisis, the capitalist system cannot provide basic progressive reforms and demands, such as full employment, a job for all, and a living wage; indeed, even the reforms won in the past – such as the welfare state and the NHS – are being taken away and attacked.
The wealth necessary to fulfil the needs of working people, the unemployed and the poor exists in society, yet it is controlled by a tiny minority. What is necessary is to take control of this wealth, putting into public ownership and democratic control, as the first step in the construction of a socialist planned economy. Only on that basis can Jeremy’s noble aims be achieved.