Why Labour should vote for Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn’s barnstorming campaign for the Labour leadership is intensifying the fear and panic at the top of a party that is displaying all the signs of fragmentation and a collective nervous breakdown.
The reappearance of former prime minister Tony Blair in order to attack Corbyn will surely add to the growing support for the Labour left-winger. He is already drawing on the latent anger in the party at the way it cosied up to the Tories only to crash in flames on May 7.
Simply by rejecting the politics and economics of austerity, in particular the Tory assault on welfare, and the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons, Corbyn’s stand has highlighted divisions and factions that were sidelined under Ed Miliband’s leadership.
The assumption in all wings of the party, as well as outside in the trade unions, was that Miliband would lead the party to victory and the battle for influence would then be waged around the cabinet table and within the parliamentary party.
Labour’s catastrophic election performance changed all that. The party could easily become irrelevant in terms of never again being able to form a majority government, especially if the Scottish National Party hold on to their gains and/or win a second independence referendum.
As a result, a profound identity crisis is overwhelming Labour and if it looks like a shambles, that’s because it is. Party discipline has all but disappeared, judging by the 48-strong rebellion against acting leader Harriet Harman’s unilateral decision to abstain when Tory welfare cuts legislation came before Parliament for the first time.
Taunted by Tory chancellor George Osborne, the other contenders for the leadership – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall – wavered but finally sided with Harman. They were immediately rounded on by social media activists and, of course, the SNP.
The SNP only half-jokingly has since suggested that the Speaker rearranges the seating in the Commons to show that they and not Labour are the official opposition party to the Tories.
Corbyn’s three rivals for the leadership are all, in one way or another, wedded to a post-New Labour outlook which, in practice, is a warmed over Toryism without the populism that Tony Blair brought to disguise it.
Burnham, Cooper and Kendall essentially accept the accusation that Labour was in some undefined way responsible for the financial crash of 2008. Unable, unwilling and actually totally hostile to the view that it was the crisis of the capitalist system itself that led to the crash, Corbyn’s rivals have adapted to the Tory mantra.
Actually, New Labour did believe that capitalism had miraculously evolved to the point where it was beyond crisis and so pursuing the total deregulation of the banks seemed natural. Only that helped create a financial system where no one, least of all the Bank of England and the Treasury, knew what was going on or if they did, showed no concern.
A similar pattern took shape around the global economy and so the crash had a certain inevitably about it (as does the forthcoming one which will be the result of the rebuilt mountains of debt overhanging the system).
Labour accepted Osborne’s spending cuts and went into the election promising to erase the deficit in a manner that failed to distinguish them from the Tories. Their manifesto include welfare cuts, attacks on migrants and a public sector pay freeze.
Burnham, Cooper and Kendall supported this reactionary programme. Many Labour Party members have clearly had enough of this and see in Corbyn an alternative approach that challenges neo-liberal orthodoxy.
The election was a watershed. Labour supporters deserted in Scotland, stayed at home or switched to Ukip in England while the Tories mobilised the middle-class and older generations, demonising the poor along the way. For Labour to win in 2020 would require a landslide on as great a scale as that of the 1945 election. Once unfavourable boundary changes are taken into account, the task facing Labour is Herculean.
If Corbyn were to win, Labour could set out to distinguish itself from the Tories. Undoubtedly, however, Corbyn’s opponents within the party hierarchy would immediately lead a revolt against him and could even leave and form their own organisation.
All the other candidates will undoubtedly continue along the path that Labour began taking in the mid-1990s – the embracing of market-driven, corporate-led globalisation and its emphasis on privatisation, contracting out, public-private partnerships, attacks on welfare, flexible labour markets and a reactionary foreign policy that includes nuclear weapons.
That was the Blair-Brown response to the fundamental changes in the nature of the global economy that left no room for social-democratic, reformist politics. Labour became New Labour and a party that became the management team for global capital as it operated in the UK.
It proved relatively successful until the 2008 crash, since when governments of this type have enforced austerity or given way to those who will. Once you embrace the system unreservedly, the system demands its price when crisis calls.
While we urge Labour Party members to vote for Corbyn when the ballot opens on August 14, his campaign has a golden opportunity to broaden the debate and discussion beyond the parliamentary sphere into the nature of our society, politics, democracy, constitution and state.
That is given added urgency by what has just happened in Greece. There the anti-austerity Syriza government was driven into the ground by the European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund despite fighting until the bitter end against new austerity measures.
The despised Troika acted as the representatives of capital, financial and corporate. A democratic referendum vote against austerity was simply ignored. Now Syriza is effectively in coalition with right-wing parties and is making new cuts in exchange for a bail-out that is merely a stop gap.
Were there to be a Corbyn-led government, it too would face similar challenges as the corporations and the financial markets moved against it.
Is the lesson from Greece that the Troika somehow has to be made more democratic and accountable to the people? Is that at all possible, even in our wildest dreams? Or is another Europe necessary that works for the people rather than banks and global corporations? How then can we begin to create a democratic Europe that operates for the public good rather than private profit?
Corbyn’s campaign could, for example, ask the following questions:
- As transnational corporations have become more powerful than governments, is the solution to be found in regulatory approaches and tightening up the rules on lobbyists?
- What do you do if the corporations pull out and move elsewhere because they don’t like the tax regime?
- Should the workforce then be encouraged to convert them into co-ops?
- How can we replace shareholder ownership with co-ownership or similar models of democracy?
- How are we to achieve the just and fair society that Corbyn rightly calls for, where public services are well resourced and all workers have a decent standard of living?
- Can it come just through elections to the present Parliament?
- Has representative democracy had its day because the constitution is broken and is beyond reform? Judging by the mass abstentions and lack of enthusiasm for any party, it’s a fair assumption.
- What more direct, participative forms of democracy could take the present system’s place?
Labour’s crisis is as a consequence of the hollowing out of our democracy to the point where the Tories can govern with fewer than 25% of registered voters. Cameron’s party is on the offensive against the rights of workers to organise and take effective strike action; against human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law.
The UK constitution through which the state governs us is broken and the slide is inexorably towards authoritarian, one-party rule that enforces market “solutions” on the rest of society. Corbyn’s campaign could do everyone a great service by raising these and many other questions about the way the state rules over us.
Meanwhile, the media smear campaign against Corbyn fuelled by his opponents is bound to intensify and he will need all the support and solidarity we can muster.
A World to Win editors
22 July 2015