The past week has seen a return to the issue of the Labour Party leadership on many News and Current Affairs features here. Most pundits are predicting that Jeremy Corbyn will be re-elected by the party members, and that he is set to defeat his nondescript opponent, the former pharmaceutical company lobbyist, Owen Smith. Corbyn’s enemies are lining up to bad mouth him, in advance of his probable win.
Many of his fellow Labour members in parliament appear on round table discussions or late-night news programmes, telling anyone who will listen that they will not serve in his cabinet, and are unlikely to support his policies.
The main argument against Corbyn, from both his spiteful colleagues, and the media commentators, is that a party with him in charge is not electable. They claim that the Labour Party will split into yet more factions, and by the time of the next election in 2020, will lose more seats, and cease to be an opposition in all but name. They also claim that the British public does not want further nationalisation of industry, higher taxes to pay for improvements in the NHS, or to see an end to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Those in his party who oppose Corbyn, many of them Blairites and crypto-Tories, are stalking the chat shows like harbingers of doom, foretelling the end of Labour as we know it.
Many of these individuals, and the political reporters they are so keen to talk to, are the same people who claimed that UKIP brought about the vote to leave the EU, and that the voters are so keen to embrace their policies, that they will no longer vote for the Labour Party, and change to UKIP instead. They blame Corbyn for anything they can think of, including the vote to leave. This argument seems desperate to my way of thinking. UKIP has only one MP in parliament, and less than 40,000 members in the party. The former leader, Nigel Farage, remains as an MEP in Europe for the time being, alongside twenty or so other UKIP MEPs who will all be out of a job after Britain leaves the EU. They have around 500 elected local council officers, out of a total of many thousands around the UK, and overall control of only one council in the entire country.
This does not tie in with the level of influence and power that Labour dissidents claim for this minor party of protest voters that will ruin their own party, and see them consigned to the political wilderness for ever. Yet these same people assert that Corbyn cannot galvanize support, or enthuse a nation with his policies, despite the vast power base and traditional working-class vote that the Labour Party seems to be slowly recovering.
Jeremy’s opponents want to have their cake, and eat it. On one hand, they claim that the public wants their pseudo-Tory and business-backed policies, and that socialism is not the way forward. To keep Corbyn as Labour leader will be the end of everything as we know it, they say. But on the other hand, they warn that UKIP, with one MP, can influence the whole nation by a click of its fingers, or a raised eyebrow from Mr Farage.
They can’t have it both ways, I’m afraid.
Despite predictions of a moderate winning the election to become leader of the Labour Party, an outsider has confounded expectations, by becoming the front runner. Jeremy Corbyn has been the M.P. for Islington North in London, since 1983. Before that, he was prominent in Haringey Council. He has always been regarded as a rebel, and to the Left of the party line. He lives in his constituency, takes little money for expenses, and espouses causes, both domestic, and international.
During his political career, he has campaigned in favour of nuclear disarmament, and the dissolution of The House of Lords. He supports re-nationalisation of the railways, equal rights and pay for workers, and the return of the six counties to Ireland. He has a long association with the Trade Union movement in the UK and abroad, and once worked for the National Union of Public Employees. On the international stage, he has been outspoken against Israel, and fought for fair treatment of the people in Chile. He is also a well-known for his support of the government in Venezuela, and for his views on animal rights and welfare.
So, his Socialist credentials are fairly sound, it would appear.
If this is the case, why do so many people think that his becoming the leader of the Labour Party would be a disaster? Well for one thing, times have changed. We live in an acquisitive society, overwhelmed by avarice, where selfishness has replaced selflessness. Huge multi-national companies control almost every job, and international financiers control our economy. The politics of the so-called ‘man in the street’ has moved further to the right than ever before, with immigration and terrorism replacing health and education as the main concerns. If this is the case, then the mild-mannered Corbyn is certainly not electable as a leader of the nation. The doomsday scenario is that Labour would return to being a party of the far Left, with an agenda unpopular with almost everyone, save for those who voted for Corbyn.
His opponents claim that Labour would become a minority party; a party of protest, a party that would never again see itself in power. Of course, they are lamenting their own demise, their own inability to achieve that power, whatever the cost to their principles or background. They claim that the opposing parties are delighted, that they want Corbyn to win, so that Labour will lose whatever vestige of power it still clings to. But is politics really only just about winning? Perhaps most people see it that way. I do not.
Corbyn offers at least a partial return to the roots of Socialism in the UK. Nationalisation, equality in education and in the workplace, fair treatment for the poorest in society, as well as the sick and disabled. Ridding the country of nuclear weapons, and tackling the energy crisis. Reopening the mines, closed by spiteful politicians and businessmen as supposedly unprofitable, as a punishment to the miners after the strike. He offers respect to all, regardless of social position, sexuality, or creed, and a chance to rebuild the economy without reliance on invisible industries, or foreign companies.
This might all seem to be just an unworkable ideal, but it is not. It is all possible, if you are brave enough to take on the gainsayers, and conglomerates. It might well be that the time for this has been missed, and all the stories of the Labour Party becoming an anachronism under his leadership are true.
But at least it would restore its honour, and its self-respect.