Democracy is all well and good but when the ‘wrong’ person is in danger of winning you have to draw the line somewhere. That staunch democrat, Labour MP John Mann has called on Harriet Harman to ‘halt the contest’. The election is apparently “out of the control” and at risk of being distorted by “infiltrators”. Utilising the eminently democratic institution and friend of Labour, the Sunday Times, Mr Mann said that Harman should step in as “speculation grows” that 140,000 people may have joined the Party since the General Election, just so they could vote for Corbyn. Obviously such an influx of members are for nefarious purposes. How can Labour be so popular after losing the general election? No wonder Mr Mann can smell a rat. In fact NEC member Anne Black has told us that at its July 21st meeting it was reported that since the general election 55,000 people had joined and one third of those were under 30, typically, she said, many were 18 or so. (Download a PDF here corbynarticle or read on below)
Evidence of this “infiltration” cited by the Tory press was that the Communist Party of Great Britain has urged supporters to join to support Corbyn. Maybe the use of the term “party” has confused these ignorant ‘journalists’ who fail to do any research before they write their sensationalist articles. They may have confused the tiny CPGB (probably less than 50 members) with the Communist Party of Britain. At any rate the latter, which produces the Morning Star, has issued a statement to its members calling on them not to join up to support Corbyn because it will be used against him.
Meanwhile Andy Burnham echoed the concerns of John Mann that some of these interlopers want to “break up the Labour Party”. Burnham is worried that if he is not elected then the party will split.
I’m not aware of any of the candidates opposing the introduction of the rule whereby supporters would be able to vote for Labour leader. I guess they never imagined that left wingers would want to. After all there was an attempt to set the bar for nominations at a level which would prevent any candidate on the left of the party reaching the threshold. Now, after Corbyn managed to pass the threshold, some of those who nominated him are worried that he might win. No wonder Margaret Becket agreed with some Blair ‘adviser’ that she was a moron!
There are, it should be said, some people on the left who are privately worried that Corbyn might win since this would tend to draw people into the Labour Party and put the kibosh on attempts to build a left wing alternative. The Telegraph is so ignorant that it even suggests that the Militant tendency (today the Socialist Party) is sending people in. They have in fact long since declared the Labour Party dead.
The biggest problem for Labour opponents of Jeremy Corbyn is that once he passed the nomination hurdle there was bound to be a debate on policy and direction for the Labour Party. The other three candidates reflect the political disorientation of the Labour apparatus resulting from the unexpected parliamentary majority won by the Tories. Look at their campaign websites and you will struggle to find much in the way of clear policy. Corbyn, on the other hand, has a coherent outlook rooted in a critique of the politics of New Labour. He also has the advantage that he speaks in common English rather than the abstract and vacuous politician-speech that the others do. On LBC radio asked whether they would have Ed Miliband in their Cabinet the three waffled, failing to say yes or no, whereas Corbyn suggested that EM would make a good Environment Secretary, a job he held previously. Some of us might not be happy with this answer (given EM’s support for ‘One Nation Labour’ amongst other things) but at least he answered a direct question with a straight answer; something the others could not manage.
At the time of writing Corbyn is in the lead with Party nominations, just ahead of Burnham. He definitely has a chance of winning, a prospect which would have been laughed off even a few weeks ago. Whether he will or not remains to be seen. We shouldn’t forget that the Labour Party is not full of raging left wingers. Most of them, the long-standing members, went along with Blairism. The new intake may be different. However, in the weeks remaining there will be a massive propaganda campaign waged which will use any means to try and stop Corbyn fair or foul. Elements in the PLP have told the media that if the members and supporters elect Corbyn, like the good democrats they are, they will set about organising a ‘coup’ against him. At least two of the candidates have said they will not serve in the Shadow Cabinet with him (in the unlikely event he asked them). Some of the people engaged in this vituperative campaign against Corbyn are collaborating with the media enemies of Labour, who have the audacity to pontificate on who should lead the Party which they don’t want in power!
A “coup” would be “inevitable”
Under the headline “Jeremy Corbyn faces coup plot if he wins Labour leadership, the Telegraph reports that “Shadow cabinet sources” had told the Telegraph that “Mr Corbyn would never be allowed to remain in the job long enough to fight the 2020 general election” if elected on September 12th when the votes will be counted. One shadow cabinet minister told the Telegraph that a coup would be “inevitable”.
“If he wins, we will be in massive danger of destroying ourselves as a party. We will have to decide whether he should be removed immediately, or whether it would be better to give him a year or two of being a disaster and get rid of him by 2018,” the MP said.
Of course with 47 MPs required to trigger a leadership election opponents of Corbyn have the numbers. Yet it is the height of arrogance to imagine that they can just overturn a decision of the members because they think they are wrong. They would look to be what they are, which is opponents of democracy and membership control of the party. That’s why it would be more likely that they would to seek to undermine him to prepare to remove him later on.
That these people are talking in these terms is an expression of their weakness. If they had confidence in their ideas they would simply seek to convince the members that Corbyn is not the person to lead the party, to challenge his policy proposals. These people don’t appear to have asked themselves the question why he is doing so well. Leave aside the issue of ‘supporters’ and ‘infiltrators’ he has managed to get the nomination from (at the last count) 109 constituency parties, more than any of the other candidates. There has been no influx of left wing ‘infiltrators’ into the Labour Party for the simple reason that the main organisations of the left outside the Labour Party have long declared the Party to be finished and have been engaged in various initiatives to build an electoral alternative to it. So the support of these CLPs is at the very least an expression of a substantial support for Corbyn and the ideas and policies he stands for inside the party. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that the Labour leadership has failed the ‘foot soldiers’ and they are sick to death of being used as such, with no say in the direction and policies of the Party.
Labour has long since ceased to be a democratic party. Towards the end of the Second World War, the Labour Party conference imposed on its leadership a policy of nationalisation. The NEC had opposed the composite resolution which was moved by Ian Mikardo, who later became a well known Labour MP. When the resolution was passed, Herbert Morrison strode up to the young man and told him that he had just lost the Party the general election! Of course, the government carried out this policy which they had opposed. Such a thing would be inconceivable today.
Under Blair as Leader conference decisions were ignored year after year, on rail re-nationalisation, on Council house building and more. Under him the Cabinet was turned into an irregular talking shop and decisions were made by him, assisted by his unelected advisers. The National Executive committee, nominally the ruling body of the Party, was treated with contempt and largely ignored.
If Corbyn were to win, his opponents at the top of the Party, these ‘party loyalists’, will not accept it as a democratic decision and put it to the test of events. They will work to frustrate the new leader, seek to undermine his efforts, whatever the electoral consequences. The spectre of 1983 and ‘the longest suicide note in history’ (the Labour programme) has been much raised. Yet there were two key factors on the election result; the ‘success’ of the Falklands war, the defection of the ‘gang of four’ and the setting up of the SDP, which was responsible for splitting the Labour vote.
Failure to break with politics of New Labour
The political disorientation of Corbyn’s opponents and the current Shadow Cabinet is reflected in their failure to understand why Labour lost the general election. They weren’t decimated in Scotland because they were ‘too left wing’ were they? Fundamentally Labour under Miliband failed to break with the politics of New Labour. It failed to address sufficiently the material circumstances of a majority of the population, especially of the younger generation. Most people don’t think in fixed political categories. Many people who would in no sense consider themselves to be socialists, nevertheless support re-nationalisation of the railways. They are angry at being ripped off by the privatised public utilities. Younger people are angry at being unable to afford a home, whether ownership or rent, and having to start their working life with the albatross of student debt hanging over them. Many people who work in occupations considered to be middle class now find themselves without secure work. You even find college lecturers forced onto zero hours contracts.
Whether you think the Labour Party is a vehicle for changing society or not, what is clear is that the Corbyn campaign has actually driven a debate on the disaster of the election of the Tories, the need to resist what they are doing and discussing an alternative programme to austerity or Labour’s ‘austerity-lite’. For that reason alone it should be welcome.
One final point. Perhaps the hysteria whipped up in relation to the threat of a Corbyn victory can be understood by reference to the brutality of the Troika and the EU leaders in relation to Greece. The campaign against him is an echo of what took place there. It underlines the fact that neo-liberalism is incompatible with democracy. The Greeks voted the ‘wrong’ way so they had to be punished, and some EU leaders said so openly. They were simply not prepared to countenance any ‘debt forgiveness’. Their message was that the Syriza government must capitulate or it would be crushed. Even though the IMF has admitted that the new austerity programme will lead to an increase of debt the Greek people must be punished in order, as they say in France to, encouragez les autres. That this might mean Greeks starving and dying is ‘unfortunate’ but the EU leaders utilise economic warfare to stop what they fear most: the example of an alternative and the risk that it might be successful.
One of the fundamental tenets of neo-liberalism is the opening up of the public sector to big business; a tendency to transform anything and everything into a commodity. New Labour’s worship of ‘globalisation’ and a ‘dynamic market economy’, their support for Thatcherite de-regulation, helped to create the conditions in which the global economic crisis erupted. The Tories have peddled the line that the crisis in Britain was the result of New Labour overspending in the public sector. Labour’s failure to nail this lie was not just some tactical mistake. To nail it it would have been necessary to explain that the crash of 2007-08 was a crisis of the neo-liberal economic system and the parasitic growth of financial markets. It would have meant recognising that New Labour’s economic policy facilitated the advance of this parasitic system. It is this question which lies behind the debate opened up by Corbyn’s candidacy. As with the EU leaders who would rather see the immiseration of Greece than it’s following an alternative path, so those people collaborating with the Tory press to witch-hunt Corbyn would rather see the destruction of their Party than a break from the neo-liberal politics which took over the Labour Party when Blair won the leadership. What all this means in terms of strategy and the evolution of the Labour Party, I will address in another article. The campaign against Corbyn now is certainly nothing compared to what would come in the event that he won the election.
28th July 2015