The Labour Leadership Contest and the Rise of Jeremy Corbyn
The Labour Party leadership contest to elect a leader to succeed Ed Miliband following Labour’s defeat in the May General Election is in full swing. Four candidates have joined the fray – Yvette Cooper (Shadow Home Secretary), Andy Burnham (Shadow Health Secretary), Liz Kendall (the most Blairite of them all), and Jeremy Corbyn, Member of Parliament for Islington North since 1983. Jeremy Corbyn was an outsider at the outset, who only made it on to the ballot paper at the last minute after a diverse group of Labour MPs, with no intention to vote for him, chose to nominate him in order to widen the range of views in the contest and to promote debate about the Party’s future. It was a blunder that some of those who nominated him have come bitterly to regret as, for instance, Margaret Beckett who has said that she had been a moron to do so. They had obviously expected the same outcome as in 2010 when they nominated Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North, to provide more variety in an otherwise all-male centrist field.
Be that as it may, Mr Jeremy Corbyn, called JC by his adoring fans, has surprisingly become the favourite to win the leadership election. This turn of events has surprised everyone, including Corbyn. His entry has lit up the election campaign and sparked a social movement of activists, attracting mainly young people, but not the young alone.
His campaign has gained an apparently unstoppable momentum. He has spoken at more than 70 rallies, with another 30 to go. His meetings have attracted large crowds, with audiences of over 1,000 in Glasgow and 2,000 in Leeds. He invariably has to leave the meetings to address supporters left out in the cold. His natural unspun approach, and clear lack of media training, is helping him to reach those who are tired of sound bites and perfect but wooden presentations by established political worthies.
“We are not doing celebrities, personality, abusive politics”, says JC, adding, Obama-style, “This is about hope”.
The 3A YouGov poll of 10 August, conducted for The Times newspaper, gave JC a convincing lead in the Labour contest, showing him as having the support of 53% in the vote, which would make him an outright winner. His campaign has signed up 10,000 volunteers – more than the three rival campaigns put together. Yvette Cooper has signed up 4,300 volunteers, Andy Burnham 3,000 and Liz Kendall 1,800.
The above poll also showed JC leading among all three groups of voters: members, affiliated members, and those who paid £3 each to register to vote in the leadership election. He has also won more Constituency Party nominations than any of his rivals.
JC’s campaign picked up momentum in early July after he won the endorsement of big trade unions, including Unite, for his candidacy. Although Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey had argued for Andy Burnham, Unite’s Executive Committee voted “overwhelmingly” for JC as an anti-austerity alternative. Since then Unite has loaned Corbyn £50,000 interest free, to be repaid by 12 September, the date on which the election result is scheduled to be announced. JC has also gained the support of half a dozen other unions.
Over the course of the last parliament, over two-thirds of the 180,000 members who received ballot papers for the previous leadership contest have resigned, given up or died, to be replaced by younger and more radical activists. This leadership election will see the participation of a much larger number of people than any previous such contest. In the three months following the general election, Labour membership has soared to nearly 300,000, while a similar number of affiliated and registered supporters have also signed up. Of the latter 121,000 are ‘registered supporters’ who joined by paying just £3, while another 189,000 have joined from trade unions as ‘affiliated supporters’. All these categories add up to a total electorate of 610,000. Fewer than one in ten will be a member who voted in the last leadership contest – 160,000 people joined up to vote in the last 24 hours before registration closed at the end of Wednesday 12 August.
Writing in the Opinion Column of the Financial Times of 14 August 2015, a certain Tom Baldwin offers this explanation for the membership explosion:
” The surge in numbers is neither Trotskyite entrism – there are not that many of them – nor the consequence of some popular uprising against Blairite orthodoxy. It is more akin to crowd-sourcing, in a narrow online world where anyone associated with the last Labour government is denounced as a Tory or a war criminal”. The result, says Mr Baldwin, is to make Labour unrepresentative of the country, adding the dire warning that ” idealistic, young, inspiring some of them may be, if they elect Corbyn, they will push Labour further away from the electorate that concluded three months ago we lacked economic credibility and were out of touch”.
Ballot papers were sent to members on Friday 14 August and the deadline for voting is 10 September. About 1,200 rogue supporters were uncovered by party officials, including 150 who were expelled for standing as candidates for the Green Party, 92 members and candidates with the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, and 18 senior figures from the Left Unity outfit.
The prospect of JC becoming the Labour leader has shocked not only his rivals but also the party grandees, including some Class A war criminals who have come out of the woodwork to declare what a disaster such an outcome would be for the Labour Party. Former prime minister, Tony Blair, has gone on record to say that those whose heart was with JC should go and get a transplant. Apocalyptic warnings have been delivered by Blairites of the dreadful aftermath that would ensue if JC were to be elected. David Miliband, who lost the leadership to his brother Ed, says that electing JC would lead to one-party rule under the Tories. Alistair Campbell, Blair’s former communications chief, and John McTernan, Blair’s former secretary, have pronounced similarly.
Former prime minister, Gordon Brown, warned on 16 August that JC as party leader would leave Labour “pure but impotent“. Laughably characterising him as a Marxist throwback (poor Marx!), he said that JC would reduce the party to one of “permanent protest” as the voters would ” walk away from us for many years” if Labour lurched to the left, handing the next election to the Conservatives. He ‘forgot’ to say that similar electoral results were achieved under his watch when the Labour Party could hardly be accused of having moved to the left. Showing a complete disconnect between language and thought, he accused Corbyn of wanting to introduce a Soviet-style command economy in Britain – a vision which was ” years out of date”. Delivering his 50-minute speech in the symbolic Royal Festival Hall, scene of the victory party for Labour’s 1997 landslide electoral triumph, he pleaded with Labour voters not to desert the political centre ground, saying that Labour had a “moral duty” to the poor to make itself electable. Labour, he said, would be annihilated at the next election if Corbyn became the Labour leader. Stressing his point he said:
” We find that the grouping in the party that Labour electors want to give the most votes to is the grouping they themselves say is least likely to be able to take Labour into power”.
He savaged what he perceives to be JC’s foreign policy stance thus:
” If our global alliances are going to be alliances with Hezbollah and Hamas and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Vladimir Putin’s Russia, there is no chance of building a worldwide alliance that would deal with poverty and inequality and climate change and financial instability”.
A fitting response to Brown’s ramble was given by Graham Allen MP who said that Mr Brown should ” preface any foreign policy advice with his view of the Iraq war, the 1 million dead and the release of the Isis virus”.
Jack Straw, another war criminal, stated on 13 August that he knew Jeremy and knew “Jeremy simply could not do this job” for he was ” not credible in the 21st century”.
Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary and one of the contestants for the Labour leadership, while admitting that she understood “… why many people have bought into what Jeremy is offering”, warned that ” Jeremy is offering old solutions to old problems, not new answers to the problems of today … his are the wrong answers for the future…” Ms Cooper did not care to mention today’s problems or their modern solution. Surely, the old problems – of poverty, of inequality, destitution, homelessness, the exploitation of the masses by a tiny handful of darlings of fortune, and exploitation of the oppressed nations by a tiny handful of imperialist countries which are engaged in relentless predatory wars against them – are still with us, just as the old solutions, namely, the overthrow of imperialism and an end to the division of society into classes, are just as valid today as they have been since the beginning of the 20th century. Ms Cooper did not mention these ‘trifles’, for she is not inclined to go down that road which would deprive her of the privileged existence to which she has become accustomed.
Having JC as a leader, she says, would “keep us out of power and stop us changing the world”. Well, Labour was in office from 1997 to 2010 and it changed the world all right – but only for the worse. It waged wars abroad, from Yugoslavia through Afghanistan to Iraq, slaughtering in the process over 2 million innocent men, women and children, and displacing over 6 million people. And it waged war on the poor at home. If this is how Ms Cooper wants to ‘change the world’, we thankfully decline her offer. As to whether JC can do any better, we shall come to this question later on in this article.
Liz Kendall, an unrestructured Blairite, has denounced JC’s policy stance as warmed up Bennism.
Andy Burnham, who was the favourite to win the leadership before the rise of Corbyn, seeing the writing on the wall, is behaving with restraint and moderation. Speaking on BBC radio he said: “Attacks on Jeremy have misread the mood in the Party … [which] wants something different, something more to say on the doorstep at election time.” He has expressed his common ground with JC on housing and transport, while expressing his disagreement with him on Europe and public services. He also attacked free schools, academies and private landlords and promised to increase the minimum wage for young people to the level for adults. He has promised: to abolish tuition fees; a crackdown on zero-hours employers; to oppose the welfare bill with its attack on child tax credits; to fight for affordable homes; and to take railways into public ownership.
He has even indicated that he might be willing to serve as a member in JC’s Shadow Cabinet.
By taking the above stance, he has broken ranks with the anti-JC camp of Labour grandees as well as with Ms Cooper and Ms Kendall, all of whom are agreed on one point – the unelectability of Labour with JC in the leadership. All that matters to them is Labour getting office through grovelling to the City of London.
JC’s stance on domestic and foreign affairs may be summed up as follows:
– End of private contracts in the NHS
– Public ownership of the railways
– Nationalisation of the big six energy companies
– Higher taxation of high earners and wealthy people; restoration of the 50% tax rate on incomes over £150,000 ” but we may need to review that in 2020, depending on whether the deficit is still there in 2020 and what levels of inequality there are” (‘Nationalise the big six energy companies’, Financial Times, 7 August 2015).
– Right to buy for private tenants
– Printing money to invest in infrastructure
– Higher Council tax bands for the super-rich and a value tax on unused land or property
– Revisit of the question of Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution which called for the public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchanged, but was abolished in 1994.
– More public spending except on defence
– Scrapping of the Trident missile system
– Quitting NATO. JC calls NATO an expansionist organisation and characterises its stance over Crimea as hypocritical: ” NATO’s attempt to encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time”, he wrote in an article for Stop the War. He says it was wrong to allow countries such as Poland, as a former member of the Warsaw Pact in the Soviet orbit, to join NATO, adding that “… we should have gone down the road Ukraine went down in 1990, which was an informal agreement with Russia that Ukraine would be a non-nuclear state [and] would be non-aligned in its foreign policy”.
– Europe: JC’s attitude towards Europe is somewhat ambivalent. He says that the European Central Bank had been “brutal” towards Greece, adding that if prime minister Cameron were to opt out of the EU guaranteed workers’ rights, he (JC) would campaign for the UK to leave the bloc altogether; in any case, he says, he will not give Cameron a blank cheque in his negotiations with EU lenders.
– On Syria, JC has ruled out voting for air strikes against Isis. If he wins the leadership election, that would in all probability scupper government plans in this regard.
– Support for the 2-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has proposed sanctions on Israel and called for a ban on arms sales to it.
– He opposed the Iraq war in is own way (more below) and has said that, if elected, he would issue an apology for it. In addition he has called for Tony Blair, George Bush and other architects of this war to face war crimes charges.
– He expressed support for Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela; met Gerry Adams and fellow Sinn Fein leaders in the eighties during the IRA bombing in England, and invited them to parliament shortly after the 1984 Brighton bombing; defended Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistle blower.
– He campaigned against South African apartheid and was arrested in 1984 during a protest outside the South African embassy.
The above list is neither exhaustive nor unqualified, for there are lots of ifs and buts in JC’s stance.
There is nothing in JC’s political and economic propositions, nothing in his foreign and internal policy stance, that could be described as truly socialistic, let alone Marxist. He is not a Marxist. It is only others, composed in equal parts of the malicious and the starry-eyed supporters of his, who pin this label on him. Asked in a television interview if he was a Marxist, he replied that Marx was ” a fascinating figure who observed a great deal and from whom we can learn a great deal”. Anyone Marxist would have replied simply in the affirmative. Of course Marx was a fascinating character who observed a lot and, doubtless, we can learn a great deal from him. But that is not the important thing. What is most important about Marx is that he was above all a revolutionary who made a thorough analysis of capitalism and came to the scientific conclusion that, far from being the final destiny of humanity, it was merely a transitional stage in the long march of humanity from primitive communism to the higher stage of communism through the overthrow of capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the assumption – and it is a big assumption – that JC knows this, he dares not utter this truth as that would put paid to his chances of leadership of his party, let alone the leadership of Britain.
At the end of the day, JC is a social democrat, albeit a radical one, of the Old Labour variety. It is not that he is particularly radical; it is that the Labour Party has moved so much to the right as to be indistinguishable from the Conservatives. It is in this context that he is perceived to be almost a Marxist and a revolutionary. This being the case, it is hardly to be surprised at that he is regarded as the bearer of an anti-capitalist programme.
With both the main bourgeois parties – Tory and Labour – totally tied to imperialist wars abroad and attacks on the working class at home, with both of them tied hand and foot to the City financiers, armaments manufacturers and oil barons, a lot of people feel frustrated and angry. It is this torrent of frustration and anger, rising by the day, which has given rise to the phenomenon of which Mr Corbyn is the beneficiary, for his rivals are so very sullied by their association with a system that looks after the robber barons of finance capital while piling misery, austerity and cuts on the vast masses of the working class. JC is offering, and he says he is, ‘hope’. His message is ‘hope’ and Yes we can do it (Reader, have you heard this vague message of hope before from someone else in another country?).
JC appears to be offering something different from the “de-caffeinated Conservatives who describe themselves as New Labour”, to use the apt words of Mr Peter McKay of the Daily Mail (‘Voters may love Corbyn’s Real Labour’, 10 August 2015). An editorial in the Daily Mail of 17 August correctly sums up the state of affairs which has led to the surprising surge in JC’s popularity.
“Anyone mystified by the rise of Jeremy Corbyn should look no further than today’s survey of chief executives’ rocketing pay”, says the opening sentence. Then it goes on to make its characteristic denunciation of the dreadful suffering caused by putting into effect Marx’s theories in the former Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Having uttered these baseless assertions, the editorial nevertheless goes on to offer this explanation of JC’s surge in the leadership contest:
” But no wonder Labour activists demand radical solutions, when the High Pay Centre finds the bosses of our top 100 firms earn almost £5 million a year each.
“That’s a staggering 183 times the average worker’s annual salary of £27,000.
“You don’t have to be a Bolshevik to find this huge disparity offensive. For in most cases, it owes nothing to merit – and everything to the greed of mutually back-scratching remuneration committees.
“Even ardent champions of capitalism will be appalled that chief executives have helped themselves to an extra £800,000 each, over four years in which they’ve imposed minimal increases or pay freezes on their employees.
“As most Britons are intelligent enough to see, Corbynite Socialism is no answer. But while the boardroom pay racket continues, the enemies of capitalism will never be starved of support” (‘Fuel for the hard left’).
Peter McKay, writing in the Daily Mail of 10 August (ibid.) makes this thoughtful observation:
“There’s public anger, even among those who do not vote Labour, about how we are fleeced by banks, cheated by big business and ruled by politicians who – whatever their party – seem to attract Big Money sponsorship.
“Might back-to-the-future Corbyn be a sign that new generations of voters who have never heard of Clause IV are ready to give Real Labour a chance?”
JC is decidedly the beneficiary of anti-establishment, vaguely anti-capitalist activism.
Labour Party worthies, two of the other contenders for Labour leadership, the Zionist Jewish Chronicle and The Telegraph have joined hands in an effort to stop JC from being elected Labour leader. The Jewish Chronicle on 12 August published a front page article entitled ‘these are the questions Jeremy Corbyn must answer’. This article was then taken up by a certain Dan Hodges in the Daily Telegraph of 25 August. In this piece Mr Hodges concludes that “Jeremy does not personally indulge in prejudice. But he does indulge prejudice”. The slur here is only too obvious.
Time and space does not allow us to refute this foul accusation. What is strange is that Mr Hodges, being ignorant of the history of the Labour Party, or feigning ignorance, makes this bold claim: ” The Labour Party used to be clear on this stuff. Zero-tolerance of racism. Zero-tolerance of apologists of racism. No platform for racism. And now that’s gone”. It would take little effort to prove that racism, far from being alien to the Labour Party, has been practised by it throughout its entire existence.
On top of this, five big Labour donors have threatened to stop funding it if JC wins. These include Assem Allam, the owner of Hull City Football Club, and Richard Brindle, the insurance magnate.
But it appears that all attempts to stop the Corbyn juggernaut are failing and he is well on the way to becoming the leader of the Labour Party. What, we must ponder, would be the consequences of that – consequences which reach far beyond the party whose leadership he is set to assume.
There are several possibilities. First, Labour could splinter, just as it did in 1981 after the election to leadership of another Messiah of the Troto-revisionist and left-social-democratic fraternity, namely, the ‘left’-wing late Michael Foot. Following the latter’s election, several prominent leaders of the Labour Party walked away to form the Social Democratic Party which later on merged with the Liberal Party, which thereafter became the Liberal Democratic Party.
Leaving such a split aside, JC has a mere 15 declared supporters among the Party’s 232 MPs. One of the remaining 217, who happened to bump into anFT correspondent before the latter’s interview with JC, said: ” It is a disaster. It’s a return to the 1980s. We are going back to a time of purges, de-selections and putsches.” (quoted by Jim Pickard, ‘Jeremy Corbyn says Labour will pull together if he becomes leader’, 24 August 2015).
With such a paucity of support among his fellow Labour MPs, JC is likely, notwithstanding his optimism, to encounter great difficulty in filling the opposition party’s 100 or so frontbench positions. In such a situation there might be a serious attempt to depose him.
The second possibility is that he somehow manages to keep his party together and leads it into the next general election in 2020 and to a disastrous defeat, as did Michael Foot in 1983, and as is predicted by his opponents within and beyond the Labour Party.
Last, there is a very outside possibility that he leads Labour to victory at the next election. This could happen partly as a result of trouble in the Tory camp. Contrary to appearances, the Conservatives are a very fractious party with a slim majority in parliament. The Tory ‘Outs’ – the EU sceptics who want Britain out of Europe – will seek to harness the anti-establishment sentiments, the very kind of which JC is a beneficiary, to defeat Cameron in the planned referendum next year on EU membership. With JC in the leadership, Cameron cannot be sure of getting Labour to support him in the referendum. This carries a real danger of a Tory split and the fall of the government. The idea, widely floated, that with the election of JC happy days for the Tories will never cease, and that they will be the permanent party of government, may turn out to be a chimera.
This possibility may increase if Jeremy Corbyn is able to bring back to Labour a lot of Scottish voters who deserted the Labour Party for the SNP. This is a real possibility in view of the fact that some of the policies he is advocating, e.g., getting rid of Trident, abolition of tuition fees, etc., are very similar to those advocated by the SNP. If, however, he fails to woo the Scottish electorate successfully, the chances of Labour forming a government with him or anyone else in the leadership are very slim indeed.
Whichever of the above scenarios is realised, it will be good for the development of the working-class movement by disabusing supporters of JC of the notion that socialism can be established in Britain through the election of a left social democrat to the leadership of the Labour Party.
Let us dwell briefly on the last scenario, with Labour in office and JC ensconced in 10 Downing Street. The euphoria will last a year or so, before, as happened with François Mitterand in France, the reality of Britain’s imperialist economy and state institutions take their toll and widespread disillusion sets in among his supporters.
His illusion-mongering, and cheering camp followers, particularly the revisionist renegades and counter-revolutionary Trotskyites, may believe whatever they like but Jeremy is offering no more than hope within the system, not outside of it. He is offering a petty-bourgeois utopia of a reformed, kinder and decent capitalism which he and his supporters christen ‘socialism’.
Speaking at a packed meeting at Ealing Town Hall on Monday 17 August, this is the empty rhetoric, devoid of any meaningful substance, to which he treated his audience:
” This is an opportunity for the Labour Party at one level to elect a leader, but at another level to change our ways, to be more democratic about how we go about things, and to be in tune with ordinary people standing up for the NHS and those who are victims of the very cruel system that the Tories and Liberal Democrats [only the Tories and LibDems?!!] have introduced”, adding that “this campaign is about hope, it’s about optimism, it’s about decency”. There you have it – hope, optimism and decency! What else can anyone ask for!!
Much is made by his supporters of his opposition to war, in Iraq in particular. On 18 March 2003, 140 Labour MPs voted for an amendment to the resolution in support of the government’s war policy. The amendment stated that Parliament ” believes that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established, especially given the absence of specific UN authorisation, but in the event of hostilities to commence, pledges its total support for the British forces engaged in the Middle East, expresses its admiration for their courage, skill and devotion to duty, and hopes that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides”.
One of the ‘rebels’ who voted for the nauseatingly chauvinist and imperialist amendment was none other than Jeremy Corbyn. At the time we exposed the left Labour scoundrels for what they really are – socialists in words and imperialists in deeds. It is they who spread the illusion that the Labour Party can be wrested from the clutches of the right-wing reactionaries, that it can be rescued to serve as an instrument for the emancipation of the British proletariat. It is they who bring some ‘socialist’ kudos to the incurably imperialist Labour Party, as the ‘left’ inside it, as the Troto-revisionist fraternity has always done also.
No matter who leads this party, no matter how decent and well-intentioned such a leader may be, he could never change the basic nature of the Labour Party, which has never been, is not now, and will never in the future be, a party of the British proletariat; which has always been, is now, and will always in the future be, a party of British imperialism. The only thing to do with it is to work towards its disintegration, so as to rescue the working class from its deadly embrace, and build a truly revolutionary party of the British proletariat that is capable of storming the citadels of British imperialism and replacing it with the dictatorship of the proletariat and usher in an era of real prosperity for working people at home and an end to Britain’s imperialist wars abroad. And, if achieving that end requires the disillusionment of the working class through the experience of yet another Labour government headed by a left-wing social democrat like Mr Corbyn, then so be it.