The ironies of history never fail to surprise. Measured by any criteria, Jeremy Corbyn is the most left-wing leader in the history of the Labour Party. He understands that those who do evil abroad are unlikely to do much good at home. He is the staunchest anti-imperialist Member of Parliament.
A contrast with his political forebears proves this assertion. Keir Hardie’s socialism floundered on the battlefields of the First World War. Clement Attlee was a great reformer domestically, but abroad his government approved the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Harold Wilson redistributed wealth but supported the US in Vietnam; Michael Foot as Leader of the Opposition was a rabid supporter of Margaret Thatcher’s war to retrieve the Malvinas/Falklands.
The Thatcherite Blair/Brown twins agreed to share power thus creating two power-hungry factions with no political differences except that Tony Blair hungered for both power and money. He gave us the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq, while Gordon Brown was oblivious to the vulnerabilities of financialised capitalism and spent billions of taxpayers’ money bailing out banks that might have (after paying the depositors) been best left to croak. Both bureaucratised the Labour Party by neutering the party conference, reducing it to a tacky version of the US Democrats. All show, no substance. They denuded constituency Labour parties of the right to select their own prospective parliamentary candidates. This was the only way they could transform a large chunk of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) into a collection of over-promoted office boys and girls together with bandwagon careerists.
Three of them were on regular display in the campaign to succeed another of their number, Ed Miliband. What is ironic is that Miliband’s reform of the party’s electoral system was designed to appease the Blairites and their media chums by eliminating what was left of trade union power in the party and opening it up to outsiders in the lame hope that more congenial voters would ensure the domination of extreme centre politics.
So confident were they, that a few Blairites gave Corbyn the necessary parliamentary votes to stand as a token lefty and reveal the party’s generosity and attachment to diversity. Who would have thought that it would backfire so sensationally? Certainly not Corbyn. Nor anyone else. The Guardian came out for Yvette Cooper, its Blairite columnists denouncing the dinosaur from Islington, forgetting that, for younger folk, dinosaurs are a much loved and missed species. The Daily Mirror backed Andy Burnham.
No one who knows or sees and hears Corbyn can doubt his authenticity. I have shared numerous platforms with him over the past 40 years. On the key issues he has remained steadfast. What appealed to the young, who transformed the campaign into a social movement, was precisely what alienated the traditional political and media cliques. Corbyn was untutored, discursive, too left-wing, wanted to reverse the privatisations of the railways and utilities, etc. Many who registered to vote for him did so because of this and to break from the bland, unimaginative and visionless New Labour.
Corbyn had underestimated the changes in Scotland, but these actually helped his campaign. A Scottish National Party cohort in parliament that wanted to ditch the redundant and over-priced Trident; an electrifying maiden speech by 20-year-old Mhairi Black that took on the Tories. All this helped the Corbyn campaign. If Scotland, why not England?
As Labour members elect their most left-wing leader, the overwhelming majority of the PLP is in the death grip of the right. Anyone listening to Sadiq Khan’s speech after being elected as Labour’s choice for London mayor would have noticed the difference with the Corbyn campaign. Khan’s clichés were a reminder of how isolated Corbyn will be in the PLP. Corbyn will call on the party to unite behind him. But there is no getting away from the fact that the PLP majority is opposed to his policies. I guess they will try to tire him out and force compromise after compromise to discredit him (remember Alexis Tsipras in Greece), but I doubt they’ll succeed.
Corbyn understands the key issues on which no compromise is possible. He’s been campaigning for them long enough. His closeness to the Green agenda is not a secret, and the single Green MP now has a solid supporter in the new Labour leader. Taking back public transport from the profiteers is another element; cheap public housing for the young and the old will help rebuild communities. A robust tax regime that reverses the decades of privileges afforded the rich will unleash a fierce offensive by the City and its media and political acolytes, but it’s considered absolutely necessary.
Since the late Seventies, the redistribution of wealth in favour of the rich and the very rich has risen faster in Britain than in any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Corbyn is not interested in power for its own sake or to amass personal wealth.
Within the party, Corbyn will undoubtedly move to restore democracy. It’s the only way for Labour supporters in the country to be properly represented in parliament. None of this is easy and that is why a powerful movement, a new model campaigning army outside Parliament remains essential. It is the only way to ensure that the Corbyn agenda is fulfilled. None of this will happen overnight, and supporters have to be patient and not scream from the sidelines.
Some Labour MPs will desert. After all, they happily supported austerity. But, whatever happens, it will no longer be possible for the self-censoring BBC to keep the views espoused by the new Labour leader off the screen. The living dead have been vanquished, if temporarily. English politics has come to life again.