WE ARE CURRENTLY GOING THROUGH THE MOST IMPORTANT POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS since the miners’ strike. And like the miners’ strike, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to stay leader of the Labour Party has seen hundreds of thousands of ordinary people getting active, bringing their real world skills into the struggle.
At the very moment when the Tories were exposed as deeply divided and totally unprepared for the outcome of the European referendum, the PLP launched a coup against Jeremy Corbyn. It’s clear that this plot was long prepared and brought forward after the Brexit result, with intense pressure put on wavering MPs to denounce Corbyn. But in attempting to keep him off the ballot, first at the NEC and then through the courts – unsuccessfully – they declared war on the Party’s membership as well. The victory of the full Corbyn-supporting slate in the Constituency section of the NEC is another sign that the right wing are fighting a losing battle. The NEC ploy to stop new members from voting shows how much the right is afraid of the membership. It is, in the words of John McDonnell, “a shoddy manoeuvre”.
The problem the bitterites face is obvious. Unable to attack Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, which are popular, they have settled on a candidate who must emulate them, even though there’s little evidence that he ever favoured them before. Instead of a political debate, smears are deployed. Corbyn is blamed for losing the EU referendum — even though a recent speech by Peter Mandelson laid the fault squarely at the door of New Labour.
He’s called a vote loser, despite winning every by-election in this Parliament and Labour doing well at the local elections in May. His supporters are charged with being anti-Semitic – a smear rejected by the Chakrabarti Report. They are called bullies because they supposedly marched on Stella Creasey’s house – in fact, they didn’t: a peaceful protest left post-it notes on an unstaffed constituency office door. Likewise, the “brick though Angela Eagle’s office window” was actually a broken window in a communal stairwell. Angela Eagle’s much-hyped cancelling of a meeting in a Luton hotel because of security concerns turned out to be the hotel cancelling because they didn’t want a political meeting.
Despite the hostile media barrage, Jeremy Corbyn remains hugely popular. A poll in the Times in late July estimates he would beat any rival by a clear 20 points. 55% of members think he’s doing a good job, up four points in two weeks, while 41% think he’s doing badly, down seven points.
Those challenging him know this – hence their panic. They call Corbyn supporters “dogs”, and “scum” – both a sign of political impotence and a provocation. They want us to respond with similar rhetoric. We will not. One reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s continued popularity in the Party is members’ sense of fair play. Many support him simply because he is being unfairly treated by the PLP. But they do worry about the lengths the bitterites are going to in order to destabilise a leader who was elected less than a year ago by a huge majority.
Why is the right wing being so destructive, willing to damage our electoral chances with unending conflict? The truth is they don’t care. The Blairite wing is closer to the Tories than to Jeremy Corbyn and indeed pioneered many of their current policies – austerity, academies, privatisation, to mention a few. It’s doubly deceitful because they don’t come out in their true colours – they hide behind people like Angela Eagle and Owen Smith. But make no mistake, whoever wins, they would carry on undermining the leader behind the scenes, preparing the way for a real Blairite – just like 25 years ago. Well, not this time.
This is a struggle that goes beyond the left-right division in the Party. It’s more than an internal struggle – it challenges an entire political elite and the way they do business.
If we look up from the week-by-week crisis, we’ve achieved a huge amount. Labour is an anti-austerity party. Never again will we abstain on welfare cuts. Labour has repudiated the Iraq war. These are big gains.
What’s happening now is much bigger than Jeremy Corbyn, or even the Party. It includes the trade unions, community organisations, rising student activism and other campaigns. If we’re going to win back the ‘left behind’ and create the social majority that puts Jeremy Corbyn into Number Ten, we need to harness the resources of our entire movement and renew it with people set on this course.
The long crisis of representation is over. We are building a movement for power and it is irreversible.