JEREMY CORBYN’S RE-ELECTION BY AN EVEN BIGGER majority than he achieved in 2015 should bury the notion of any further leadership challenges this Parliament. But it will not stop his opponents inside the Party from waging guerrilla warfare against his politics.
His parliamentary colleagues plan to use the platform of Select Committees to do this, as the shoddy Home Affairs Select Committee Report into antisemitism shows. The finely balanced National Executive Committee looks set to remain a key battleground. The Party apparatus, which this summer spent members’ subscriptions in a court battle to exclude recent joiners from voting in the leadership contest and has excluded members and closed down local parties, often on a spurious basis, remains a further problem to be resolved. Even Party Conference was affected, with some rule-bending chairing which saw a whole bunch of rule changes passed on one show of hands, despite clear calls for a card vote.
This is all very troubling for party activists. But if we look up from these day-to-day battles, what is striking is how much Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas are winning the broader political debate beyond our Party. Not for nothing did Theresa May have to make inequality a key theme of her speech to Conservative Party Conference, name-checking the great Labour leader Clement Attlee and pronouncing the end of austerity and a clear break with Osbornomics. It is pressure from a principled Labour leadership, now light years away from last year’s parliamentary abstention on welfare cuts, that has triggered all this concern about the ‘left behind’ - although ‘ripped off’ would be a better description of the millions now struggling after six years of Tory-led austerity.
But there were also big dangers in May’s speech. One commentator nailed it when she wrote, “May wants to appeal to ‘ordinary people’ by attacking everyone else.” Part of this is an attack on the ‘smug liberal elite’ - shorthand for demonising universal liberal values, internationalism and human rights. Arguably more pernicious is the increasingly intolerant rhetoric on migrants, a blatant pitch for UKIP votes, with Tory crowd-pleasing measures such as companies being required to compile lists of foreign workers, quickly abandoned once Conference was over and the bigots had all gone home.
This divisive approach is fuelling the government’s drive towards a ‘hard Brexit’ where the economic disruption arising from the UK leaving the EU can be safely laid at the door of all sorts of foreigners - from heads of EU governments, to workers from EU countries, to migrants in general. Clear Tory divisions over this line of march might still not prevent May gambling on a toxic early election with scapegoating as its main theme - bad news for Labour, whose unnecessary leadership election has weakened its standing in opinion polls.
It is therefore critical that we move on from the internal battles and start addressing the broader electorate about our core values and the policies that can overcome the economic problems and social divisions manufactured over recent months. The Party needs to unite behind Jeremy Corbyn - on his terms, as the clear choice of the vast majority of members. This means gearing up the Party to be prepared for an election if one is called. The near trebling of the membership needs to be embraced as an asset by our Party. This necessitates an end to the witch-hunting of new members on the basis of old posts on social media and the closure of the shadowy Compliance Unit behind these purges. Above all, the NEC needs to be reorganised, and the Party apparatus clearly subordinated to the elected leadership.
Activists in the Party have a particular responsibility. We have to find a way to engage the new members, making our local parties into campaigning organisations, consolidating where we are strong and taking the fight for Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist policies into new areas. Time is limited and the stakes are high. We will not be forgiven if we fail to translate the huge body of support for Jeremy Corbyn, which his leadership campaign mobilised, into real progress on the ground.