A politics we all share: Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign

Andrew Burgin writes on the importance of Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy for Labour leader

Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy for the Labour leadership has to be understood as part of a wider process of political change across the left and movements in Europe.

New political formations have emerged throughout Europe in response to the capitulation of social democracy to the neoliberal offensive, challenging the attacks on the working class.

In Greece a government of the left has come to office and in the main Spanish cities left wing administrations have taken power. Elsewhere new parties are being built which are winning significant votes in elections and have become an important part of the political landscape in their countries. A new left is rising throughout Europe.

At first sight it appears that Britain has been immune to these European political developments. No significant party of the left has yet been built: my own organisation Left Unity which aspires to be that party and has many good aspects only numbers some 2,000 in its membership.

A deflected radicalisation has found some focus in the rise of the Green Party whose membership has grown by some 50,000 over the last year or so and in the recent victory of the Scottish National Party where it took 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland and temporarily wiped Labour off the electoral map.

Although neither the Green Party nor the SNP claim to be socialist organisations their growth and – in the latter case – electoral success have been fuelled by their opposition to austerity politics.

When Left Unity was founded we understood clearly that to become a serious political force we would need to forge strategic alliances throughout the left. We recognised the obstacles presented by the electoral system, and the fact that while the Labour Party continued to be the hegemonic political party of the working class we would struggle to make headway – and despite some erosion of its base this is still the case today.

It is in this context that the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership must be seen. It was only late in the day that Jeremy took the decision to seek nomination. In part this reflected the difficulty of securing the 35 nominations required to get on the ballot paper and understandably a lack of confidence within the Labour left itself.

However from the moment that Jeremy announced his intention to stand he was met with an incredible enthusiasm not just by members of the Labour party itself but throughout the whole left. Tens of thousands of socialists took the time to contact their MPs to express their desire to see him on the ballot paper.

In part this response is unique to Jeremy himself. There are other left members of the Labour parliamentary party but there are none who are so deeply involved at a day to day level in so many of the campaigns that the left promotes. Jeremy does not just lend his name or speak at a rally but he is involved in the committee meetings and in every discussion. He is more than just another Labour MP – he represents the movement in parliament. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for the work he has done over decades.

Jeremy is deeply loyal to the Labour party but support for the policies he espouses goes well beyond the party’s membership. If you oppose Trident replacement, want to bring the railways and other industries back in public hands, want to defend migrants and welfare claimants, or get rid of the anti-trade union laws then Corbyn is the candidate for you.

Moreover the changes introduced by Ed Miliband to the Labour leadership elections have unlocked the possibility of a people’s campaign for Corbyn. Previously Labour party members only counted for one third of the vote in the leadership election with the trades unions and MPs and MEPs commanding the rest. Miliband introduced a new category of membership – you can become a registered supporter of the party for £3 and vote in the leadership election.

Although MPs are the gatekeepers to the ballot with candidates having to be nominated by 15% of their number, in the actual election it is one member/registered supporter – one vote. Thousands of people are now registering as supporters. And there should be a wide campaign throughout the whole labour movement to encourage people to do this.

Because of the wide level of support for Jeremy he has been able to secure a place on the ballot and the way is open not only for a discussion within the Labour party about its policies but also for a discussion on the left about the politics we need to overcome the problems we face.

This can be a campaign which unites those both in the Labour party and those outside. All the campaigns with which Jeremy is associated and there are many – Stop the War, CND, Greece Solidarity Campaign, Defend Council Housing to name but a few – should mobilise to encourage their supporters to vote for Jeremy. Public meetings should be organised over the next period to campaign for the policies that Jeremy represents and to encourage people to vote for him.

If we can get hundreds of thousands onto the streets to oppose war and nuclear weapons and to oppose austerity then we can do the same for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign. It has to become a campaign throughout the whole labour movement.

All the other leadership candidates circle around the same right wing policies – austerity led and pro-business and anti-immigrant. Only Jeremy Corbyn promises to act to repeal the anti-trade unions and renationalise the railways. Many of the policies that Jeremy advocates have mass appeal and it is to the people who support those policies that we must turn to build the campaign to get him elected.

His campaign can be a moment of renewal for the left in Britain – and part of the renewal across Europe too. A rejection of social democracy’s neo-liberal turn so prominently within a social democratic party is an important development and the eyes of the left in Europe will be upon this leadership contest. The locus of debate is different but the policy struggles are the same: against austerity, for social justice, peace and human rights.

In Greece, Spain and recently in Turkey the success of the radical left has been built on mass movements of struggle. The newly elected Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, is a former housing activist who has been arrested for attempting to prevent evictions. In Turkey the rise of the HDP party followed the mass campaign around Gezi Park and the struggle of the Kurdish people.

Some have argued that in order for a new left politics to emerge in Britain there must be a similar level of struggle. We had a glimpse of this following the Scottish referendum campaign but now a wider movement may indeed be emerging throughout Britain. The shock of Labour’s election defeat has already galvanised a layer of young people into action and we are seeing the potential emergence of a real mass movement around the People’s Assembly – but not limited to the People’s Assembly movement itself. The most striking example is that of the young women, all school students, who called an anti-Tory rally in Bristol the week after the election and 4,000 people turned up.

There have also been a series of important struggles around housing, New Era, Focus E15 and the development of an anti-eviction movement here too. The Bengali community in East London radicalised over the Iraq war remains an important site of support for a new left politics: witness the tremendous vote for Rabina Khan in the recent mayoral election in Tower Hamlets. The Brick Lane Debates have also mobilised thousands of young people. The June 20th demonstration called by the People’s Assembly will bring more than 100,000 people onto the streets to call for an end to austerity. These developments are all part of a process that can be a turning point for the movement – and for all those across society that want a change to the policies that currently blight our lives.

Left Unity will play its full part in all of these protests, campaigns and marches.

None of these developments are counter-posed and they must all form part of the new left politics alongside the campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Jeremy stands for the policies that the movement struggles to achieve and the movements should play their role in backing his candidacy.

It would be disappointing if the left were to underestimate the importance of this Labour leadership contest. We are fighting to bring about change in society, to win mass support for alternative economic and political policies. Jeremy Corbyn is fighting for the Labour leadership on the basis of policies that we share. He is bringing those policies not only to the Labour membership, but widely across British society over the next few months. We need to support that process – to raise the level of political debate, to assist in shifting the balance of the political narrative, and supporting the strengthening of the socialist voice and values within the Labour Party.

This is an enormous opportunity for the left, the movements and more importantly, the working class as a whole and must be recognised as such. The trades unions must also play their part: there will be no better opportunity to raise the issues which are central to their continued existence as a serious force defending their members’ interests. In the next three months public meetings can be and should be organised in every town and city bringing together people both inside and outside the Labour Party to build support for the policies that Jeremy’s campaign represents.

This is a moment where we can come together in practice to build a campaign for Corbyn around policies which unite us all. JEZ WE CAN.

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12 responses to “A politics we all share: Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign”

  1. Trevor Allman says:

    Not sure about the Green Party’s opposition to “anti-austerity” politics.
    I know they use anti-austerity rhetoric, but the majority of their councillors on Brighton & Hove Council voted through austerity cuts and tried to cut the wages of some of the lowest paid council workers, provoking a number of strikes, which they joined with Labour and Conservative councillors in condemning.

    And in London, it has been muted that the Green Party will ask Green voters to give their second preference votes to “green” bloodsport supporting Conservative Zac Goldsmith, who is also a big fan of austerity politics.

    • Simon Hardy says:

      I agree Trevor, the left needs to be sharper on these points. The SNP and Greens have very strong anti austerity rhetoric but in practice have implemented austerity. The SNP has passed on millions of pounds worth of cuts. Now it is arguable that they are “anti austerity” in the same way that a local Labour run council is anti austerity, i.e. implementing with a heavy heart because their electoralism means that they can’t really oppose it. But we have to be clearer about what it means to be actually anti austerity – i.e. if you don’t challenge the basis of the system that is causing austerity then you will ultimately end up implementing austerity even if you are critical of it.

      Having said that I agree with the thrust of this article and agree that LU and other socialists have to work within the wider movement alongside Labour lefts and other progressives to take the struggle forward, both inside and outside the Labour party.

  2. Charli Langford says:

    I understand Trevor’s comment above, but I think he’s got the wrong end of the problem. Jeremy’s candidature is going to be a challenge to groups like the Greens – and also the SNP, where it probably applies even more – who are not socialist in name but who include a large number of socialists as members due to the positions they have taken in recent politics. What it will do is encourage and win support for explicitly socialist views within these parties, and I would hope that one of the developments would be to emphasise the need for a socialist outlook to make possible the aims of such parties. For the Greens, there is a clear contradiction between Green politics and Capitalism in that green measures are an extra cost against profit in any company and when the pressure comes on the greenness will be sacrificed for profit. For the Scots, the link is less clear, but the SNP have had to shift their politics to gain the support of working people, instead of supporting Scottish business and therefore implicitly opposing the Scottish working class. Their party now has a large working-class base linked to an anti-austerity programme. In both cases socialists need to engage with them to put the argument that their stated aims can only be achieved with a socialist basis. And Jeremy’s campaign needs to reach out to them emphasising what we have in common. And in fact a very similar campaign in my own party – the Labour Party. So the same questions are relevant to all three – not because they are Labour Party relevant but because they are necessary for all working class people

  3. Charli Langford says:

    And we need to move quickly – the media will try to close this window of opportunity as soon as possible – ie, kill it after September 10th

  4. Pete b says:

    Agree with charli. I think left unity should really move on corbyn for leader issue. I think left unity should help set up corbyn for leader groups, with the rest of the left inside ai cutsnd outside the lp. We should urge these groups to also build support for local and national anti austerity / anti cuts campaigns, striked etc. we need ti really show that when the left unites it has power. Key here is the affiliated unions. All of whom can register to vote in leadership election for free. All can vote for Corbyn. The left can be slow to move, left unity needs to get in there! Suspend its schemas on how to move forward and see how well Corbyn can do.

  5. Ed Potts says:

    I take a very different view on this – my article explains why leftunity.org/ask-not-what-you-can-do-for-jeremy/

  6. Dave K says:

    Agree with general line. I have made a longish comment critical of Ed Potts contribution. One small point in Andrew’s piece that could be clearer is the formulation about us helping to strengthen the socialist voice in the LP . That might be interpreted as if the LU role is simply to support building a socialist current in Labour, which I don’t think is really what we are doing with LU. I think we have to make it clear that part of ‘supporting a socialist voice’ is the process of persuading those socialists that it is pointless long term to build the socialist voice within the LP structures.

  7. Bob Walker says:

    I don,t think Jeremy Corbyn has a chance of winning the leadership contest , but what he will do is.Use the media to put over a Socialist alternative. something that we are unable to do.

  8. John Penney says:

    It is undoubtedly the case that Jeremy Corbyn’s candidature is having a significant positive national impact in raising the profile of the Anti austerity case in general and crucial issues like the NHS , TTIP, Welfare cuts. This is not to be sneered at – the pro capitalist pro austerity “narrative” usually getting unchallenged prominence on the mass media. Indeed , the televised Labour Leadership debate was noteworthy mainly because the very straightforward socialist positions that Jeremy put forward so seriously wrong footed the other solidly Blairite , pro Austerity candidates – and forced most of them to for the first time do a bit of insincere recognition of the harm that the austerity offensive is doing to ordinary working people – rather than being able to simply all spout all that pro business, “aspirational” neoliberal codswallop that now totally dominates Labour Party ideology.

    Having said that – lets not kid ourselves. There will be no miraculous resurrection of a mass Labour Party radical socialist Left – and Jeremy Corbyn will not become Labour Leader. For us, on the radical socialist Left it would be great if he did – but not because the Labour Party as it stands would become a vehicle for socialist advance – it would split overnight into a tiny Left wing Parliamentary Labour Left rump – and a majority of Labour MP’s going off to set up some new right of centre party – funded by Big Business.
    The point to grasp is that the Labour Party must eventually be broken up, PASOK style, with the tiny remaining rump of Left Labour MP’s, and the significant , but still not huge, mass of left leaning Labour members and voters and more left leaning trades unions , realigning into a new radical party of the Left.

    The current main useful role of Jeremy Corbyn’s candidature is actually to highlight the hopelessness of trying to transform the moribund Labour Party into a socialist party – as well as generally raising the profile of the anti austerity and socialist solutions to the current capitalist crisis.

    So far Left Unity is still trapped as a sub 2,000 member proto party – but with the ambition to build a mass radical Left Party. The break up of the Labour Party undoubtedly is happening – but Scotland’s mass rejection of Labour in favour of dead end petty nationalism and confused Left nationalism , and the huge recent growth of the completely pro capitalist and actually pro permanent “green austerity” Green Party shows that this does not necessarily lead to an embrace of socialist politics.

    Our task is to express solidarity with the anti Austerity message Jeremy Corbyn is putting over in his Labour candidature bid, without falling into the old trap on the Left of believing that in today’s reality New Labour can ever be other than a pro capitalist party of neoliberalism, and Austerity, whilst continuing the long haul campaigning struggle to be part of an eventual radical realignment of the forces of the Left – outside of the defunct corpse of the Labour Party.

  9. David Lane says:

    Do people really want to give 3GBP to the Labour Party for an individual who, however much we approve his ideas and work, will be isolated in that party and, consequently, no positive outcome for the left.
    The real danger is that the Labour Party will be glad to have all that extra money, but without Jeremy being elected. Is that what folk want?

  10. Tony Free says:

    Too true I want to give £3 to Labour so I can vote for Corbyn. What loyalty could entice me not to? My loyalty is to socialism. I don’t care what party he is in. He is a person of principle and integrity. I have empathy with his beliefs. If they gave you £3 would you vote for one of the other candidates? It is not about money.

  11. Jim Parker says:

    Isn’t this just a test of our understanding of left unity? For £3 you can vote for Corybn’s policies, in discussions with Labour Party members you can point this out then move onto how the LP squirmed before ignoring Corbyn’s contribution. Will our three pounds do the LP any good, no. Will we draw in some disaffected ex-LP people, yes. Will Corbyn’s anti-austerity positions get some publicity, yes. Will it help the fermentation of a new left opposition, yes.
    Why are we wasting time discussing this simple act.

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