by Nick Wright
These few words are addressed, in part, to our readers outside of the disunited Queendom of Great Britain and colonial statelet of Northern Ireland.
A few weeks ago the issue was: can Jeremy Corbyn win the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party?
That question is now settled. He won 59.5% of the votes on an electorate much larger and more representative of the British people than when Tony Blair – then a relatively untarnished brand — won the leadership with a smaller percentage.
The question now is can the Labour Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, win a general election in Britain’s notoriously undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system which, traditionally, turns on a few thousand vacillating swing voters in a few dozen class-divided and marginal constituencies.
The electoral system is just the first the obstacles.
We live in a capitalist society where capitalist ideas — individualism, egoism, self promotion, money grubbing among them — are the ruling ideas. Where property ownership is prized over principles, where wealth is the passport to advancement in almost every sphere of human endeavour.
Set against this is the volatile nature of public opinion and the underlying current of decency which is the hallmark of much of British society despite, or perhaps because of, the toxic climate engendered by the media and the political establishment.
A sign of this is the presence of Corbyn on the hundred thousand strong demonstration support of refugees just minutes after his election and the wild reception that greeted his speech.
That the dominant media, in its many ways, reflects and reinforces capitalist values can be a surprise only to an outside observer innocent of the billionaire ownership structure of the media and the domination of its upper reaches by a bourgeois strata knitted together by privileged education, wealth and reward, personal connections and shared values.
That these people, universally, failed to anticipate the tsunami of popular support that propelled Corbyn to victory and equally fail to understand the daily realities of life for working people in the Austerity Kingdom is now the cause for much troubled thinking in these circles and most especially among their co-thinkers in the parliamentary Labour Party and the liberal media.
Corbyn won with full media support only from the Morning Star newspaper (formerly the Daily Worker organ of the central committee of the Communist Party) now owned by a cooperative with a management committee made up of Communist, Green and Labour supporters including representatives of many trade unions who hold shares in the coop; and for which Corbyn has written a weekly column for almost as many years as he has been an MP. And latterly with the endorsement of the Scottish Daily Record which is the Scottish variant of the usually Labour supporting Daily Mirror tabloid.
We can account for the numerical size of his victory because of the ways in which the Labour Party electorate has been reinforced by hundreds of thousands of new people. Some of these joined, or rejoined, in the immediate aftermath of the election defeat and Ed Miliband’s resignation and before the campaign to elect a new leader began.
Despite a mendacious media campaign, spun largely by his opponents and promoted mostly by the curiously unhinged liberal daily The Guardian the vast bulk of these people were solid Labour supporters, many who had left at various points when the neoliberal economics and imperialist war mongering of the Blair Brown leadership overcame loyalty. Others were returning Greens and assorted left wingers. (A handful were Tory provocateurs most of whom were weeded out in a lopsided purge that deprived an even larger number of genuine Labour supporters of a vote but still failed to dent Corbyn’s majority.)
Rejoiners are a special category. I know of many people, trade unionists especially, who regret resigning from the Labour Party in recent years if only because if had they waited a few months longer yet another betrayal of Labour principles even greater than the one that caused their exit would have provided a yet more compelling reason.
The electorate was augmented by a large number of people, not all of them young or new voters, who took advantage of the new US-style primary election system originally devised by Labour’s right wing and imagined by them as favouring a consensus view conditioned precisely by the media and the factors outlined above.
For a simple payment — electronic or otherwise — of £3 Labour supporters could register as such and vote. Mobilised by an energetic social media campaign organised by Corbyn’s talented and enthusiastic staff and driven by many thousands of volunteers staffing phone banks in trade union offices these newly enthused adherents to Corbyn’s candidacy swamped the feeble and lack lustre efforts of Corbyn’s right wing opponents.
In addition to these two cohorts individual members of trade union affiliated to the Labour Party could register with their trade union and thus receive a vote.
The trade union leadership originally opposed the new system which replaced one where three Curia — of MPs and Members of the European Parliament; of individual members; and of trade union affiliated members, each had one-third of the votes.
They accepted the new system and set about mobilising their members to vote. The overwhelming majority cast their votes for Corbyn who thus won with majorities in every section of the electorate and on the first ballot, without triggering the second preference votes of the defeated candidates who attracted 19% in the case of Burnham. 17% for Cooper and 4.5% for the most Blairite Kendall.
Corbyn’s campaign was marked by a mounting series of 99 rallies which attracted thousands of people of a scale unprecedented in recent political history and which gave a powerful sense of renewal, of anger against austerity, against racism and war, against the troika of bankers, bosses and bureaucrats.
An important factor was Corbyn’s modest demeanour and life style — he claims minimal expenses as an MP – in stark contrast to many of his parliamentary colleagues — travels by bike and public transport, is vegetarian and doesn’t take alcohol. Again in contrast to many MPs he combines a principled and consistent political outlook tested over decades of opposition to anti working class and reactionary measures with an exceptionally courteous manner. During the campaign he refused to respond in kind to personal attacks and continually emphasised the policy questions.
And it was as much on his policies as his distinctive character that he won so convincingly.
It is this breach in the carapace of consensus politics that so frightens and angers the political representatives of the bourgeoisie, their attendant auxiliaries in the media and the Labour Party.
Taken on his own Corbyn is far from being a typical vacillating social democrat on the European model. His actual record as a firm anti imperialist and anti racist and as chair of the Stop the War Coalition gives him a moral stature that those of his parliamentary colleagues who voted for New Labour’s succession of wars can never aspire to.
He was from the start a partisan of the anti apartheid cause, fiercely opposed to privatisation, a critic of the Private Finance Initiative devised by EU enthusiasts to meet the Maastricht Treaty public expenditure cap and a familiar figure on every picket line and protest. A fluent Spanish speaker his record of opposition to US and British imperial adventures in every continent gives him instant recognition in a myriad of foreign communities in London. He led the campaign to arrest Pinochet when that infamous friend of Thatcher was undergoing treatment in an expensive private London hospital.
In his polyglot, diverse and multi-class North London constituency he has raised his election majority from under 9,000 to over 20,000. This is set against a catastrophic six million decline in the national Labour vote under Blair and Brown over the same period.
Frederick Engels famously said that when the British working class arose from its slumbers no force on earth could stand in its way. This state of affairs has not yet come to pass but the more far sighted tribunes of the ruling class sense the danger. They worry that a Labour party attuned to the many discontents of Britain’s working people will drag the whole political discourse to the left. They fear above all else the reentry of the working class into the centre of political life.