A People’s Revolt in Labour but where will it end?
Sunday Mail, August 2nd 2015
‘The Labour Party has gone mad’. ‘It has abandoned its senses’. ‘This is a summer of insanity’.
These and suchlike comments made about Jeremy Corbyn are now familiar refrains in the Westminster mainstream. Before that this disdain was targeted northwards – asking ‘has Scotland gone mad?’
Jeremy Corbyn’s rise and emergence has caught the Westminster bubble by surprise, but isn’t hard to fathom. The other three challengers are dire. What passes for Labour stars are sitting it out. Labour members are dismayed and angry at the state of the country and direction of their party. They want it to stand for something.
They want their leader to be authentic, genuine and true to the party’s traditions and history. Corbyn is the only one providing any distinctiveness and talking straight. It doesn’t matter that his political platform is a bit vague, harking back to 1983, and seems based on promising a better yesterday which is now unattainable. It is also unimplementable and unelectable.
A revealing exchange took place this week on ‘Channel 4 News’ between author Will Self and former Blair adviser John McTernan. The latter stated that ‘politics is about power’ and that Labour wasn’t just a debating society; instead you ‘had to gain power to aid social change’.
Self responded by commenting, ‘it is no use saying politics is about power, that is a political class point’ and that ‘cleaving to the middle ground’ resulted in a politics lacking in positive values.
This balance between power and principle, embodied by Self and McTernan is a long one. They talked past each other. Neither could see that they had half an answer, and that the other was half right and wrong, just like themselves.
This has time immemorial been Labour’s predicament, through the myth of Clause Four and beyond. This was set up to give the pretence that a party set up to represent organised labour and working people was a party of socialism. This was, Labour minister Richard Crossman believed, a deliberate illusion – to give the appearance that Labour was a socialist party to activists, when it wasn’t and never had been. Tony Blair did the terrible thing of being honest and abolished the Clause – and the illusion. Many have never forgiven him since.
Some are now raising a ‘Red scare’ and even the spectre of Militant Tendency which hasn’t existed for over twenty years. Then there is the notion that if Corbyn wins, the elite can either just ignore it, or topple Corbyn. Some even say who needs grass roots members, preferring the ultimate vision of New Labour as a member free zone like Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
If Corbyn is elected it will have huge consequences for Labour and Scottish politics. Some think it will once and for all shoot the ‘Red Tory’ handle that Nationalists have used to describe and caricature the party.
That is true. No longer would the SNP be able to claim it is to the centre-left of Labour. However, something more important would happen. For any Scottish and maybe some Welsh and Northern English appeal that a Corbyn party had, it would have nothing to say to Southern England.
Ed Miliband was too left-wing for the South in the May general election. Across the 139 seats in the South outside London, Labour holds a mere eight. The party needs to win there, and without them it has no chance. A Labour Party shorn of its ‘Red Tory’ monikor, but unelectable and heading nowhere would be a bigger gift to the SNP and cause of independence.
Corbyn might not be the answer, but the dismissive attitudes shown by the insider political class have helped fuel this most unexpected of left-wing insurgencies.
A week ago I didn’t think Corbyn could win the leadership. Now I think he can. The question has changed and is now – what is the purpose, point and effect of electing Corbyn Labour leader?
Is it to make people feel better about themselves, to give them emotional support, and a sense that the world takes seriously their values and opinions? Or is it really to try to change society, to make alliances and compromises? And to learn from mistakes, not just from Blair and Iraq, and from Brown and banking, but of left smugness and over-reach (think Scargill or Derek Hatton or the closed shop, which will mean nothing to people under 40)?
Jeremy Corbyn has changed Labour this summer. Changing Britain is another, more serious and difficult matter.
The big challenge is to what end and conclusion? Labour have to be in office to change society, and none of Labour’s very own ‘Gang of Four’ standing for the leadership have the hunger, desire and courage to start the long road back.
Labour used to be a party of the future with a future. No longer can that be said. Instead, it is one looking to its own past, which if it goes on like this will see its best days long in the past.