No let-up of ’Corbynmania’ but Labour right plots
’Corbynmania’ saw no let up throughout August. Rain or shine, thousands of people, both young and experienced, thronged to hear the left-wing candidate for the Labour leadership at meetings across the length and breadth of Britain. An estimated 30,000 people have now attended meetings, or tried to, queuing outside and cramming into overspill meetings.
Labour’s membership, which had only increased by around 500 during the years of its me-tooism to the Con-Dem government’s austerity, has risen to 299,755, by almost 50%. In addition, there are 189,703 political levy payers in affiliated trade unions who have signed up (for free) for the leadership contest vote as ’individual affiliated members’, and 121,295 others who have paid £3 to be a ’registered supporter’. It seems that most have signed up to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. This represents a breaking into politics of some of those who have been denied a political voice since Blair’s right-wing takeover of Labour.
Meanwhile the other candidates, amid bickering among themselves, have been struggling to compete with Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. One report claimed that shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper ’almost’ filled a room above a cinema. Another described former Blairite Health Minister Andy Burnham taking to the stage, pint in hand – a hat-tip to Nigel Farage as well maybe?
But both now are being forced to tilt left and seem to be attempting to slip on Jeremy’s beige-jacket mantel. It does not fit however. Burnham has claimed he would fight the welfare bill, which promises wide scale impoverishment and misery, "line by line to prevent it becoming law". But he is optimistic of our short attention span – it was only a month ago that he abstained on the bill’s first reading. In office Burnham fulfilled Thatcher’s dreams and privatised a hospital. The ’anyone but Corbyn’ candidates cannot escape their role in maintaining Labour as an austerity-lite version of the Tories.
August has been a month of purges as well as surges. In a desperate attempt to prevent Jeremy Corbyn winning an estimated 56,000 voters have been disqualified from voting in the selection. Outrageously the biggest section of them, around 15,000, has been excluded because they are not on the electoral register. In July, Labour attacked the Tories for removing people from the register in what Lord Falconer, the shadow justice secretary, described as "another example of how David Cameron’s government is intent on rigging the game in its favour". Now they are hypocritically using the same methods to disenfranchise probable Corbyn supporters.
Labour spokespeople said the party had booted out 3,000 "cheats" who did not agree with the aims and values of the party. Acting leader Harriet Harman said: "Those people who don’t support the aims and values of the Labour party are not entitled to vote. We will continue the process of verification right up until the last minute." Among those denied a vote are PCS civil service union general secretary Mark Serwotka and comedian Mark Steel on the basis that they have opposed Labour’s right-wing agenda.
However such is the enthusiasm for Corbyn that even this giant purge seems unlikely to succeed. As the Labour right-wing faces the prospect of a Corbyn victory a fight has broken out among its chief protagonists over who is to blame. Miliband’s Collins review which removed the trade unions – the organised working class voice – from the selection process was supported by all the Labour ’modernisers’. New Labour had become a reliable party for the capitalist class – but that is now under threat.
In February 2014 Blair said: "It is a long overdue reform that… was something I should have done myself." Now he is ranting in the Observer as he tries to come to grips with the processes in play. He admits: "people like me have a lot of thinking to do," and "we don’t yet properly understand this. It is about to transform a political institution we spent our whole lives defending." Those the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.
In a very revealing article for the capitalists’ mouthpiece the Financial Times (FT) about Labour’s utter disdain for those who seek an anti-austerity voice and the fear of that process taking place inside Labour, former business secretary Peter Mandelson wrote that: "Recovering control of our party will mean tightening those rules again." Too late the representatives of capitalism in Labour have realised that their changes to the party leadership election process have allowed an opening for the very voices they wished to exclude.
An FT editorial prefaced this with a warning to the capitalists. It explained that, while there is jubilation among Tory MPs who believe, as most Labour MPs do, that a Corbyn victory will condemn Labour to decades in the wilderness, it also threatens to do "damage to the body politic". Labour had been made safe as an opposition party that can be relied on to carry out the interests of capitalism for when the Tories’ attacks once again make them unelectable.
It is absolutely clear that if Jeremy Corbyn wins, the right of the party with the full backing of the capitalist class will struggle to remove him. There have been some hints of how the right-wing will do it – they vary from voting through his removal by Christmas, to forcing him to sign up to a re-election process mid-way through the parliament, to isolating him. One method of ’imprisoning’ him would be to reintroduce the method of shadow cabinet election by the majority of Blairite MPs. Failed candidates and ultra Blairites Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt have launched Labour Group for Common Good – potentially in preparation for a right-wing split.
To counter these pressures Jeremy Corbyn would need to mobilise organised back-up from the working class in the trade union movement, anti-cuts campaigns and left organisations, and from among the youth. He would need to call an open conference of this support base – including of those who voted for him – to discuss how his left programme can be delivered and developed further.
Developing this programme will be essential if he is to effectively answer the attacks and smears that will inevitably be stepped up by the capitalist class.
Whatever the course of events, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters shouldn’t return to being prisoners of ’Labour constitutionalism’. They should rely instead on the support of the many thousands who have been enthused by the Jeremy for Leader campaign and come together with the thousands of socialist and trade union activists outside Labour, including those in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Since its creation around 300,000 votes have been cast for TUSC, many of those at council elections as working class people seek a way to defend themselves against the vicious austerity onslaught passed on by councils led by Labour as well as the Tories and Liberals – and Greens.
Jeremy Corbyn has rightly made the call for councils to stand together and refuse to implement government cuts. In the mass meetings around his campaign there has been enthusiasm for the idea of elected representatives who will simply not vote for austerity, starting with the council budget-making meetings that will take place in February and March 2016.
Over 450 councillors have signed up to support Jeremy Corbyn. This is significant, but it is barely 6% of the total number of Labour councillors. One of the battles that will take place after the Labour leadership contest will be over whether Labour councils continue implementing Tory cuts or decide to stand and fight.
Local government budgets have been slashed by 40% since 2010 and now they potentially face another £30 billion of cuts. In eight months council elections will take place in many areas.
At the TUSC conference on 26 September the call will be made to stand no-cuts candidates against any councillor who does not commit to vote against cuts regardless of what party they belong to.
As we go to press there are ten days remaining in this contest. Whatever happens next, the situation that existed before the general election has been overturned and the angry millions who stayed away can start to glimpse how they could win a political voice.
That will take a battle and the Socialist Party is ready to fight alongside them for an independent working class political voice to take on the austerity mongers.