Politics in the UK has been turned on its head this week by the election of 66 year old Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the UK Labour Party. Having had less than 10% support of other Labour members of parliament when the period for candidates was closing, it was only at the last minute that he could reach the 35 nominations required to participate in the election thanks to MPs who didn’t support him being persuaded to give him their nomination in order to ensure a voice from the Left could, at least, be heard during the election campaign. This, the theory went, would enable the electorate to once more humiliate the Left and ensure its silence for a few more years. The theory continued that the Labour Party lost the election because it wasn’t close enough to the Right, and so the other three candidates with sufficient nominations were so close to each other in terms of policy that it was difficult to differentiate between them or from what the Conservatives in government propose.
Corbyn came along not as a breeze of change or even as a wind of change, he was a hurricane of change. Suddenly all these ‘utopian’ policies being derided by the UK media in Greece with Syriza and Spain with Podemos were being discussed in an election campaign in the UK and to the great surprise of everyone, including Corbyn and his team, the people, especially young people were thirsty for such proposals.
To participate in the election you either had to be a paid-up member of the party, a registered member of a trade union, or an affiliate. An affiliate could join up during the campaign itself by paying a £3 fee, and as Corbyn’s policies started to be heard or read the affiliations started coming in their tens of thousands. The list of eligible voters more than doubled to 554,272 from the beginning to the end of the campaign, and this was after many affiliations were rejected by Labour Headquarters because they were suspected of being people from other parties mischievously trying to influence the result.
After weeks of campaigning which saw Corbyn speaking in front of tens of thousands of people all around the country, and despite the best efforts of former leader and prime minister Tony Blair who said offensively and ultimately counter-productively that those who feel their hearts lie with Jeremy Corbyn need a heart-transplant, together with all sections of the mass media trying to label Corbyn as a terrorist and anti-Semitic, he duly won with an astounding 59.5% of the vote: more than 80% of the affiliated members and almost 50% of the full members.
The mandate was huge and much bigger than anyone expected. During the campaign, those on the Right of the Labour Party were, even then, planning what to do in order to destabilise Corbyn’s leadership and force a rapid re-election contest. Suddenly, and with such a big win, it was clear that they were out of touch with the will of the majority of party members. All talk of internal regicide had to be forgotten. For now.
The media, however, and David Cameron’s Conservative Party had no such restrictions. They felt totally free to start the attack and an urgency to do so.
Within hours Cameron was tweeting “Labour is now a danger to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security!” leading one witty Corbyn supporter to humorously tweet back, “OH NO! WHAT ABOUT MY CAT? WILL MY CAT BE OK?”
The media turned their attention to Corbyn’s difficulties then to appoint the members of his shadow cabinet because so many Labour MPs refused to work with him and to issues such as gender and singing the national anthem. Despite appointing 16 women and 15 men to his team, Corbyn was denounced as sexist for not giving a woman the job of Shadow Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary or Finance Minister which the media has labelled the “top jobs”. Corbyn’s team pointed out that for Jeremy the top jobs were Health and Education and both had gone to women.
This was followed by a personal attack on Corbyn for not singing the national anthem at an event to mark the Second World War. The UK is increasingly turning into a fascist state where if you do not put a flag in your window and have a picture of the Queen on your wall, then somehow you are anti-British. Corbyn is a Republican. He doesn’t believe in Monarchy. Why would he? But in the UK we are still fighting the Second World War. We are still fighting for King and Country. Any disagreement with the Establishment on this is treason and the media act as judge and jury.
Corbyn is a socialist. He believes that human beings are more important than money. He believes that Labour is the true creator of wealth and that Capital should be at the service of Labour, not vice versa. Monarchy is anathema to him.
The next attacks concern his European Union policy. Big Business and their media puppets are desperate for Britain to remain in Europe as long as all the social rights are removed. Their man, Cameron, is on a campaign to renegotiate Britain’s position in Europe, trying to undo as much Human Rights and Employment law as possible. The Labour Right have a position to stay in Europe at any cost, regardless of the conditions.
The media demand that Corbyn define his position now. Yet no one knows the results of Cameron’s negotiations, no one knows how or when the TTIP agreement, negotiated in secret behind the people’s backs, will be implemented or what it will contain. Corbyn, quite sensibly wants to wait and see what the deal is. Yet this position is attacked. Yet who would state their position before knowing all the facts? He has been forced to issue a holding position by saying that “He can’t envision circumstances in which he would campaign for the UK to leave the EU.” Which is a statement that gives him the possibility to change his mind later.
Corbyn’s style is friendly and genuine. He doesn’t speak superficially and he speaks from principle. This is something new in main-stream politics. For decades politics in the UK has been moving further and further to the Right. First under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, then under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and most recently under David Cameron. In these years wealth has continuously concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. The gap between rich and poor has expanded, national industries and services have been sold off cheaply and there has been incessant privatisation of public services.
Corbyn wants to put a stop to this. But not only Corbyn, over a quarter of a million Labour Party voters want this. Since the results were announced over 30,000 people have become full members of the party. New activists have joined, those who left and joined other parties because of the betrayal of the Iraq War are returning. A grass-roots social movement is being created which, it is hoped, will be more horizontal and less hierarchical than the current structure. Corbyn himself proved this in his first weekly Question Time in parliament where he can ask questions directly to the Prime Minister about government policy. All the questions he asked came from members of the public.
In the Tony Blair years, democracy was taken away from the Labour Party members and their election candidates were centrally selected so that only Blair supporters could become the MPs. Very few on the Left survived this process. Corbyn is one of the few who remain, which is why he had so much difficulty to become a candidate in the first place. The majority of Labour Party MPs now find themselves to be totally out of touch with their party members. It will be a difficult time for them, with some already talking of moving to the Conservative Party, which now more closely reflects their personal politics.
Corbyn has nearly 5 years before the next general election, but there are local and regional elections every year between now and then. Every one of them will give the Party a chance to grow and develop if it continues building a social movement to ensure that direct communication of activists to the voting public can counter the misinformation of the media.
Can this man entering his retirement years lead his party and the country to a much needed renaissance built on fairness and principle? Can the political choice of austerity economics be turned back so that public services can be rebuilt and poverty eradicated? Can strength, wisdom and kindness defeat rudeness, greed and stupidity?
All of us with a humanist aspiration for the world will be supporting him and hoping beyond hope that the answer to all these questions is yes.