Ian Allinson comments on the news that socialist Jeremy Corbyn has secured enough nominations to enter the Labour leadership contest.
The news that socialist Jeremy Corbyn has secured enough nominations from MPs to be a candidate in the Labour leadership has unleashed a surge of activists signing up to join the Labour Party or register as affiliated supporters through their union. No doubt this is part of the reason why MPs nominated him – it certainly wasn’t because there are 35 socialists in the Parliamentary Labour Party. In fact, his nominations largely come from MPs with no association with the left.
The General Election result tipped many on the left into despair, not helped by those who explained the result by blaming a “right wing” population. The flurry of big demonstrations and meetings after the election lifted the mood somewhat. Now Corbyn’s candidacy has given hope to many. His Facebook page has far more likes than any other candidate.
It would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of Corbyn getting on the ballot. When was the last time a socialist was in a Labour leadership contest? Michael Foot led Labour from 1980 to 1983. Back in 1981 Tony Benn ran unsuccessfully for deputy. Every Labour leader since has moved Labour further to the right and away from representing working class people.
In the General Election debates, the SNP, Green and Plaid Cymru leaders gave us a glimpse of the impact left politics being aired in the mainstream can have. Now Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist, will have a major media and campaigning platform until the ballot closes on 10 September. Corbyn has a great track record of backing strikes and campaigns – his candidacy will give the whole movement a boost.
Every socialist, whether in the Labour Party or not, should campaign for Corbyn. The campaign is an opportunity to challenge the dominant ideas in the labour movement and to argue socialist politics on a mass scale. Within the unions, the debate about who to back opens all kinds of questions. The more people involved in this process the better.
The odds are stacked against Corbyn. Labour Party members are not generally that left wing. That’s why the parliamentary candidates they select are overwhelmingly awful. The Labour machine will be working against him, as will the media.
Even if Corbyn did win, he would face the opposition of the entire establishment while surrounded by overwhelmingly hostile MPs. As I’ve argued elsewhere, Labour-type parties could deliver reforms during the post-war boom without confronting the establishment. This is no longer possible in the neoliberal era. Socialists in parliament can play an important role, but any degree of success depends on a mass movement prepared to confront the establishment.
Exactly what people can do to campaign for Corbyn will become clearer as his campaign takes shape. Whether Labour supporters or not, people can take action such as:
- Campaigning for people who have votes to put Corbyn first
- Campaigning for Labour supporters in unions to register as affiliated supporters to vote for Corbyn
- Campaigning for unions to encourage members to back Corbyn
- Building and take part in campaign meetings
We should all campaign for Corbyn and use that campaign to build resistance in workplaces and communities. That resistance will be the key even if Corbyn wins. If he loses, we should argue for as large a section of the campaign and the unions to break with Labour rather than propping up any of the New Labour clones standing against him.
Working class people have nobody to rely on but ourselves. We certainly can’t rely on Labour MPs to bring about social change, or even to defend us from the ravages of the corporate agenda.