Thinking Your Way Through a Labyrinth of Contemporary Issues
So it’s been a while since the election. We lost pretty badly and I think the country lost pretty badly. If you’re under 25, it’s practically game over with the loss of access to a living wage, the probable hike in tuition fees and the removal of the grants. It’s going to be pretty tough.
Labour & the Lib Dems were also decapitated that night, both Ed Miliband and the Traitor both resigned their respective leaderships. I’m a Labour member, I spent time on the doorstep and I was heartbroken when we lost. I was angry, I was inconsolable and I was worried.
Then the Labour leadership race began and I became even more dispirited. I wished I was old enough to be an MP and I wished I could run, because all I saw was more of the same. More weak arsed bullshit soundbites that kept running to a centre that did not exist, to a middle ground that people like to call spineless. Why was it only the Labour leadership seemed to think that was the right place for a movement founded on social justice to be? I can’t figure it out and I don’t know anyone else who can.
Then Jeremy Corbyn got into the race, I’d have liked Skinner to stand, but Corbyn did instead and Skinner endorsed him right away. That got me intrigued. I started doing research, I’d never heard of the fellow you see. The more I read the more delighted I became, here we go. A genuine leftie running for the leadership. We can roll back the Blairism and hopefully, our rebellious candidate could do what Ed couldn’t and stand up to the party structure and run on a real leftie manifesto. Not a watered down centrist version.
Now a few days ago, I heard Chuka Umunna, supposedly the Labour shadow minister for business on the BBC talking about the leadership election he backed out of. He called people like me petulant children and he thinks that fighting for the soul of our party is wrong. That we should just accede to the narrative of benefit scroungers and neoliberal economics, despite it being manifestly wrong.
For someone whose job it is to be abreast of numbers and business, he really doesn’t understand the fact that for every voter we lost to the Conservatives, we lost 3 times as many to parties on our left. This despite increasing our overall vote share.
What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the number of non-voters in this country could easily deliver a landslide that would make Blair look like a scrape-by. Okay this might just be the thoughts of a wild young socialist, but the majority of those people didn’t vote because they don’t feel represented. The amount of times I was told on the doorstep and in discussions with the electorate when out campaigning that “Whats the point voting? They’re all the same!” borders on absurd. That’s why we lost so many votes to UKIP. 4 million people didn’t suddenly become supporters of a racist Thatcherite party. 4 million people became disillusioned with the spin and the indistinguishable nature between Tory austerity and Labour austerity-lite.
Now men like Chuka can point to 97 and say “Ah but we won on a right leaning platform there!” It is just as easy for men like myself to point to 45, to 64, to 74 and exclaim “Ah but we won on a left leaning platform there!”
Then it comes to Thatcher and inevitably the discussion always changes, either to pure vitriol or reluctant admiration of that nasty lady.
What nobody seems to realize is Blair’s victory in 97 is 18 years in the past. 18 years. Nearly 2 decades! Things have changed. Blair had nearly 2 decades of disastrous Thatcherism behind him, he had a powerful, unified Labour machine and he had his admittedly masterful ability to spin things his way. What many forget is that he also had a grand vision he imbued amongst that, the politics of hope and the steadfast belief that the divisive, regressive view of people that Thatcher held was not the way forward, that we can, we must be better, year upon year, improving together as a society. Or that’s the impression I get from watching old tapes and from my parents who both voted for Blair in 97.
When Chuka points to Blair, he points to a perfect storm, the conditions of which aren’t reflected here, if they ever will again. When he talks about electability, he neglects the proud tradition of Labour standing up for what is right above what is fashionable and if you would indulge me using 1945. We beat Churchill. Now Thatcher may have been divisive, loved by her supporters and hated by her enemies, but find me someone in 1945 who would have bet against Winston Churchill, who had just ascended to the pantheon of British consciousness as one of, if not the greatest of war-time leaders in our long history to lose that election in a landslide to a quiet, mouse-like Clement Attlee?
We didn’t do it by trying to out-Churchill Churchill, we didn’t do it by shifting to the right. We did it by presenting a grand vision of winning the peace for the men and women that won the war, a program that ensured that all in our nation, battered and in many places broken, but still unbowed would be taken care of. That nobody would be homeless, that nobody would fall below a collective minimum and the boldest one of them all, that nobody ever again on our shores would ever die because they couldn’t afford a doctor. It was grand, it was hopeful and in some ways, it didn’t deliver as promised. But it damned well-tried. That government remains to this day one of our busiest on record. This whilst we were well and truly broke with debt to GDP a staggering 215%. To put that into context, we went batshit crazy over the debt being 51.9% at the height of the 08 crisis (oh and if anyone is curious, the debt is currently at 90.6%, so much for cutting the debt eh?)
What I’m trying to say is that we don’t need to win an election by deception. It’s not going to happen. The electorate may not get the finer points of economic theory, they might misunderstand the statistical sleight of hand the Tories frequently employ and they might not really understand the true numbers behind commonly held perceptions (see IPSOS MORI’s study on public attitudes for that), but they damn well know when someone doesn’t believe in what they’re saying.
Whilst every politico was marveling at that repugnant little oaf, Farage’s Teflon like ability to stay somehow popular it remained absurdly simple in nearly every conversation I had with a Kipper. “He stands by what he believes in.” “It’s not politically correct, it might cost him but that’s what believes.” It’s quite as simple as that, and though UKIP only got 1 seat, they got 4 million votes. That cannot be ignored, nor can the success of Syriza in the election in Greece, the success of the SNP and what is increasingly looking like a success for Podemos in Spain running on a plain-spoken, honest to God anti-austerity platform that makes no apologies for putting people first, for believing in making the economy work for people rather than the people work for the economy.
What we need now isn’t more austerity-lite policies in the vain hope of catching a centre that never truly exists, but leadership. And when I say leadership I don’t mean bending to the worst excesses of populism and stoking the fires of fear, division and hatred to win an election or bending over in search of a shifting sand of currently popular policies.
But standing up for our principles. That is leadership. We are a socialist leaning party. Made up primarily of the working and middle classes, even maybe those in the top 10 percent and though the Tories may try to hoodwink you into thinking that they’re for the middle classes that are struggling, if you miss a pay cheque or two and you’re probably going to lose your home because of that, you’re one of us. If you’re part of a middle class that is seeing it’s wages stagnate and that mortgage become harder to pay, you’re one of us. It’s as simple as that and that’s the message we need to be articulating. Being anti-big business isn’t the same as being anti-business. Being anti-corporate tax avoidance isn’t the same as being anti-business and being against the spurious and ridiculous notion that working two jobs just to be broke is good for the economy, good for the family and good for the person does not mean that you’re anti-work.
We need to recapture our soul and then recapture the narrative, years of pandering to Murdoch and the ever right leaning press haven’t done us any favours, when push comes to shove, they still endorse Tory positions if not necessarily the Tory party. We need to do away with that, we need to realize that we cannot, we must not pander to special interests and we must seek to engage people, not through spin, but through honest campaigning.
Is he electable? I don’t really know. We won’t know until the day after the election in 2020. We can’t anticipate how the ground will shift in the next 5 years, we can’t know how the EU referendum will play out and we can’t know how the public will take the prospect of more cuts, reduced services and more deaths from degradation, destitution, & deprivation.
We need someone who is going to invigorate the Party’s activist base and get that famous Labour movement going again, for too long has the activism become stale, the passion of our debate lessening and the collective spirit of a genuine movement, brought together through a desire for justice, equality and fairness in society trampled upon. The closer we drift to becoming the nice Tory party of the centre, the more we threaten to be torn asunder as our base deserts us in droves to parties on the left that seek to supplant us and parties of the right that offer hope by preying on their fears. The Labour movement is about more than the electability of Jeremy Corbyn, it’s about the direction of this country and picking a leader who best represents our views.
There is talk in the air about a coup before the conference even if Corbyn wins, if that were to happen, Labour would destroy itself. Out of spite to a man they could not beat they would destroy that already fraying link between the party members and the leadership. In such a situation, I like many others would not be sure if keeping our membership would be the right thing to do. Sure, I’m one member, but what you’ll be left with if such an act were to go through would be an empty throne, as members desert in droves to the Greens, to the SNP and to other parties that rise out of our imminent demise. For why would working class people, why would socialists and why would the middle classes support a party that destroyed the leader who stood for those people and those things dear to them in favour of pursuing the Tories on an ever rightward drift?
Maybe we should remember who we are and what we stand for?
We’re for generous benefits, not only because it is morally right that you ensure everyone has enough to eat, but because economically, it is the right thing to do. We’re for making sure that employment isn’t an exercise in some puritanical orgy of masochism but actually pays and allows you to live.
We’re for making sure that every child, every teen, every adult can look forward to the future and know that they will have access to all the opportunities that the richest amongst us have. That they will have a chance to make of themselves the very best they can.
Perhaps instead of fear, we should have strength and know, that these qualms about electability will not help us, because true leadership is about making a stand, making a stand knowing that there is a risk, a chance that we could get our arses handed to us, that we could see another Tory government. But that is a chance we have to take lest we see another Tory government through our inaction, through our inability to present a real alternative and through our reckless behavior, cause the demise of a movement that has brought so much good to so many people.
Jeremy Corbyn is not the answer. It’s about more than him, it’s about the movement, the ideal and yes, the dream. The dream that we can make of this country a better tomorrow, that we can change the tide of selfishness and make it so that no human is left behind, that we as a society will collectively pull to ensure all are able to find the success they pursue, that we can create a society where the poor can aspire to live in a land where they are not exploited, where the middle classes can aspire to being able to afford more and where even the richest can take pride in knowing, that their success helps pave the way for more success.
That’s what Corbyn wants, that’s what this fight for the soul of the party is about and that’s why I am voting Jeremy Corbyn and more so, that’s why you should to.
Faizal Patel (2015)