Since I joined Labour, the party has suffered three election defeats, and has found itself caught up between denouncing neoliberalism on the one hand, and looking to reform or improve it on the other.
Age old divisions over defence spending, welfare, and the concepts of nationalism and patriotism have re-opened as the Parliamentary Labour Party once again finds itself at loggerheads with the membership, and union leaders. Just over half a million members, supporters, and trade union and socialist affiliates will soon be voting for the next party leader.
I’ll be voting for Jeremy Corbyn – and I’m sorry about that.
I’m sorry that I’ll be voting for an individual whose opponents suggest is unelectable. I’m sorry that I’ll be voting for an individual who is more cosmopolitan than nationalistic. I’m sorry that I’ll be voting for an individual that critics suggest doesn’t swim with the tide of national sentiment.
I don’t think Owen is a dangerous corporate lobbyist, out to kill the NHS through the back door, and would have no problem campaigning for him should he lead the party in to the next election. However, many supporters of Smith believe members like myself are Momentum monsters looking to overthrow party loyalists and centrists. This is far from the truth, as I hope and expect voting for Corbyn will allow the party to unite and move forward as the country enters Brexit negotiations over the coming months and years.
Concerns about Corbyn’s electability, and the party’s electability under him, are valid. An economic revolution cannot come about through small and shallow amendments to Tory legislation. Labour needs to resemble a government in waiting, with the pragmatic ideas to help shape a more equitable and socialist future. However, I think it’s unfair to label Corbyn a loser before he’s even ran the first mile of this marathon.
So far, Labour has performed admirably, matching the high-water mark of the 2011 local elections. Indeed, whilst critics suggest that we have only strengthened our performance in Labour strongholds at the expense of Conservative marginal authorities, this is not an unwise move. With the rise of UKIP underway, Labour needs to strengthen its core vote before shifting its message and attention to more Conservative-leaning constituencies.
The destruction of the working class in Britain has been a disaster for social movements, our culture, and our communities. By reinstating Labour’s opposition to legislation attacking and undermining local authorities, the privatisation of public services, and the commercialisation of education, Corbyn can begin to reach out to voters left behind by New Labour, as well as compassionate conservatives concerned about a Tory party that has appeared to run out of ideas following the EU referendum result.
Deep divisions in Labour policy have re-opened in the last few weeks, most notably in the vote to renew Trident, in which most Labour MPs went against Corbyn and voted in favour of the nuclear weapons. However, multilateral disarmament will not occur until one nation is willing to lay down these expensive and useless weapons of mass destruction which only wreak havoc on civilians. When the Chilcott report criticises the equipment of ground troops, investing money in Trident is not the right option. When IS acts less like a state, roaming from country to country in the Middle East, Trident is not the right option. When our nuclear capabilities are tied too closely to our American allies, threatening our independence to act against threats, Trident cannot be considered the right option. Labour party policy in this area will inevitably become a struggle and a compromise. We need to be honest about where threats to our security come from, and to this degree Corbyn’s position seems economically and socially plausible.
Trident is one debate amongst many, a policy symbol of ideological and conceptual battles. Corbyn’s reluctance to embrace the politics of identity, nationalism, and, to a certain extent, patriotism, has attracted criticism and unfair judgement. So much of the battle of ideas here rests on how far one feels part of something greater. Clearly, Corbyn doesn’t accept with the same vigour as some of his counterparts the politics of identity and nationality.
Warfare, inequality, and discrimination are not contained within geographical boundaries. Whilst there can be local solutions to local problems, Labour must reject the notion that nationality defines the limit of debate. Should a second Scottish referendum occur, the party must think long and hard about how it would campaign to be part of the something bigger in Britain.
Corbyn’s preferred position of the left of the party has strained relationships with members to the centre and right. Though, his compromise and relationship with members is something that should be harnessed, not rejected. Smith's challenge to Jeremy represents a risk to a new type of popular democratic socialism. We cannot fight the concerns of the disengaged – individuals turned off by traditional politics – by turning away from the promise of a social movement, and a new economic deal. By promising an anti-austerity policy, promoting regional banks, and a public sector that paves the way for private investment without dancing to the tune of corporatism, Corbyn could mark the start of a new generation of policy.
Whilst Smith’s ‘soft-left’ opposition doesn’t disregard all of these ideas, repeating the same half-baked policies of the last five years will do little to create an individual identity for the party. Mass resignations of the type we have seen damage the potential to change our communities and workplaces.
"When we realise that all the tides of history are flowing our direction, that we are not beaten, that we represent the future, then when we say it and mean it we will lead our people to where they deserve to be led.” Bevan was right. Our temporary unpopularity in this temporary semi-affluent society is not a sign of Labour following the wrong path, but a signal that more radical and stable thinking is required in order to make Labour a beacon of hope and electability.
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