Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning victory in the Labour leadership election will change the face of politics in Britain. His campaign focused the angry anti-Tory, anti-austerity feelings shared by millions.
In the article below Sean Vernell assesses the significance of the victory.
Jez he did! Corbyn’s victory brings with it ‘a new kind of politics’.
Jeremy Corbyn’s successful bid to win the leadership of the Labour Party has sent shock waves through the political establishment. His victory was overwhelming and gives him a huge mandate for the anti-austerity policies he put forward during the leadership campaign.
Corbyn’s first act as Labour leader was to speak out against the Tory Trade Union Bill and to join tens of thousands on the “Refugees welcome here” protest in London.
Despite the virulence of the attacks on him, his success in the election, with almost 60% of the first preference votes, was unequivocal. The significance of this victory is enormous. For two months all the political pundits, media hacks and the three other candidates have tried to make sense of his growing mass appeal not just with party members but also with a new generation that has, in the past, been turned off from official politics.
This election campaign has revealed just how out of touch the political establishment are with the true feelings of working people.
They used terms like ‘Corbynmania’ and ‘hysterical’ to describe the tens of thousands that his campaign attracted across Britain. The establishment pundits could only rationalise his popularity by putting it down to some form of mass neurosis.
They cannot understand why working people have such a profound sense of rage and injustice towards those at the top of society who continue to get wealthier whilst they get poorer. They fail to understand the frustration and anxiety that working people feel everyday as their work/life balance firmly tilts towards work – resulting in them having no time to spend playing and watching their children grow up.
They fail to understand the young.
A generation that has been brought up in an education system where developing the capacity to think and be critical has been replaced by ‘employability’, targets and tests. They have made it more difficult for children from working class backgrounds to access further and higher education by scrapping EMA and raising tuition fees. This is a generation that has been demonised by the press and blamed for successive governments’ failure to provide them with decent secure employment.
It is this discontent and these fears that Corbyn’s campaign gave voice to.
His campaign attracted 300,000 new members to join the Labour Party. At the core of his campaign lay an army of 16,000 volunteers who built the rallies and made the calls to get the vote out.
The offensive begins.
The campaign against Corbyn will no doubt start from day one. The media and the right within the Labour Party will try to portray Corbyn and his supporters as being out of touch with the electorate and who couldn’t possibly win a general election.
There’s nothing new here. This was exactly the excuse that Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair used to ‘modernise’ the party in the 80’s and 90s. They argued that the Labour Party (ie the left) had lost touch with the centre ground of British politics and needed to reconnect with the electorate.
For them that meant moving to the right and embracing the market, privatisation and ‘humanitarian’ wars.
Behind the Blairites’ political strategy lay an acceptance that working people are instinctively right wing and had lost any notion of a collective response to society’s
problems. They had, the Blairites believed, swallowed the individualist, ‘there’s no such thing as society’ politics of the Thatcher era. They concluded from this that rather than challenge these ideas the ‘modern’ Labour Party had to mimic the Tories if they were to win office again.
But it was always mistaken to believe that working people had simply accepted these ideas. Social survey after social survey throughout the 90s showed that on key Tory policies like privatisation and taxes most people were to the left of the official Labour Party.
What the Corbyn campaign proved is that by fighting on a principled, anti-austerity, anti- privatisation, anti- war platform and by putting forward alternatives based on collectivism he could attract people into engaging with official politics again.
But, of course, this is precisely what the establishment fears. After their hacks have spent hour after hour writing column after column complaining about the apathetic working class and tut-tutting at their refusal to turn out in elections, they are now faced with the potential of all those ‘chavs’ turning out to get actively engaged in politics.
The narrative will now change to complain about how Corbyn’s ‘new kind of politics’ is ‘too simplistic’ and that his supporters are not qualified to really understand the complexities of running a modern dynamic economy like Britain’s. The Press, employers and the right within the Labour Party, who are a part of the establishment, will collude to do everything that can to destabilise and undermine the Corbyn leadership. They will be relentless.
That is why trade unionists and activists need to rally support for Jeremy Corbyn’s anti- austerity stance and his democratic right to lead the Labour Party.
Corbyn’s victory: A real boost to every campaign
Corbyn’s victory will lift the confidence of all those who wish to fight back against austerity and injustice. Every trade unionist will feel more confident to take on every bullying manager knowing that their views are not extreme – we are now the mainstream.
He has long been a friend to trade unionists in struggle and to those fighting to defend educational provision. He is on record as proposing a National Education Service (like the NHS), opposing free schools and academies, supporting lifelong learning (to be paid for by a 2 percent increase in corporation tax), scrapping tuition fees and reinstating grants, and abolishing the charitable status of private schools. Clearly these policies will be enthusiastically supported by all those who work and are taught within the education sectors.
Every anti-racist and anti-war activist will feel more confident knowing that the leader of the Labour party is for scrapping Trident, pulling out of NATO and will oppose sending the poor and unemployed of one county to go and kill and maim the poor and unemployed of another.
There will be pressure, no doubt, even from Corybn’s own supporters to seek compromise with those who are hell-bent on destroying him. We will need to resist those pressures.
The real power to defeat austerity and prevent the new moves to war in Syria, for example, lies in building a mass austerity movement in the workplaces and on the streets. This means seizing every opportunity to block the Tories’ plans in the coming weeks and months. It means building on the mass solidarity in support of refugees and migrants and against racism which has mushroomed in the last few weeks.
The main defence against all those forces that seek to undermine Corbyn’s mandate is the movements that gave birth to Corbynism in the first place. As long as we are clear about this and continue to build the movement against austerity, war and racism then the excitement and enthusiasm for a new kind of politics ushered in by the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leader of the Labour Party, could be the harbinger of real hope and change for the left in Britain.
Next stop Manchester, Sunday 4th October.
The week after, on Saturday 10th October, the UCU Left conference, which could hardly be better timed, ‘Education in the front line: how do we fight the austerity agenda?’ will take place in central London. You can register for this by visiting the UCU Left website, www.uculeft.org, where there is also a downloadable flier.
Sean Vernell, UCU Coordinating Secretary City and Islington College and FE national negotiator.