By Daniel Margrain
After Jeremy Corbyn’s election victory by one of the biggest majorities in Labour party history, the feeling of optimism among the grass roots membership was palpable. Here was a leader who was said to have genuinely held socialist principles who was about to smash the iron-clad neoliberal consensus that had come to dominate the PLP machine. However, as great as his victory was, for me personally, the optimism was offset by the knowledge that from the outset the corporate media and political class had it in for him. Many of us suspected, therefore, that some of the biggest struggles were yet to come.
These suspicions were confirmed after it emerged that not only were some of Corbyn’s most critical enemies to be found within his own party, but that the media en mass began acting, not as a dispassionate observer but as the delegitimizing arm of the British state. That Corbyn not only defeated the campaign by the plotters to undermine him, but that he also managed to shrug off the media hate-fest that accompanied it with consummate ease, is a testament to the strength of his character.
But it’s more than that. It’s also a testament to his supposed deeply-held and longstanding political convictions and, arguably most importantly of all, his unswerving democratic commitment to the mass membership who elected him into power, not just once, but twice. Unlike the period preceding the 1997 General Election when the media depicted Blair being swept-up in an apparent rising tide of jingoistic sentiment, Corbyn’s success was marked by their overriding intention to demonize him.
Given that both Blair and Corbyn were elected on an almost identical Left mandate, how can this apparent dichotomy be rationally explained other than the notion the former, as opposed to the latter, was willing to serve elite interests? The rise of Blair was accompanied by flattering noises from the Murdoch press that underlined a palpable sense of intellectual curiosity totally absent from their coverage of Corbyn. This was because unlike the former, such curiosity wasn’t deemed a requirement. Demonization requires neither intellectualism nor curiosity, merely blind bigotry and hate which is precisely what the media-political establishment thrive on.
The most effective way to deal with this kind of bigotry and hate, is to challenge head-on the injustices, misinformation and false propaganda that give rise to them. To a large extent, whatever Corbyn does or says, the media will be unduly critical and biased against him. And so on their terms, he will never be seen to have done the right thing despite that his unequivocal stated commitment to social justice issues, Trident, the re-nationalization of the railways and the NHS are all highly commendable and universally popular.
Talking the talk
So what’s the problem? As effective as he has been in saying the right things at the right time, it’s nevertheless been the case that Corbyn’s leadership has largely been marked by his inability to act on is pronouncements. In terms of the NHS, for example, he appears to be reluctant to publicly denounce the dubious record of NHS England’s Simon Stevens, or to address the highly controversial statements made by his shadow health minister, Heidi Alexander regarding her alleged lack of commitment to its underlying principles. In view of the contentions made by activist Dr Bob Gill, it’s difficult to conclude anything other than the notion Corbyn is not as committed to the ethos of a universally free at the point of delivery HHS as perhaps he has led many people to believe.
In opposition and on the back benches, Corbyn’s stated long-term commitment and principled opposition to social injustice has been exemplary. However, even his most ardent of supporters will surely concede that as Labour leader he has often fallen short in fulfilling some of those principles. Another illustration of this has been his lack of public support for comrades like Ken Livingston and Jackie Walker who have had a series of unjustified and defamatory McCarthyite antisemitic attacks levelled at them.
Corbyn’s opposition to the illegalities of the Israeli Zionist state is long-standing and well known, and yet his failure as leader to break the links between the Labour party and the Labour Friends of Israel is unforgivable. It underscores a weakness in his leadership that cannot simply be brushed aside. Equally, as serious an issue, has been Corbyn’s virtual silence over the corrupt practices of NECs Iain McNicol as well as an apparent inability to tackle the systemic failings of the organisation he leads. More broadly, and arguably most worrying of all, has been Corbyn’s reluctance to set in motion a process by which the MPs who attempted to depose him could be deselected.
It should be recalled that it was McNicol who not only tried to fix the vote to the detriment of Corbyn, but had gone out of his way to prevent him even standing. For a Labour leader not to have supported the Left in the party has meant that the Right, although a minority, has managed to keep control of the Conference and the NEC.
Latest error of judgement
Corbyn’s latest error of judgement – and arguably his biggest – relates to his disastrous Brexit strategy. His entire approach to the issue seems to me to be not only his agreeing to the triggering of Article 50, but his acceptance that Brexit is inevitable when there is no inevitability about it. Corbyn has admitted that his support for EU membership was only 70 to 75% despite the fact that a similar proportion of his constituents voted to remain.
Corbyn’s half-hearted approach has almost certainly played into the hands of the Right. Rather than sending out an ambivalent message, it would arguably have been far more effective had Corbyn demonstrated an unequivocal commitment to defending the right of elected Labour MPs to vote in a way that accurately reflects the interests of their constituents. Instead, we were left with a situation in which a democratically elected Labour leader, albeit inadvertently, ended up being pulled to the Right.
Corbyn’s problematic situation is compounded by evidence which shows that withdrawal from the Single Market will likely result in a decline in working class living standards. Moreover, as Tony Greenstein puts it:
“If May chooses to make Britain a tax haven then this will mean that with far less tax revenue not only will there not be enough resources to fund an expansion of the welfare state but a Labour government would be a rerun of previous austerity governments. Access to the Single Market, both for manufacturing and the financial services is crucial. London faces the prospect of losing its role as the world’s leading financial sector to New York, Frankfurt and Paris. Companies which are located in Britain because of tariff free access to Europe will simply move. The fact that a narrow majority of people were fooled into voting against their own interests, for good reasons, by nationalist bile is not a reason to accept the decision. Parties exist to change peoples’ minds not to pander to their prejudices.”
It is the job of the Labour opposition to oppose not to compete for the racist vote which is what Corbyn’s apparent avatism implies. It’s one thing to yearn for a nostalgic concept of nationalist-based socialism, but another to do so when, firstly, there is clearly no current demonstrable appetite for socialism among the body politic of British society, and secondly, when the implications of the isolationist neoliberal alternative approach is shown to impact negatively on the poorest and most vulnerable.
Island of socialism
What Corbyn effectively envisages is a concept in which the UK exists extraneously from the rest of Europe. This ‘island of socialism’ mentality is the very antithesis of an internationalist concept of a kind he appears to have abandoned. The idea that internationalism can exist without international institutions is farcical. Furthermore, as Craig Murray argues, “to write off those institutions because they are currently controlled by right wing governments is short-sighted to the point of being stupid.”
The reason why the EU as an institution adopts right wing policies, is because it is currently dominated by right-wing governments. That fact is not a justifiable reason to want to abandon the project altogether, but to continue arguing for the reinstatement of the kind of federalist and internationalist concept of the EU envisaged by Jacques Delors in which the appropriation and destruction of national sovereignty is to be encouraged rather than belittled.
More wiser heads than Corbyn’s on the left, such as Diane Abbot, are able to see how out of touch Corbyn’s retrograde form of feudal socialism is. His ambivalence on the Brexit issue clearly put the likes of Abbot in a difficult political position. The dilemma she, and other Labour MPs faced, was whether to vote with their conscience and in the interests of their constituents who voted to remain, or go against their principles by voting for the Article 50 Bill on the basis of maintaining a sense of loyalty to both their leader and to the Shadow Cabinet?
Abbot’s statement below published on twitter, indicates that her preferred option was to go for the latter approach:
Jeremy Corbyn comes across as a sincere and honourable man whose motivations are not self-enrichment but to make society a better place for everybody. Morally and intellectually, he is head and shoulders above his political opponents and would make a far better prime minister than the hapless autocrat, Theresa May.
However, he is not perfect (who is?). His overly accommodating approach towards his enemies, the lack of support he has shown to his longstanding friends and his attempt to effectively coerce Labour MPs into taking the pro-Brexit line, are all major strategic miscalculations that have the potential to back-fire on him.
Nevertheless, despite these flaws, I am of the opinion that if Corbyn and his team can motivate enough young people to come out and vote, Labour can beat the Tories at the next General Election. Very few people are likely to detest the Tories more than me. I have direct experience of the negative consequences resulting from their welfare retrenchment policies.
I want to make the Labour party the most effective opposition to the Tories as possible. It’s for this reason I feel it’s my duty to provide constructive criticisms as, and when, required. I am not motivated by an intention to undermine Corbyn, but to help ensure the party he leads replaces the Tories at the next election.
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