Wednesday 29 July 2015

Jeremy Corbyn and the Revival of the Labour Right, by David Lindsay

I had wanted to support Andy Burnham. But I am disabled, and he did not think me worth voting for. So, Jeremy Corbyn it is, then. The personal is political. What is more, the score between New Labour and the Conservatives now stands at a mere 3-2. The last New Labour victory was 10 years ago, or 15 years before the next General Election. It is time to try something new.

On the scale of public ownership and on the extent of trade union power, Corbyn is well to the right of Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home. That is not hyperbole. It is fact. As it is that Margaret Thatcher presided over publicly owned railways, and over a 60p top rate of income tax well above that proposed by Corbyn. And as it is that Tony Blair promised to renationalise the railways in the 1997 manifesto and in several speeches leading up to that General Election.

Why would Corbyn’s position not be the centre ground? You can have all the private health insurance that you like. But if you were hit by a car, or if you collapsed in the street with a heart attack, then someone would call 999, and an NHS ambulance would take you to an NHS hospital.

That that call would certainly be made, even by a perfect stranger, is testament to the definition of the United Kingdom’s culture by the social democratic legacy of previous Labour Governments, supremely that which was elected in 1945. Everyone benefits, of all classes and in all areas. Such was always the intention behind it. This is the only British identity that almost anyone alive can remember, or that almost any of the rest would wish to have.

Today, however, it is under threat as never before. Even in the 1980s, nothing came close to the scale of the attack, not merely since the recent General Election, but since that of 2010; under the Liberal Democrats, who never moderated a thing, as much as under the Conservatives. The election of Tim Farron augurs well, as does the vote of all eight Liberal Democrat MPs against the Welfare Reform Bill. But we must not let that recent party of government off the hook for its numerous offences.

Labour grew from many and various roots. Trade union and co-operative. Radical Liberal and Tory populist. Christian Socialist and Social Catholic. Fabian and even, in the space both on Labour’s fringes and on Marxism’s fringes, Marxist, subject to the balancing and moderating influences of the others. Giving the wrong answers does not preclude asking the right questions. Much of the Fabian tradition also gives the wrong answers.

We need a broad alliance between the urban and the rural, the metropolitan and the provincial, the secular and the religious, the socially liberal and the socially conservative. An alliance including all ethnic groups, all social classes, and all parts of the country: One Nation.

Labour has always had a right wing. It always will have. It always should have. People who would prefer the purity of a Stalinist, Trotskyist or Maoist groupuscule have never been short of options. The point is to have a right wing of the Labour Party, and not merely a right wing in the Labour Party. The Leadership of Jeremy Corbyn will achieve that.

Who are the hundreds of thousands who have signed up in order to vote for him? Are there that many Stalinists, Trotskyists and Maoists in Britain, collectively more numerous than the entire membership of the Conservative Party? Are there that many sad acts who do whatever Toby Young tells them? Of course not.

And if they are not already, then most of these mainstream, moderate centrists will become full members of the Labour Party once the mainstream, moderate and centrist Corbyn is Leader, involving themselves fully in local party activity even where they have to organise it entirely from scratch.

By Christmas, every Constituency Labour Party will contain a majority that had joined specifically because of Jeremy Corbyn. Abstentionist MPs who had thought that you had meal tickets for life, you need to start looking for jobs. Although good luck to most of you with that. Tony Blair used to talk about “literally a new party”, but it is Corbyn who has already created one.

From the Trade Union Bill, to public ownership, to the proper centrality of rail and coal, to foreign policy and wars, to Trident, to civil liberties, to the case against the EU from the very start, Corbyn’s views are the views of Peter Hitchens. Many of them are also shared by Peter Oborne and by several other commentators who could hardly be described as “Loony Left”.

Furthermore, they are popular. For example, the renationalisation of the railways is consistently supported by between 65 and 70 per cent of the population, stable across all parts of the country and across the electoral bases of all parties. There is strong public support for rent controls, and for a mandatory Living Wage properly so called. Defending the NHS is massively popular.

But even if none of those things were the case, a political party does not exist purely in order to follow public opinion. What would be the point of the Labour Party if it did not campaign for such policies as these? Or if it did not vote to defend the best legacy of Blair, his drastic reduction in child poverty?

Figures of such Olympian self-regard as to profess that they “would not serve under Corbyn”, as if they would have been asked, need to be made aware that plenty of people without a Marxist bone in their bodies would be more than happy to do so, and would merrily relieve them of the parliamentary seats that they obviously would not be needing. Any seat that was Labour in 2015 will always be Labour.

Corbyn’s position on Northern Ireland has been that of the Conservative Party since 1993 in principle, and since well before that in practice. There are people in Northern Ireland who dissent from it, but for whom do they vote? With their Confederate, apartheid and Nazi flags, they identify publicly as one Lost Cause among many.

Whereas Corbyn will soon speak at a Sinn Féin-associated cultural festival alongside a Democratic Unionist MP and former Lord Mayor of Belfast who was 13 at the time of the Good Friday Agreement. The most controversial thing about the entire week is the question of whether or not Frankie Boyle will appear.

On the Falkland Islands, I am as fierce as Michael Foot was on the right of the inhabitants to self-determination. But I doubt that much of the British population would share that view in practice if this tiny community a very long way away were to take this country to war for the second time in 40 years.

I was born in St Helena, but the employment of St Helenians on the Falklands is not necessarily conditional on British sovereignty. Believing that having once been invaded qualifies them for every conceivable goodie, the Falkland Islanders are the kind of entitled lot whom Thatcherites would ordinarily despise. Even with the impending airport, St Helena makes do with much less for more people. The treatment of the British community on Ascension Island is a national disgrace. The only strategic interest in the Falkland Islands is in the defence of the Falkland Islands.

Corbyn, Parliament’s doughtiest battler for the Chagossians and a scourge of the tax havens beloved of the Conservative Party’s paymasters, will take a more rounded and balanced view of the Overseas Territories. The Falkland Islanders, among others, will need to up their game from “Because we’re worth it”, never mind “Good old Maggie Thatcher”.

Corbyn once hosted Hamas, with which the Israeli Government negotiates all the time, and Hezbollah, alongside which our Armed Forces are now at war, a war that Corbyn was one of very few MPs to vote against. It was not he who lowered the flag over the Palace of Westminster when King Abdullah died.

Corbyn is in favour of the abolition of the monarchy in Britain, but it is inconceivable that he would ever press that issue. There would simply be rather more immediate calls on his time, and his side would be guaranteed a crushing defeat in any referendum. This question is never asked of those who identify with either or both of Thatcherism and Blairism. Yet the Thatcher and Blair Projects were both incompatible with the monarchy in principle, and, using and used by the Murdoch media, they were both extremely hostile in practice to the Queen and to the Royal Family.

What of the SNP, that collection of former Tory candidates, youthful Tory-Nationalist dynasts, and erstwhile speechwriters for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, none of whom is ever asked when he or she mysteriously became a figure of the radical Left? It has done as well as it ever possibly could, and it is therefore no longer any kind of threat to Labour.

Labour is bound to regain a few seats in Scotland, and probably quite a few, because the only way for the SNP is down. For differing but not unconnected reasons, the factually baseless existence of some special relationship between Labour and Scotland has long been a staple of Scottish Labourites, Scottish Nationalists and English Tories.

But Scotland now returns exactly as many Labour MPs as Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, while the Labour Whip is at least informally accepted by three times as many MPs from Northern Ireland, where Labour does not even stand candidates, as from Scotland, with a fourth Northern Irish MP also a kind of Labour supporter. Labour has barely noticed this “loss” of Scotland.

The SNP would only have mattered anywhere outside its increasingly curious fiefdom if there had been a hung Parliament. But there is not. Moreover, it has already proved wholly incapable of dealing with the media scrutiny to which it is unused. It is time to turn that on its disastrous record of running Scotland’s health and education, and on its downright corrupt relationship with Brian Souter over transport policy.

Speaking of transport, if recall elections are introduced, then the rail unions, affiliated and otherwise, need to fund Labour’s petitioning for them, and then winning them, across all 44 Conservative seats in the North of England, three in North Wales, and one, precisely one, in the South of Scotland.

The pre-Blairite right-wing faction Labour First professes to believe that “The unions are an integral part of our party” and to favour “More power for local councillors, not unaccountable community groups and quangos”. Yet it is campaigning for tactical voting against the only candidate who shares those views. Its unbending support for Trident, ostensibly in order to protect vastly fewer jobs than have been allowed to go to the wall elsewhere, now makes it more belligerent than Michael Portillo. Like its hardline neoconservatism, that stance alienates it from at least one MP who is a veteran of the traditional Labour Right.

Even before he becomes Leader, Corbyn needs to announce a bank of independent policy advisors including all MPs who nominated him, all MPs who signed the uncalled Goodman Amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill, all Labour MPs who voted against Second Reading of that Bill, all signatories to this, all signatories to this, all contributors of essays or commendations to this, all non-Labour MPs who voted against war in Syria in 2013, all MPs who voted against war in Iraq in 2014, and all seat-taking MPs from Northern Ireland.

Although not affiliated to the Labour Party since the High Blair Period, the RMT and the FBU remain affiliated to the Labour Representation Committee, which is constitutionally committed to the election of a Labour Government. They ought to undertake to pay all election costs of Labour MPs or candidates in any of those categories, as well as of candidates selected in place of prima donnas who thought that they were indispensable.

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