As ballot papers for the Labour Party leadership contest are sent out, here are a few of the reasons I believe Jeremy Corbyn stands head and shoulders above the other candidates. To judge Corbyn better yourself, my own views are interspersed with a selection of recent interviews he has given.
Click here to read “Why I’m standing” on Jeremy Corbyn’s official jeremyforlabour.com website.
When Jeremy Corbyn announced his last minute intention to stand in the Labour leadership election he was dismissed as a 100-1 outsider, but a few months on and he’s become the odds-on favourite – the latest polls in fact putting him so far ahead of his rivals that it seems he may win outright victory in the first round. This is remarkable, however it shouldn’t surprise anyone.
For in a political age dominated by the “centrism” (so-called) of the “Third Way” (Blair’s not Mussolini’s), and consumed by image über alles with advert-style messages that glide slickly on a well-oiled surface of spin, Corbyn stands apart. He doesn’t expend his energies obsessing over soundbites, or how to gesture and strut more assertively. Nor does he get mixed up with publicity stunts like ordering pasties to prove his close allegiance to the ordinary bloke, or masticating awkwardly on bacon butties to show he’s normal or British (or something), or the unveiling tombstones to soon-to-be sunken promises, and we can be as near as certain that Corbyn never will. Yes, Ed Miliband had some god awful advisors, but then why did he keep on taking their god awful advice…? Short answer: to keep up with the Camerons, of course – bad decision!
Corbyn comes ungarnished. He doesn’t need props to cling tight to, or even a fancy suit to make him look more dashing. Because instead of daft stunts and the rest of the trimmings, Corbyn wins support by virtue of sincerity, intelligence and the authority which comes from a lifetime dedicated to political campaigning. For Corbyn has always spoken truth to power, which is the bigger reason he stands apart.
Here is Corbyn recently interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s “Going Underground”:
Staunchly anti-“austerity”, anti-TTIP, anti-fracking, Corbyn, who has been an ardent anti-war activist throughout his years as a backbencher, is today a prominent figure both within the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestinian solidarity movement (reasons his name already features so large in my tag cloud right), just as he once championed gay rights and spearheaded the anti-Apartheid movement of the 80s (an era when championing these issues was a recipe for marginalisation).
More courageously still, Corbyn led the vanguard when it came to brokering an Irish peace accord. Unafraid of controversy, he invited Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin president and persona non grata, to talks in London a full decade prior to the start of official negotiations which would lead to the Good Friday Agreement (and shortly before Adam’s voice was banned altogether from British television).
Here is a more extended interview in which Corbyn discusses with Hassan Alkatib his personal role in trying to bring about a peace settlement in Northern Ireland; his experiences in Gaza; his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria; and his support for Chilean, Palestinian and Irish independence:
Unlike the bulk of today’s career politicians, who plot their narrow course into office with the obligatory PPE degree from Oxford firmly in hand, Corbyn is able to draw upon firsthand experience in many fields both before and since he became an MP. He has worked as a union representative, as an elected councillor, and was a member of a public health authority, but, arguably more importantly, Corbyn is most well-versed in the intricacies of foreign policy. From Ireland to the Middle East, to Latin America, and beyond – across the world, Corbyn has been there and done that; including campaigning to bring former Chilean dictator Pinochet to trial, just as he has more recently (during this Labour leadership campaign in fact) been outspoken in his calls for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes.
Indeed, in the most recent interview given on the BBC [Newsnight August 4th], Corbyn explained why Iraq War was illegal and why he believes Tony Blair should be prosecuted:
In short, Corbyn is a conviction politician – a tag so dreadfully sullied by Margaret Thatcher and others on the right, but one that once characterised the most admired and respected figures of the left. He is, as the late Tony Benn (one such illustrious leftist) so elegantly distinguished, a political ‘signpost’ and not a ‘weather vane’. Integrity that is a big part of the allure which persuades many hundreds of thousands of supporters (myself included) to sign up on the Labour register to cast their vote. It is a quality that the mainstream media, so utterly hung up on matters of image and spin, simply can’t get to grips with at all. A quality so rare in contemporary politics that they try very hard to pretend it has never existed.
Click here to read a summary of “15 times when Jeremy Corbyn was on the right side of history”.
For today there is an astonishing dearth not only of talented, imaginative and honourable politicians (“honourable members” – you really have to laugh!) but, and as a direct consequence, an ever-worsening deficit of democracy. A de facto one party line that serves the corporate sponsors and the special interests, while abandoning the rest of us to a counsel of despair. ‘The mother of parliaments’ reduced to the role of little more than a big business facilitator, with its recent cohorts of members determined, so it seems, to lessen themselves of the already diminished burden of real responsibility, preferring to function instead in some lesser capacity as the middle managers of out-sourced state interests.
Rather than serving the public good, as any government in a democracy should, by, for instance, rebuilding dilapidated infrastructure (a long overdue project in Britain), bolstering public services, hospitals, schools, and pensions and generally improving the standard of living for all – actually not very much to ask for in the Twenty-First Century – our governments have instead repeatedly sold our nation down the river (with sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts). But then, our politicians themselves are sell-outs, who seek election in order to get one foot in the revolving doors of the corporatocracy. It is evident, however, that Corbyn is not intent to follow them through it, why would he be? He is not a career politician, but a campaigner turned politician. And with Corbyn as a leader of Labour, “austerity” and “privatisation” – cuts and sell-offs to use their proper names – the chosen neo-liberal means for transferring wealth from the poor to the richest one-percent will not be so routinely passed off as the only remedy for an ailing economy.
Up until now, the electorate has simply sucked it all up and why? Because – and it is hard to over-emphasise the importance of this – (New) Labour, our only serious opposition party south of Hadrian’s Wall, presented no substantial alternative. This is a deplorable situation which last month culminated in Harriet Harman, the Party’s interim leader, capitulating to Tory government’s latest slashing and gouging Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Yes, Harman’s position was criticised by three of the four leadership election candidates, but actions speak louder than words:
Out of the four leadership candidates, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall all abstained on the proposals. Jeremy Corbyn voted against. 1
Corbyn voted against – did anyone seriously doubt he wouldn’t?
And this was Corbyn’s response in Parliament to the Tory’s atrocious budget:
Derided as “hard left”, in truth, Corbyn is rather moderate and, above all, a democrat, whereas most of those who accuse Corbyn of extremism fall into two (overlapping) camps: deliberately mendacious or else suffering from psychological projection. Because whether fully cognisant or unwitting dupe, they are unable to see beyond a prevailing orthodoxy for which Tariq Ali perspicaciously coined the term “extreme centre”. A hollowed out politics with an axis so precipitously skewed to the right that refuseniks are, by comparison at least, ‘extreme’ – ‘hard left’ of an ‘extreme middle’.
Another accusation I hear is that Corbyn is ‘a throwback’ or ‘a relic’, which comes with the latent presumption that progress in politics flows always in one direction. But this standpoint is ahistorical. Movements rise and fall, and many times social change pivots to become something appearing to be its opposite: revolution follows restoration; intolerance begets tolerance; and permissiveness bubbles up after droughts of prohibition; and the reverse applies in every case. ‘Progress’ does not sail unerring onward to the bright horizon, but gets caught up on strong currents, drifts into doldrums, and tacks back and forth to find a better course. This is why history repeats, or, as Mark Twain put it better, it rhymes.
During the last three decades (at least) the western world has been neither progressing nor merely regressing, but careering recklessly down a socio-economic cul-de-sac that ends with a cliff. We need to find reverse as fast as we possibly can. For as hard-line “free market” capitalism rushes us into a second financial meltdown (less than a decade after the last close catastrophe), it reveals itself not merely as an ideology without compassion, but as an inherently flawed system incapable of ensuring basic needs and a comfortable life for a majority of people. Rotten to the core, it is ripe for the dustbin of history.
Thus, Corbyn’s late arrival is propitious. In any case, given such an abiding commitment to peace, human rights, and social justice, it is Corbyn who looks forward, and not his detractors – those are the reactionaries, both in the strict sense and more simply by virtue of being opposed to real change (which are sullied words once again, but can be reclaimed). By any regular definition of the term, Corbyn has always been the true progressive.
“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win”, said Mahatma Gandhi, although in Gandhi’s day it took a while to proceed through the check list, whereas in our (dis)information age progress has significantly quickened. So once the leadership campaign was underway, Corbyn was ignored only momentarily, and afterwards rather briefly ridiculed, before quickly coming under a sustained barrage of heavy fire – most conspicuously from figures within his own party: the old guard of New Labour being especially vitriolic. “Anyone but Corbyn” – how’s that for negative campaigning?
Then there is the media itself. Here, for instance, is Newsnight producer Ed Brown explaining “Why most of the ‘Stop Jeremy’ schemes won’t work” from BBC Newsnight Live [published on Monday 17th]:
So, in theory, if you, the “stop Corbyn” voter thought that, say, Burnham’s supporters are more likely to have Corbyn as their next preference than Cooper’s, you should put Burnham ahead of Cooper in your preference list even if you ACTUALLY prefer Cooper to Burnham – because it’ll starve Corbyn of the extra votes he’d get if Burnham was knocked out.
The thing is, I am not aware of any decent evidence that this is the case. We have very few polls on the Labour leadership election – and those that exist (necessarily) have small samples of what Burnham and Cooper’s second preferences would be. Very roughly speaking, the polling tables I’ve seen suggest supporters of both split their second preferences about 30/70 between Corbyn and his opponent. So it’s not clear which of these you should give a higher preference to tactically stop Corbyn anyway. 2
Is Ed Brown sticking by BBC’s duty to remain impartial? I let you judge for yourself. Meanwhile, this was Channel 4 news reporter Cathy Newman desperately trying to derail Corbyn by shamelessly playing the anti-Semitism card:
“Mr Corbyn, tell me, have you stopped being a Holocaust Denier?” Unsavoury yes, but these are truly desperate tactics. To return to Gandhi’s famous remarks, “… and then you win.”
I very much hope that Corbyn does win the selection (the result is not due until September 12th), though I anticipate further last-ditch manoeuvres by the both the corporate media and the establishment left as it does everything in its power to block his progress. Whatever the result, however, his campaign has been a resounding success which, in and of itself, marks the prospect for a sea change in political consciousness – another step for a movement that is gaining traction and momentum not only in Britain but across southern Europe as well as vast swathes of the United States – as evinced by the (largely unreported in Britain) momentous surge in support for socialist candidate Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The nitty-gritty of Corbyn’s proposals will need refinement and polishing, but keep in mind that this is a campaign for party leadership and not for government. Importantly, Corbyn says that he is committed to reforming the party itself, and his track record proves both a commitment to fighting for the oppressed and a genuine readiness to serve a greater cause (the democratic one).
At present we are faced with two wars, an economic one at home and another comprised of drone attacks and proxy wars abroad which is now forcing millions of people to flee to our shores. These wars are not unconnected. If Corbyn is elected leader then our resistance to both will be reinvigorated. He is the anti-war candidate. Moreover this country will see a political debate once again – absent since the days of Michael Foot three decades ago.
Click here to follow the hashtag #JezWeCan
(For a discussion of the fall of Old Labour I refer readers to a previous post.)
What is taking place in the Labour party is a democratic explosion unprecedented in British political history. Last week more than 168,000 registered to vote in Labour’s leadership election – on one day. About 400,000 people have applied to join Labour as members or supporters since May, tripling the size of the party to more than 600,000.
Writes columnist and associate editor of the Guardian, Seumas Milne, in an excellent article published on Thurs 20th entitled “Jeremy Corbyn’s surge can be at the heart of a winning coalition”. He continues:
You only have to go to one of the campaign’s huge rallies to understand that the idea this is the product of political or union manipulation is laughable – and that his supporters don’t only want a different kind of Labour leader: they want to change the political system.
Meanwhile, the claim that the other leadership candidates – steeped as they are in the triangulating “pro-business” politics of the 1990s – can offer a winning electoral alternative to Corbyn’s commitment to what are in fact mostly mainstream public views, looks increasingly implausible.
Andy Burnham has now broken ranks with the “anyone but Corbyn” bloc, while the Blairites are swinging behind the studiedly New Labour Yvette Cooper. But their spat looks like a battle for second place.
And the nature of the coalition Milne refers to in the title to his piece?
There isn’t in any case only one possible coalition of voters that could beat the Tories in five years’ time. And the idea that any of Corbyn’s rivals stands a better chance of winning back support in Scotland, from disaffected working-class and middle-income voters, Ukip or the Greens is hard to credit.
It’s possible, of course, that the relentless attacks will tip the vote against Corbyn after all. But if not, he will face an even more ferocious onslaught thereafter. That will come not only from the Conservatives and the media, but from sections of the Labour establishment that can be expected to launch a parliamentary campaign to undermine and unseat him.
But Corbyn will have an unprecedented democratic mandate if he wins, backed by a movement of hundreds of thousands. And not only is he committed to creating a leadership of “all the talents”, he also plans to open up Labour’s long-dormant internal democracy. Corbyn makes a point on the stump of emphasising that his policy ideas are currently only “proposals” and “suggestions”.
Click here to read Seumas Milne’s full article.
Seumas Milne also appeared on Saturday’s [Aug 22nd] episode of RT’s Sputnik hosted by George Galloway to discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party leadership campaign. In part 2 of the same show, Galloway spoke with Shadia Edwards-Dashti of the Stop the War Coalition:
On Friday [Aug 21st], RT’s flagship discussion show Crosstalk was given over to debate the rise and electability of Jeremy Corbyn. It featured Lindsey German from Stop the War Coalition, Scottish left-wing activist and political commentator Chris Bambery, and academic Steven Fielding. The complete episode is embedded below.
One clarification I would like to make is that contrary to host Peter Lavelle’s claim to have heard Corbyn admitting on Channel 4 news to reading Karl Marx [10 mins in], in actual fact Corbyn was responding to a question about whether or not he did read Marx. In response to that very direct question, Corbyn said something to the effect that he felt he perhaps should have read more Marx because Marx was obviously an influential thinker, before turning the question around on the interviewer saying, (and I paraphrase from memory) he has influenced us all don’t you think, you included:
To finish I have also decided to embed a short clip of ‘the artist taxi driver’ delivering one his most effervescent and inspirational rants. A set of variations on the theme of “end the madness of Jeremy Corbyn” – I know this will not be to everyone’s taste, but I include it because I don’t disagree with a single syllable:
1 From an article entitled “Welfare bill: These are the 184 Labour MPs who didn’t vote against the Tories’ cuts” written by Jon Stone, published in The Independent on July 21, 2015. The opening paragraphs read:
Below are the 184 Labour MPs who didn’t vote against the second reading of the Conservatives’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
The main changes in the Bill are reducing the household welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000, abolishing legally binding child poverty targets, cuts to child tax credits, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, and cuts to housing benefit for young people.
2 From an article entitled “Why most of the ‘Stop Jeremy’ schemes won’t work” written by Ed Brown, published by BBC news on August 17, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-politics-33139218