World turned upside downPosted: September 14, 2015
Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party.
I’m still having to repeat it to myself occasionally to remind myself that it’s true. And I think none of us yet knows what it really means.
For the whole of my adult life, I’ve been wishing for a Labour Party leadership that really stood up for the interests of working class people. I’ve been part of lots of campaigns and movements that have been hampered by the fact that we didn’t have that kind of representation and support in Parliament.
Over the last five years, its absence has been acutely galling – as disabled people, women, benefit claimants, immigrants, tenants, the NHS and public services have faced attacks that left thousands despairing, while the Labour Party meekly acquiesced.
So the overwhelming election of Jeremy Corbyn is an incredible boost for everyone that has been campaigning against austerity. It gives us a much louder voice in Parliament and shatters the Westminster consensus, giving courage to many within the Labour Party whose natural inclination to speak out against the unjust austerity regime has been stifled by their wish to remain loyal to their party.
Of course, Corbyn has a fight on his hands in the Parliamentary Labour Party. He’s going to need the backing of the massive wave of supporters that swept him to the front bench.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t believe anybody does – we are in uncharted territory. Although it’s tempting to come up with a bunch of predictions and prescriptions, I think it’s too soon to say what’s likely or possible, or to advise anyone about what they ought to be doing now.
So my observations are tentative and incomplete, and possibly contradictory.
The Labour Party needs to be redesigned from the bottom up
It needs to turn away from a narrow focus on electoral campaigning and develop an open, outward-looking and democratic culture. Policies must be determined by members, not handed down from above.
If this doesn’t happen quickly, many of those new members will drift away. Here’s some good advice for Jeremy Corbyn, from Compass.
The Labour Party should be the political wing of the wider anti-austerity movement
That means we need to keep campaigning on the issues that are affecting people now, and welcome Labour Party members, old and new, to work alongside us.
Jeremy Corbyn has always believed in the power of protest to force political change. He was right.
Corbyn’s base is in the activist movements whose members have had to get used to working round the Labour Party, not through it. But the Labour Party and the activists can no longer afford to ignore each other. The adjustment will be tricky on both sides.
Rather than angrily standing outside the Town Hall while Labour councillors vote to make people on benefits pay 67% more council tax, for example, can we shift their position from within the Labour Party? I truly don’t know – we never succeeded in doing this in the 1980s and 90s, when the party’s structures were nominally much more democratic than they are now. On the other hand, Jeremy Corbyn was never leader of the Labour Party then, so who knows?
Climate change remains a global emergency
In the leadership election campaign, Corbyn said that as leader he “would establish an Energy Commission to draft a fundamental shift in UK energy thinking.” He should appoint Caroline Lucas to chair it.
In Brighton, Labour and Greens need to start working together
There have been some excellent steps towards this, initiated by Brighton & Hove Compass. I hope that Corbyn’s election, and Caroline Lucas’s positive response to it will give a boost to these initial ideas. For local party politics, this is the key problem that needs to be resolved.
As the cuts bite deeper, progressive voters (many of whom were part of the Corbyn wave) have less and less patience for turf wars and point scoring between Labour and Green councillors.
Labour will benefit from a big influx of members in Brighton, as elsewhere, in the wake of Corbyn’s election. But they will have to accept that many of these members will continue to vote, and even campaign, for Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion. That is the nature of the new style of politics, and I think we all have a lot to gain by embracing it.