In addition to my views here you will find a short compilation underneath it of the views of friends and comrades who have been also campaigning for a vote for Jeremy Corbyn. My thanks to all of them.
Corbyn in Sheffield
I have been travelling to a number of towns over the last few days talking to party members and others about what is going on in their local Labour Parties. And discussing with them what will be necessary to do after the leadership elections are over.
Of course, if Jeremy doesn’t win – and there is still a chance of that – then things will be very different. But there will be tens of thousands of energetic new activists and the possibilities of many thousands more – win or lose.
The biggest problem is the state of the constituencies. An unprecedented number of constituency parties (152) nominated Jeremy. Some were like my own in Broxtowe, where the majority of branch officers and all the constituency officers backed Corbyn as did the members at the nomination meeting by a clear first majority.
But then there are other constituency parties (CLPs) which nominated Corbyn but where the constituency officers were against him. These party officers were probably somewhat alarmed by the mobilization of old members and the joining of new left wing members that was often dramatically first seen at the nomination meetings. Where might these new members take those parties and what would they now expect from their representatives?
Then there are the many other constituency nomination meetings, often very small, where the officers and MPs got nominations through for their preferred candidates.
And also there are a surprising number of CLPs in special measures – particularly it appears in the West Midlands. And then there are constituencies where branches don’t meet and function or where the constituency meetings have no democratic structures. Up to now Party members have been unable to get the Labour Party Regional Officers or NEC to get to grips with situations like this. Those bodies wanted to keep either the MPs or influential local councillors happy – and they were happier if the local Party was inactive rather that there was any activity that might be critical of them.
So enthusiastic Corbyn supporters will find themselves in hugely different situations in the constituency parties they join. Some will find themselves welcomed into parties anxious to get stuck into campaigning for working class rights and against austerity, racism and nationalism. Others join Parties where local bureaucracies are not overjoyed by their desire for an open Party and clear policies and actions against the Tories. Still many others will find that their branch parties and constituency parties are effectively non-existent!
Even if Corbyn is elected and there is an increased desire to get Party organisations functioning by the leadership and less obstacles are possible by the NEC and Regional Offices – that could take precious months to progress.
So the newly forming left in the Party will need to support activists in all of these situations. It will need to be able to democratically co-ordinate outside the party apparatus.
Democratically – because as Jeremy Corbyn has pointed out this has to be a movement based on policies not on personalities. It is essential that that is not lost.
One of our greatest challenges in the Corbyn campaign is to make rally-goers into activists.
Rallies are good for morale, as are demonstrations, but the Blairites are clear about their intentions. They intend to continually and publicly malign Corbyn and the left – doing whatever they can to damage Labour in the opinion polls. We need to get outside the existing circles of activists to confront that.
Rallies lift spirits but they are not the best way of getting to those who have been alienated from the Labour Party for decades and we need to win back. And yes, of course, we have to win back those who have drifted to the Greens and SNP on the left. But also there are the huge numbers mystified by all of politics and disoriented – and they are often pulled to UKIP and the right.
We have known for a long time and the Labour Party in its own research made clear that UKIP voters aren’t hardened racists, although such evidence was largely ignored by the Blairites. Many of those voters have concerns about growing poverty, the lack of housing and decently paid jobs. In the absence of any party addressing these issues with any urgency – and given crude racist ways of encapsulating their concerns by the press and racists in all parties – they have been pulled towards UKIP.
We can pull those people back – both on the left and on the confused ‘right’. It will be done by running high-profile campaigns that win gains for working class people whenever we can – outside of elections. We need to demonstrate that we can not only talk optimistically about the future but fight in the here and now and win.
It will be done by explaining in one-to-one conversations on doorsteps and stalls what the politics of the pro-working class left in the Party are.
We need good campaigning materials that help us with the above and lots of activists involved in such activity.
And we will have to face up to the fact that this will need to be done in spite of media hostility, with prominent Blairites, with ready access to the press, attacking us again and again. This is doing damage already to the Labour Party in the opinion polls and unless we get well-organised it will continue to do so.
So how can we organise?
We have to do so on a town-by-town and constituency-by-constituency basis. And in many CLPs that will be difficult. There are vested interests in some of them, who will try and maintain their political power-base by obstructing new member involvement and any conversion of supporters into full members.
And we have to debate. That tradition has been stomped on in much of the Party and it is weak in the wider left, which has had a recent diet of nothing other than rallies and demonstrations.
And that debate will need to be both local and national. Corbyn will come under incredible pressure from the right in the Parliamentary Party (PLP). We will need a vigorous independent left to counteract that pressure.
And democracy is key.
There will be many views that have to be debated in the Party after decades of near silence. My own view is that Corbyn’s policies on the economy don’t go far enough. But even if they did, we must organise in the industries that we want renationalised or increasingly regulated to make sure that bosses and businesses can’t undermine the purpose of those renationalisations.
On international issues Corbyn’s policies have understandably been greeted on the left as a breath of fresh air – which indeed they are after the slavish following of US foreign policy – based on keeping happy the powerful capitalist interests in the arms, oil and other profit-making industries.
But whilst Corbyn clearly dismisses direct military interventions by Western governments in places like Iraq and Syria – his policy is pacifistic and does not explain who can defeat the fascist IS/ Daesh. The Kurdish community in UK particularly want him to go further than his condemnation of the Turkish government’s attacks upon them and support their secular militias fighting against the Daesh in Northern Syria/ Rojava. We should support the Kurdish people with that demand.
Whilst Corbyn calls for 2 states in Palestine and Israel – his approach is that of a well-meaning diplomat wanting to pull the various parties into negotiations and avoiding a clear condemnation for fear of giving offense. We have to recognise that not only the racist government in Israel are war-mongers and an obstacle to peace, so are the Hamas leaders in Gaza. We have to oppose not only both governments’ war-mongering but also their attacks on the democratic rights of their own people and in this regard Hamas is even worse than the Israeli government.
But above all we have to take working class politics into the very heart of working class communities. In the early 80s, this was neglected. The left, despite not taking the leadership of the Party, did take hold of a great many CLPs. But it did not build factory branches as it had been allowed to do; it did insufficient work in supporting workers fighting back against Thatcher – at least until the miners strike of 84 when the consequences of defeat dawned on them; it didn’t develop a fighting policy against the Tories’ attacks on council services.
The Party needs to get into the workplaces and into the working class communities. Corbyn’s victory, if it happens, will not be the place to sit back on our laurels – it is where the battle will seriously begin.
Addendum – 15:25, 31st Aug
One thing I missed above is the urgent need for constitutional reform in the party. here are some essential features of it
- Welcoming all working people into the Party who want Labour to be successful in elections
- Lifting the bans on those who have in the past supported various protests votes. An end to exclusions on the basis of beliefs or ‘values’ – free speech in the Party.
- An end to proscriptions and bans on those who campaign for alternative policies as long as they support a Labour vote
- Bringing proper democracy debate back into the Party and restoring Party Conference as the sovereign policy-making body of the Party
- All MPs to be required to go through mandatory reselection between elections
- To make the Labour Party quite clearly the party of trade unionism and to invite all unions to affiliate and be given a meaningful role in the decision and policy making process
These are some of the comments shared with me by other Labour activists. They reveal how from many angles, the challenge for leadership and hopefully the victory of Corbyn has completely changed the expectations and landscape of socialist politics in this country. My thanks to all those who offered them.
Corbyn has opened up a discussion about women’s rights ignored and at times derided by many Westminster politicians. I have seen a lot of positivity and hope in the feminist community. Hope that these words will finally turn into actions, and that we will see issues from equal pay, to violence against women, to domestic policy and childcare finally given the attention they deserve.
Feminist activist and Broxtowe CLP campaign officer
I would like to see a massive fundraising campaign organised for the next general election, we can have brilliant policies and great activists but we will need huge sums of money to ensure Jeremy and a socialist government can become a reality. I think we would attract new affiliations and re-affiliations.
Labour parliamentary candidate for South Derbyshire in May 2015
We need to form a strong, united left movement in the CLPs and trade unions as quickly as possible to fight for our politics and resist any coup attempts from the right.
Activist, Romford CLP
We need to be promoting extensive reform in how our entire governance system works. Corbyn wants widespread consultation with members and a bottom-up approach to policy – perhaps this could be the first thing under discussion. Under our current system politics is horribly under-representative, partly because selection processes are unfairly skewed to give the wealthy an advantage (time off work, expensive printing costs for leaflets). It also effectively means that those with young children need to either leave them with an alternative family carer, assuming one’s available, pay for an expensive nanny, or move their entire family to London which is incredibly expensive. Second home provision is for a one-bed flat, which you can’t really use to accommodate children unless they’re very young. Until these problems are addressed, and more besides, we’ll never be truly representative and the working classes as well as women with children but without networks/resources will continue to be effectively locked out of Parliament.
Lisa Banes, Sheffield Labour Activist
We need to try to build a united left front within the party and linking with TUs, harnessing the massive enthusiasm that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has generated and I hope, linking it with Red Red Labour. I’ve heard many signed up Labour ‘supporters’ say that they’ll join the party if JC wins. Even if he doesn’t win, the ideas have been unleashed and nothing will ever be the same again. We need to encourage people to join anyway and to emphasise the need for activism in branches and CLPs to keep socialist values and policies on the agenda everywhere. We can support members to do that. Also, we won’t all agree on everything but let’s please try not to split into factions.
Red Labour Newcastle
Corbyn won’t get far IMO without a big, broad, active unified campaign behind him, broad enough to include elements of the Labour right and inspiring enough to galvanise ex-Labour voters including UKIP- and stubbornly resistant non-voters, those eligible to vote but unregistered, etc.
Chesterfield Labour and UCU officer
My focus would be on the importance of reframing the economic debate from the dominant economic/political language which has been framed in neoliberal terms for decades. It has been a very cleverly executed transformation and so even politicians who want change and are proposing radical ideas are still stuck in the neoliberal framing of deficit reduction and book balancing which cannot facilitate a new way of thinking.
CLP Secretary, Maldon CLP
We need to organize collectively in our CLPs and in our communities, and ensure the Party hierarchy doesn’t use “politics as usual” dirty tricks to undermine the largest democratic mandate ever given to a leader of the Labour Party.
Cllr Chris Spence
Red Labour Stoke