The Corbyn Moment

05.03.18

Mark Perryman argues that now more than ever is the time to transform Labour into a social movement

 
In a week that my new best comrade George Osborne has described the impact
of Jeremy Corbyn’s Customs Union speech as “ The Labour leader, has with the
smallest of nudges, manoeuvred himself into a more pro-business, more pro-free
trade European policy  than the Tory Government “ the question of whether this
marks the Corbyn Moment  stretches way beyond the ranks of the Corbynite Left. 
 
 
George meant those words as a compliment, their provenance and meaning will
however trouble many on Jeremy’s side. But this dear comrades is what
hegemony looks like, our ideas becoming the new common sense. And without 
in essence even a smidgen of principle being sacrificed either.
 
Anyone who doubts the difference Jeremy has made, and continues to make, to
Labour politics should be force-fed Tony Blair’s 2005 Labour Conference Speech
to read. “I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation. You might as
well debate whether autumn should follow summer.” Thus, the economic powers
reshaping the world described as a force of nature, unstoppable, irresistible, no
point in expecting that they can be changed in any meaningful sense. 
 
Of course Blair in government did many good things. Nobody in their
right, or left, minds should pretend otherwise. That’s what Labour in power is
expected to do isn’t it?  But crippled by this embrace of neoliberalism the
measure of Blair’s failed promise would bedevil Brown and Miliband who
unsuccessfully followed in his wake. During the 2015 General Election
opposition party leaders debate Ed snapped back that he wasn’t the same as the
Tories under the torrent of the sisters united criticism from Nicola Sturgeon,
Leanne Wood and the Green’s Natalie Bennett.  Quick as a flash Nicola tellingly
retorted that no Ed you’re not the same, but neither are you different enough.
 
Notwithstanding Osborne’s plaudits this is something nobody is ever going to
say about Jeremy Corbyn . And that’s why the next General Election will be so
momentous in the same way ’45 was, ushering in the post-war settlement, and
’79 not only ending it but carving out its replacement in the shape of
neoliberalism. A Corbyn government would put an end to all of that, for good. 
 
To achieve this requires a laser-sharp campaigning focus on winning a minimum
of Labour’s 66  target seats and holding on to Labour’s 19 most precarious
defences , those with majorities of less than 1000. The 3rd May local elections will
be the first test of how far Labour still has to travel to not just come a decent
second, but to win.  Despite all the chatter about a ‘Progressive Alliance’ via
tactical voting it is this kind of tactical campaigning that will secure a Labour
majority.  
 
Meanwhile on the all-important ideological level it is hard to dispute, despite the
naysaying commentariat and backbiting from the Labour hard Right, Labour has
been setting the agenda almost from the moment the 8th June votes were
counted. Exposing the Tories getting into bed with the DUP as not so much a
coalition of chaos but the coalition from hell. Responding to the causes and
consequences of the Grenfell disaster. Standing up for an NHS facing the
impossible task of coping with a winter crisis as resources and morale wither
away. Locating the Carillion collapse in the rottenness of privatisation at any
cost.  And now, most recently, outlining a way to navigate Brexit in a manner that
puts the haplessness of Johnson, Davis and Fox to utter shame.
 
But winning in 2022, or sooner if at all possible, is going to take all of this and
then some . It means the transformation of Labour into a social movement
on a quite unprecedented scale. We saw the beginnings of this last May and June
as marginal seats were flooded with eager, often new, campaigners to win the
Labour vote street by street and led by Owen Jones and Momentum this has
Continued ever since with regular #Unseat days of mass canvassing in the most
high profile of Labour’s target marginals.  All this doorstep activity carried out
not as a dutybound stage army of the party’s extras but as a building block
towards a mass, members-led party rooted in our communities rather than the
entrenched deference of the parliamentary party.     
 
For those stepped in the Labour tradition of Keir Hardie and Ellen Wilkinson, the hunger marches, Cable Street, the International Brigades, Stafford Cripps, Labour winning the peace in ’45, Bevan and the foundation of the NHS,  Barbara Castle on the picket line with the women Ford strikers campaigning for equal pay, Foot, Kinnock and Benn leading CND demonstrations, Bernie Grant  standing with his community after the ’85 Broadwater Farm riots, none of what I am describing here should appear either new or all that threatening.  But for some it certainly seems as if the latter was precisely how they regard such a change, and 8th June  2017 has done precious little to alter their opinion either. They describe this as ‘Clause One Socialism’ and have the pin badges to prove it. 
 
The grouping most identified with this Clause One position inside the Labour Party, Progress, puts it thus:
 
“  In the 1930s, 1950s and 1980s Labour was pulled away from its true path by syndicalist social movements. At its founding, the party’s intention was clearly spelled out for the world to see in the very first paragraph of the constitution: to ‘maintain in parliament … a political Labour Party’” 
 
 
Contrast this with the symbolism of who was called upon to introduce Jeremy Corbyn at the final big outdoor rally of the 2017 General Election Campaign, Saffiyah Khan. A few months previously the photo of Saffiyah, a young Asian, Muslim woman fearlessly facing down the English Defence League boot boys in her Birmingham town, peacefully with a smile on her face had gone viral. She had stood up for what she knew was right. Neither  parliamentarianism nor protest politics can do that on their own, rather it needs Saffiyah and hundreds of thousands like her to make such resistance possible. Not a stage army at anyone’s beck and call but individuals who come together and create communities of change. That’s the party Labour might become, and if it does just about anything is possible. Now that’s not something I suspect George and his big business mates will welcome with such open arms as Labour’s commitment to a Customs Union. And in the greater scale of things that is what both really matters and will shape Labour’s future. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mark Perryman is the editor of  The Corbyn Effect and will be speaking at ‘The Corbyn Moment ’ a day of discussion and debate on Labour as a social movement featuring Alex Nunns, Andrew     Murray, Francesca Martinez, Hilary Wainwright and others. Saturday 10 March, London. Organised by Counterfire, further details and booking tickets from here 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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