Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier (No 5)
A dictionary definition of “foot soldier…a dedicated low level follower…”
By Michael Murray
In this month’s Diary: Wiping the Slate Clean.
The September Diary starts at the end: with the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. This was the first Labour Party conference I have attended, not as a delegate, but as an observer. And what an occasion it was. For the first time in the history of the Party, as far as I know, overflow facilities had to be organised to accommodate the crowd, with a giant screen relaying the conference proceedings. Jeremy, true to character, having just given the traditional hour-long Party Leader’s Speech, spent a further twenty minutes addressing the overflow.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology a good chunk of conference proceedings, showing the contributions to the policy debates of a cross section of the Party, from Shadow Cabinet to Constituency level, is available on youtube.com
Working back from his closing speech, all the contributions seemed to fill in, and lead up to, Jeremy’s hour-long comprehensive and widely acclaimed summary of where we are and what the vision is for the future. Many of the contributions were from Shadow Ministers there, expounding on their briefs, with clear signs of inexperience and not having come to terms yet with sudden “field promotions” within the last year. It was nice to see Jeremy in his address to conference recognize their courage in coming forward when, due to the organized, even synchronized resignations almost bringing Corbyn – and the Party – crashing down, they stepped forward into the breach. But it was Corbyn’s decisive victory in the leadership election that set the tone of the Conference and not the last ditch bureaucratic manoeuvre by the NEC Chair crashing through the Party Rules – again -to dilute the post-Conference National Executive Committee composition against Corbyn.
Not only was all that happening in the large, modern conference centre in Liverpool’s spectacularly rejuvenated docklands area. In the inner city another conference was going on, called The World Transformed. This was in every way a complementary event – not the “alternative” Labour Party Conference the hostile right wing media strived to portray as being Momentum’s purpose.
Organised by Momentum, and a broad range of grassroots groups, TWT, as it became known, put on a thoroughly well organized, informative, buzzy four day programme of politics, art, music, culture and community. The venue was a massive, deconsecrated, local community-owned and controlled Church decked out with flags and banners, staffed by efficient, helpful, welcoming and predominantly young TWT volunteers in distinctive, matching tee-shirts.
Again, most of the TWT’s 50-odd events are now available on youtube.com. The content ranged over Brexit, the Chakrabati Inquiry, Whither the Labour Party now – and Momentum itself, Anti-Austerity, Debt, Trade, TTIP, the Media – established MSM and the emerging radical media. Then there were sessions on the future of work, of unions, of work organization (in the latter session, Hilary Wainwright, a familiar name from the Workers’ Control Movement, popped up).
What was interesting was the Skills programme: sessions on the Structures of the Labour Party, Citizens’ journalist skills, Phone Banking and Public Speaking skills. Two other sessions, which take us beyond “protest politics” to the crucial challenge of making a change, as Labour Party members, were: How to Be a Councillor – and “Pints and Politics”: how to argue the case for Labour’s Economic programme in the community.
I should mention here the session addressed by John McDonnell, and others, on “Prepare for Power.” When you have the privilege of getting close to political leaders like McDonnell and Corbyn you realize the power of the quote in Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach : “The point is not to philosophise about the world, but to change it.” And these two are serious change agents.
There was no iron curtain between the two events. A succession of Shadow Cabinet people, and other MPs, presented at one or more of the 50 odd programmed sessions at the TWT venue and vice versa: people made their way between the two venues. But the difference in security arrangements was striking. The security at the Party Conference was formidable: just think the most secure airport you’ve been through in recent times, particularly if there’s been a major alert. The mainly Momentum-organised TWT, on the other hand, was relaxed and welcoming without a policeman or a security heavy to be seen. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were not deterred by that “laxness,” nor were the many other leading radical broadcasters, journalists, academics or cultural icons, like Ken Loach.
The World Transformed was a big feather in Momentum’s cap. It’s easy to see it going from strength to strength if it can succeed in getting that size and quality of an event together in its first year.
The foot soldier’s impression of the whole thing? I believe we saw history in the making. The leadership election victory was a just reward for Corbyn and his supporters and a vital consolidation of what was achieved in the first year, against all the formidable odds.
In footballer parlance, if we’d been offered this prospect back in June, when the coup was unleashed in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, who wouldn’t have taken it? But it’s far short of where the Labour Party needs to be at this time. The old, discredited, politics of “New Labour” is dying. The new, assertive anti-austerity politics are struggling to be born. A turning point has surely been reached with Corbyn’s second decisive victory and the rapturous reception accorded him at the 2016 Conference. We’ll all have a better idea of the future when the dust raised by Jeremy’s leadership election victory has settled and we see the shape – and size – of the incoming Shadow Cabinet over the next few weeks.
But we can’t ignore the continuing threat posed by those who have managed to sabotage Corbyn’s first year in office so successfully. Lord Peter Mandelson, within days of Corbyn’s victory wrote in the Guardian (27th September) that he wants the Tories to call a snap election. Not for Labour to win it, but to lose. His logic being, that, if Labour loses Corbyn would, in turn, lose the Labour leadership. Now what sort of a mind would come up with that ? What kind of politics does it express ? The name Nicholo di Bernardo dei Machiavellie comes to mind – though Mandelson is a feckin’ useless Machiavellian (to paraphrase John McDonnell). But he is one of those who can, sadly for the Labour Party, still do damage to it.
Jeremy, in his selflessness and magnanimity, has called for “the slate to be cleaned.” Will that be reciprocated by those with whom Mandelson has influence?
My next local party meeting is next week; we haven’t met since last June – because of the “atmosphere” of intimidation in the party membership, as the NEC perceived it. There are motions in on behalf of one expelled and one suspended member. They are asking for re-admission. Will the slate be wiped clean for them?