Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier
By Michael Murray
Facebook: Michael Murray London – a commentary/digest of political news for busy people – posted to be shared widely.
Dictionary definition of foot soldier: “a dedicated low-level follower.”
In this issue:
(1) “R & R – & R”
(2) “An idea whose time has come”
(3) “The Grownup in the Room”
(1) “R & R – & R”
R & R is, of course, Rest and Recreation: what happens when the pressure of electioneering and canvassing is off and the foot soldier is left with time on his or her hands. The third “R” is for Reflection: taking stock of where we are.
In a nutshell, while it’s hard not to see 2017 as a turning point in British politics, within this year October will have a special place. It marks the point when the dust settled at the conclusion of the Party Conference season and we were left with the contrasting images of Corbyn and May’s performances at their respective conferences – May’s shambles, on the one hand, and Corbyn’s strong and stable handling of the Labour conference, on the other. We are left with something else: confirmation of the General Election result and permission to accept and indulge the thought that there has been a fundamental sea-change in political ideas. Something else needs to be noted about October that may have been eclipsed by bigger events. At every level, from ward, or Branch, to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party there has been change towards greater direct pro-Corbyn representation and, also important, enhanced Corbyn influence across the party. This has been felt in the selection process of candidates for next year’s council election, and for other local and regional selection processes. Meanwhile, October has been a good month for Labour in council elections up and down the country too. So, much to reflect on.
“Corbyn’s Momentum group is recruiting teams of paid activists on £25,000 salaries to oust Tory MPs around Britain.”
A somewhat disingenuous headline in the Daily Mail, October 22. Momentum is recruiting a small number of full time team organisers not thousands of team members. Momentum duly posted the Mail article as it stood on Face Book and Twitter – to receive, in the first 12 hours, 9,000 visits to the Momentum recruitment page. “Thanks to the Mail,” Momentum posted, “we’re expecting an even more diverse, experienced and enthusiastic set of candidates for the positions.”
(2) “An idea whose time has come”
Victor Hugo it was who coined the aphorism: “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” There is no clearer or better statement of this new idea than Jeremy Corbyn’s, but, as a loyal foot soldier I would say that. It goes: “You can’t cut your way out of a crisis, you can only grow your way out of it.” That’s it. That’s the big idea. Around the elaborations of that simple idea you could write volumes. And people are writing them as the argument against neo-liberalism and austerity economics gathers pace. And now, that more and more people are grasping the relevance of it, we are beginning to see a political transformation happening.
At this year’s annual Labour Conference, in the aftermath of the General Election, Jeremy could say: “2017 may be the year when politics finally caught up with the crash of 2008 – because we offered a clear choice. We need to build a still broader consensus around the priorities we set in the election, making the case for both compassion and collective aspiration. This is the real centre of gravity of British politics. We are now the political mainstream.” (Official Party Transcript). What should be noted is the absolutely straight line between Jeremy’s economic views at the very beginning of his bid for the leadership of Labour and the views he enunciated at Conference.
The source of Jeremy’s “grow yourself out of a crisis” quote is one of the first labour leadership televised debates. First broadcast by Sky in 2015, it is still available on You Tube. Just google “Yvette Cooper Rips into Jeremy Corbyn. Or Does She?” There, only two short years ago, you will hear Yvette defend the Blairite neo-liberal “austerity lite” old idea and attempt to put the frighteners on the audience of Labour Party members present about what would happen to Labour “credibility” if Jeremy’s idea won through. Her “killer” question was intended to be: “Well, Jeremy, how is the spending policy on infrastructural development going to be paid for?” The audience, hearing Jeremy’s answer, conclusively and spontaneously grasped the truth of what was, within the Labour Party, a new and radical reframing of an idea that had been gathering traction since the 2007/8 crisis, rejected her argument. It is an absolute gem of a video capturing a key moment in the ideational transformation of the Labour Party and I can’t understand why it hasn’t enjoyed more “hits” on You Tube. (Aha! I can help to remedy that: I’m pausing here to post it (again) on my Face Book page. There: done! I ask you to do likewise.)
Here is another approach to spelling out what is happening: “Ever since Thatcher and Reagan it has been the common sense of the age that the markets should rule, the public sector diminish and the growth of inequality allowed to accelerate…But none of it works any more. And the public knows it.” Jon Trickett, Labour’s Shadow Lord President of the Council (don’t ask: google. Clue Privy Council). LabourList, October 17. Another Labour Shadow Minister, Chris Williamson, says “Corbynomics is now the mainstream.” In support of his claim he cites statements made during the month by the OBR (The Office for Budget Responsibility), the IMF (International Monetary Fund), a cross section of British sectoral businesses – all calling for measures to “kick start” the ailing global and local economy – all in line with Labour policies and at odds with the Conservative Party’s clinging to out-dated Thatcher-Reaganomics with a bit of Corbyn-lite policies thrown in, under pressure to hold the line with her party moderates. When the measures being put forward by Labour at a recent PMQs were dismissed by Theresa May as belonging to “Planet Venezuela,” it was one of those “is that all you’ve got?” moments.
(3) “The Grownup in the Room”
“Corbyn’s meetings with EU leaders shows Labour as the Brexit grownup, “was a heading in the Guardian, October 23. “This cordial welcome on the continent can be explained by variations on one theme: credibility.” A few days earlier the Independent had published the findings of a Bostock Management Group survey which found that as many as three quarters of the British public believed the Tory government’s Brexit strategy was failing. Almost half think a “no-deal” scenario – much beloved by the hard-line Tory Brexiteers – would be bad for the country. They also opined that abandoning the talks ought not to be an option. (Independent, October 20). Of course, the rise of Labour to the status of an alternative government must come as a relief to the EU leaders, especially in the light of the fairly extensive Bostock Management Group survey of which they would be aware. They must see Labour as its best chance of resolving the Brexit mess, to Britain and Europe’s optimal mutual satisfaction. After all, the EU senior players are on record for recognising that internal Tory Party personality politics was not only the source of Brexit, but continues to be the major complicating factor in the Brexit negotiating process itself.
It should be mentioned here, in connection with the EU leaders’ response, that Corbyn and his Labour colleagues also received a rapturous reception at the EU-wide “Socialists and Progressives Together” Conference in Brussels, a gathering of over 1,500 social democrat and progressive MPs, MEPs and others. Paul Mason also spoke, as a Labour activist and leading economist to an equally enthusiastic response. Their speeches can be found on You Tube at: “Jeremy Corbyn Speech and Q&A for Socialists Together Conference”; “Paul Mason Speech and Q&A for Socialists Together Conference”
In an article in the Guardian, “The Storm Clouds are Gathering,” the UK economy was described as follows: “Business confidence dipping…inflation rising…consumer spending falling… household incomes shrinking.” (October 24). Yet despite this and the debacle over Universal Credit, the NHS and Brexit – the quasi triumphalism of what’s been written above about Labour’s time having come – the most recent ICM/Guardian polls put Tories and Labour at 42% – neck and neck. (Lib Dems are at 7%). And, coming down the track (Final Report due 2018) is the Boundary Commission proposed changes, pointing to changes to the detriment of Labour – certainly enough to make a difference in a tight result.
Let’s enjoy the break from electioneering – for however long it lasts. Enjoy the astonishing gains that have been made over the last few years. But not let’s become complacent. There’s a feckin’ mountain to climb.