2018 05 – Foot Soldier

Diary of a Corbyn Foot Soldier

by Michael Murray

Michael Murray London- a commentary/digest of political and general interest news for busy people.

Dictionary definition of foot soldier: “…a dedicated low level follower.”

In this issue:

(1) Separating the Lions from the Donkeys in the run-up to the local elections

(2) Some thoughts on the importance of local elections


(1) The Lions and the Donkeys

The May entry in the diary of a Corbyn foot soldier is being written on the eve of the local elections. These are mere days away now as I write. So, this Labour Affairs version of the diary will be brief, in line with Marx’s exhortation, in “The Theses on Feuerbach,” that: “the point is not to philosophise about the world: the point is to change it.”

At the commencement of this campaign the general opinion, backed by the now continuous polling and straw-polling of political opinion, was that Labour was going to build on, and exceed, the achievements of the 2017 General Election.  And now?  Owen Jones, journalist and Labour activist describes “a determined effort in both the British media and the wider political elite to delegitimise the Labour leadership in particular and the wider left as a whole.”  Guardian, 19 April, 2018.

The two main thrusts of this attack at the moment are: defence policy issues, Russiaphobia, the related “humanitarian crisis” in Syria (they don’t see the humanitarian crises in Yemen or Gaza, of course) – and anti-Semitism.  The latter is the more invidious. The leader of the trade union Unite, Len McCluskey, a major financial backer of the Labour Party, called out the use of anti-Semitism within Labour to undermine the Corbynist leadership recently, and the role of an organised anti-Corbyn campaign amongst a body of PLP members.

Not that he denies the existence of anti-Semitism, or that doesn’t think it appropriate the party should ignore it, on the contrary. He, like me, just questions the purpose, and timing, of their well-publicised antics. What a time they chose to mount their biggest campaign against Corbyn – ostensibly against anti-Semitism?  On the eve of crucial local elections!   The last time they made such a big move was on the eve of the 2017 General Election, and it probably cost us the election. And, in the aftermath of the General Election, they tried, unsuccessfully, to hijack the leadership of Labour’s Brexit policy and strategy.  But they’ve been more successful sowing discord with the anti-Semitism issue.

What is likely to be the consequences of their recklessness this time?  And will they be held accountable?  Not in the foreseeable future, is the answer to the last question: they seem to be on a roll. One thing we know with certainty: if the results are below the expected, Jeremy Corbyn will be blamed. And if they’re better than expected he won’t be given the credit – at least for long. The pattern has been well and truly established. There’s that feeling, again, that many MPs would rather lose the battle than see Corbyn crowned King. This is not how things should be on the eve of a battle as important as next week’s elections.


(2) Some thoughts on the importance of local elections

Ingrid Koehler of the Local Government Information Unit said some time ago: “It’s important to remember that many people, including those who don’t vote, have regular interactions with local government – far more than with central government.  For too long, local government has been treated as the delivery arm of national government.  As local devolution progresses, hopefully people will see more reason to make the effort to decide who represents them locally.” That was from a BBC report of a couple of years ago.

Things are changing fast. Hackney’s 2018 Manifesto is entitled “Building a Fairer, Safer and more Sustainable Hackney.”  It covers the areas of Health, Education and Training, Housing, Private and Social Enterprise, Employment, Environment, Urban Planning, Policing – even Climate Change. These are presented not as sound bites or slogans, but as spelt out qualitative and quantitatively verifiable commitments. They are driven by central Tory government policies detrimentally affecting all social areas.  Phil Glanville, Hackney’s Labour Mayor, in a recent update captures this: “One week to go until we show that London has had enough – enough of Brexit. Enough of cruel immigration policies and enough of austerity.”

Phil this year has declared as a joint Cooperative Party/Labour Party candidate in his bid for a second term as Mayor of Hackney.  There are, in fact, 543 Coop candidates in the forthcoming local elections. An impressive Local Government Conference for the new councillors has been arranged for June 9th in the iconic Coin Street Community Centre on London’s Southbank.  It includes informational and training sessions in cooperative private and social housing, community based energy coops, and local procurement for building a cooperative social economy from the bottom up.  The programme describes this as a “post Carillion” policy direction. Those who remember Carillion will grasp the significance of this major strategic leap in the evolving vision of the future of local government.  I should add that Corbyn and McDonnell both have endorsed this development and included it into the Labour Party Manifesto, with the commitment to make it a central plank in their economic programme for a future government.

So, while the Tory strategy is to starve local councils of resources and strip them of power, an equal and opposite reaction has been generated: the realisation of the necessity for greater devolved control and ownership of social and economic resources. And, thus, greater responsibility for the role of locally elected representatives.  In the meantime, we live with an ongoing perceived “democratic deficit” at the local political level.

While national turnout in the 2017 General Election was in excess of 66% a good turnout in the forthcoming local elections won’t be much more than half that – unless it bucks the established trends. For example, more EU citizens take part in what looks like being their last chance to tell the Government what they think of it.  Or the youth vote holds up, which would surprise me.  In his study “Do local elections predict the outcome of the next general election?”  Prosser wrote: “Although local elections are notionally ‘local’ the evidence suggests that they at least mirror national electoral fortunes.” (University of Manchester, 2016)

So, if asked to predict the result I’d say, the relentless attacks on the Labour leaderships will take its toll on the turnout, in the Tory marginals – and in the hitherto Labour strongholds. I hope I’m proven wrong. In the meantime, under the leadership of journalist Owen Jones, quoted above, and Hackney mayor Phil Glanville, I’ll be in Kensington Chelsea borough in this last weekend of the campaign, helping the local Labour candidates oust those responsible for the Grenfell Tower disaster.

One of the many intrinsic values of electioneering is that the foot soldier has the opportunity of getting even, not just being in a permanent state of anger at the inequities of this ill-divided society.