2017 05 – Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier

Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier  (No 11)

By Michael Murray 


Facebook:  Michael Murray London – a commentary/digest of political news for busy people.

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

In this issue:

  • A foot soldier’s feelings about the forthcoming General Election

Last week our Hackney North and Stoke Newington Constituency Labour Party circulated notice of the suspension of all Branch and Constituency meetings during the remainder of April, all May and most of June. We were put on a General Election footing.  My first reaction was a sinking feeling: we’re not ready for this.  It’s been hard enough to maintain morale in the context of building up to a 2020 election: but a General Election within 2 months?  And there was Jeremy on YouTube – on fire at the prospect !  I confess my first reaction, posted on my Facebook page, was to ask Jeremy:  “Please tell me why you are smiling at the prospect of a General Election which is going to be dominated by Brexit – a major fault-line right through the Labour Party, criss-crossing the other fault-line of a totally divided Parliamentary Party?”  It was not a question asked out of defeatism, just perplexity.

But I’ve been encouraged somewhat by the realization that, on second thoughts, if the die was cast, so to speak, that’s the way a leader should behave in the face of adversity.  As Gramsci held: be an optimist in action even if you are a pessimist in thought.  Impressed with the way Jeremy hit the ground running – and gaining in the process 2,500 new members in the first 24 hours, plus £250,000 in member donations (a week later, that figure is over a million) – I find myself back in the thick of things as a foot soldier, and, yes, optimistic in action, because that’s what is required.

To say Theresa May’s announcement of a General Election caught everybody by surprise would be the understatement of the century, though many of her supporters had suggested the Tories should put the boot in while Labour was in disarray and before it had time to cobble together some semblance of party unity. The speculation about her motives has included:  the potential weakening of her majority if a number of Tory MPs were to be charged with electoral financial irregularities; the threat, perceived as blackmail, of another Scottish Independence Referendum; Tory backbench and Tory “grandees” bucking the “hard Brexit” traces.

The main Brexit EU negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, surprisingly, chose to publish the European “read” on it. The Brexit Referendum was always seen in Europe, he said, as the result of an internal Tory party “cat fight.”  The calling of the “Snap” election is seen as merely “a continuation of  internal Tory party machinations.” (22 April, 2017, Guardian)  “An attempted power grab…to secure another 5 years in power before the reality of Brexit hits,” was William Keegan’s verdict in the same paper.

There is another explanation prompted by Paul Johnson of the IFS (Institute of Fiscal Studies): that the pressures on public services, coupled with the reduction of the tax take due to diminishing access to the EU will call for drastic measures. The debacle over the Budget issue of NIP contribution increases for the self-employed alone would have marked her card and warned her of trouble ahead with other “reforms” likely to generate more incidences of backlash, notably, the Pensions Treble Lock, with its implications for the level of loyalty of the “Grey” vote, currently enjoyed by the Tories.

Nor ought we be surprised if sorting out Boris Johnson with the benefit of an increased majority and tighter control might have crossed her mind.  But just wait for the first Budget to follow a May victory – if that is the outcome of the election. Six weeks is an extremely long time in politics these story days.  And as the old conservative MacMillan once said, identifying the existential joker in the pack of political destiny, and that is: “Events, dear boy. Events.”  If I, a humble foot soldier in the army of Labour, was asked this question, I’d reply: Hubris. Because I can see buckets of it in the Tory party’s present position, and Theresa May’s in particular.

It’s the neo-liberal Tory way to vilify and personalize political discourse. For example at the last session of PMQs: “Every vote for Jeremy Corbyn is a vote for a chaotic Brexit. Every vote for me is a vote to strengthen my hand in negotiating Brexit,” trumpeted May. I was reminded of a comment by an anonymous source in Facebook: “Truly Brexit is Suez all over again run by the same idiots who ran Suez, the entitled British Tory elite.”

Andrew Glynn, Labour Party National Elections Chair succinctly clarifies what is at stake in this election : “Theresa May is going to extraordinary lengths to blinker the British public and make this election about anything other than her record in government. Under the Tories working people have picked up the bill while those at the top have received tens of billions of tax breaks. Wages have stagnated, public services have suffered huge cuts while our NHS is in crisis.  It is clearer than ever that the Tories are for the few, not the many.  Rather than uniting the country and tackling the challenges we face, their policies are divisive and are taking us backwards.” (Guardian on line, 27 April)

In a recent poll Jeremy lost by a large margin in a comparison of leadership and character traits, Teresa May scores highest as a “strong” leader, while Corbyn scores highest as a principled leader. (22 April, 2017, The Guardian). I believe if the General Election was to be in two years, not 6 weeks, Corbyn’s core values would have begun to count for something in the peoples’ choice of PM.  And maybe it still can.  It’s the foot soldier’s job to attempt to make it so.