Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Corbyn or Bust

Labour members must make an asset of their unconventional leader

As unlikely as it sounds, Labour members must finally make an asset of Jeremy Corbyn and they have no more than a few weeks to do it.

Not one member of the Labour Party, nor its MPs, nor anyone on the broader left or in the Labour-supporting public wanted an election right now. So for once, in a strange way, we're united. The polls point to a catastrophe for the left and Labour in particular. No doubt that's why we've got this election - despite everything Theresa May has said to the contrary. 

But another election is less than eight weeks away and the potential results are stomach churning. There is a grizzly effectiveness to the Tories' realpolitik. They've calculated that they won't be stronger at any other point in the electoral cycle, and have done what electoral logic demands. 

So we need to be equally calculating. Labour can't win a majority - under this or any other leader. Brexit has shifted the landscape - already deeply unfavourable to social democracy - towards the right. Scotland was already gone. In these conditions we need to urgently prioritise - identifying regions where we can win and concentrating our efforts there. The north of England, London, and Wales. 

Yet even in those places we face a massive challenge. Years of neglect have whittled down Labour's vote in the north. The breakup of Britain threatens Labour's identity as a national party. Even in left-leaning London, a low turnout and resurgent Lib Dems pose problems. 

Labour's message should prioritise unprecedented investment in the north. Jeremy Corbyn's promise to invest half a trillion pounds in new job-creating industries is a powerful message in a climate where -mercifully - the debt and deficit are less of a focus. Labour must also promise a more inclusive, more open society to win in the liberal big cities. Labour's message under Corbyn has been the tangible promise to "rebuild and transform Britain so that no one and no community is left behind." I'm still convinced this is a winning slogan - backed up by sound policies that are popular.

To gain ground, even to tread water, in this election, will take the entire progressive half of this country to accept Corbynism's key tenets - even if it still doubts the messenger.

But more than this, the whole of the left will have to unite around Corbyn in particular. This is a view which is anathema to many - both more liberal, pro-EU types and the anti-borders, extra-parliamentary left. 

Why is it worth supporting the apparently doomed project of Corbyn's leadership - even for those who do not think he has done well or feel betrayed over Brexit?

The simple answer is that the country is open to a radical break with the politics of the last five, ten, even thirty years. Liberals cannot win with the status quo. Radicals cannot win by backing out of electoral politics. Right now, Corbyn is the only hope for progressives to maintain a serious presence in British politics.

Corbyn offers the progressive sections of society something important: a way forward. He is not a conventional politician. He is a lifelong enemy of Westminster elites. He also has distinct political virtues: he is unflappable, cool under pressure and an uncompromised advocate of equality. When I vote for Jeremy Corbyn, I'll do so with the belief that he would make an excellent prime minister.

I want to see things from the Labour leadership too: clearer, more radical positions on the future of British society. An insurgent, passionate mood and a way of acting which defies the dull conventions of Westminster politics. The promise of a democratic transformation of our rigged political system, our unfair society, and our economy which generates inequality. More effective communication.

But these things can only be communicated by us - the Labour movement at large and everyone who opposes the rightward drift of British society. Consider it your duty to help that process.

If Corbyn goes through this election tarnished as a liability by even those who sympathise with his politics, then his politics will die with the election. I believe Corbyn could deliver the change he promises if he were elected. More importantly, I believe utterly in the politics that made him Labour leader. I want that politics to survive this election - and if Corbyn's leadership becomes just another sad side story in Britain's march to the right, it will further damage that politics.

So here's what we say on the doorstep and at work and at home and in pubs and on social media when people say they don't like Corbyn: he's a lifelong supporter of people like you and me. He's campaigned for things that benefited you and me his entire political life. He's not in it for power. He's in it for us.

The political symbolism of Corbyn being crushed will resonate far beyond June. It will affect discourse in this country for years. We need to stand up and say - for any strategic mistakes the inexperienced leadership has made - this guy is one of us. He represents the best side of this country. 

It's precisely because the left has to outlive Corbyn and establish itself as a powerful, organised and influential part of society - campaigning against racism, inequality, war, and the wasted lives created by an unjust system - that it's so important not only to vote Labour but to cheer Corbyn all the way. 

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