Monday, 7 September 2015

Who else but Jez?

It has fast become 2015's answer to last year's Independence Referendum in terms of the 'Big Vote'. But only because of one man, Jeremy Corbyn. For too long Labour has taken the centre ground in order to win elections and in 13 of the last 18 years has been in power as New Labour, the party of big business. Granted Labour under Blair and Brown was never as callous as the current Conservative government in the way it has treated benefit claimants and Blair had his diplomatic honeymoon period in the late 90s when he oversaw the Good Friday Agreement and the birth of devolution (though that was in a large part thanks to the late Donald Dewar). But the overall direction of Labour has not been positive, sacrificing principles only to end up rejected at the ballot box by the millionaire bankrolled Tories.

At last we see someone from the left of Labour willing to challenge Labour's establishment and relieve Keir Hardie from a nauseating spin in his grave. Jeremy Corbyn is the lone baby boomer among the candidates in the Labour Leadership race the other three being from Generation X. They are all old enough to remember how horrible Margaret Thatcher was but only Jeremy is just old enough to remember the coronation and rationing. He may not have youth on his side but he has all the right ideas for running an opposition force in British politics. He wants an end to austerity. He wants to ditch Trident so the money can be better spent on frontline services like the NHS and schools. He wants to renationalise the rail network so money isn't being channelled by the greed of private franchises and large profits get spent instead on improving the service. He wants a more compassionate benefits system and an end to the bedroom tax.  And he wants to seek peaceful conflict resolution and an end to Britain's involvement in unjust and illegal wars.

But these things just scratch the surface of what Jeremy Corbyn promises as leader. What he will do is seismic for the Labour Party, it will mean a wholesale shift in how the party tackles the malice of the Tories. Opponents will talk about the 1970s, a decade when I wasn't born and even my big sister is unlikely to remember (though if she has memories of being an only child she will!). Those on Labour's centre, the Blairites as we call them, constantly warn of being 'locked out of power for a generation'. But how can they be so sure? And should the party really be seeking to win power at the cost of principles? Surely the whole point of a political party is to seek to influence the political landscape in favour of its grassroots membership not be part of its elite. Should we be worried about another Tory victory? Yes we should but we shouldn't just replace the great whites with hammerheads. It is clear the grassroots of the party are more and more in favour of Jeremy Corbyn and so this is what a real Labour Party should stand for, the ordinary members, a lot of whom will come from poor and working class backgrounds.

So if another group in the Labour Party, chiefly the career politicians who have for too long dominated the party, want to try and win power at whatever cost I suggest they do so in their own space. Perhaps they should set up their own political party or maybe join forces with the Liberal Democrats who have shifted further into the centre in the last five years. If that really is the way power will be won good luck to them. But most likely they will need a coalition or power sharing agreement with Jeremy Corbyn's party next time and then they will have to make concessions to the left. Labour were left with just their most working class constituencies in May but only a few more constituencies won would have prevented a Tory majority though there might still have been a pact with UKIP and the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland. Notwithstanding the support of kippers and Belfast bedfellows Mr Cameron would have struggled against an opposition of left or would-be left parties. In the case of the 'would-bes' all we need is the genuine left-leaning politicians to be representing them on the green benches.

And what about the Scottish dimension. Well Jeremy is no fan of independence I understand that. He is opposed to a second referendum anytime soon and even to the transfer of certain new powers to the Scottish parliament. But that hardly makes him a red tory when his heart is in the right place on so many other social issues. And perhaps his opposition to independence is much more in touch with the solidarity argument that the actual red tories kept cynically throwing around during the run-up to last year's referendum. For Scottish Independence would rob parliament of Corbyn's greatest ally - the SNP. If the contribution Angus Robertson's team makes to Westminster 's progressive anti-austerity lobby is the reason Jeremy Corbyn doesn't want Scotland to leave the UK then we ought to treat that as a compliment unlike those who campaigned against independence but with a hatred of the SNP.

Don't get me wrong, I still want independence for Scotland and another referendum before long so it I am somewhat disappointed with Corbyn's indifference to the cause. And we really don't need Labour up here in Scotland anymore when there is a strong alternative. But who else among Labour's leadership hopefuls is going to help England in its own journey towards better social democracy than Jeremy Corbyn? Just about everyone among the radical left down south of the border is looking at him with great hope. This is the man who, if he is successful less than a week from now, will challenge the very foundations of the establishment and will remind his party of their own founding values. But his message should also be this: No fakes. If you're truly with the party on our values you can stay, otherwise please leave.

Then the party that calls itself Labour will once again be the party that Kier Hardie, who lived until almost one century ago, dreamed of. It's not likely to be an easy ride for Corbyn if he's elected but one thing's for sure, he has inspired a new generation of political activists who will be standing firm behind him to help ensure he lives up to expectations.

Keir Hardie

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