Why I’m voting for Corbyn, and why you should too
The American Senator, William Borah, is said to have first coined the phrase “phoney war” in 1939. He was describing what Winston Churchill called the “twilight war” and the Germans called the “sitting war.” A period of relative inactivity on the ‘Western Front,’ that was accompanied by increasing sabre rattling and posturing, that presaged the real battle.
The term can easily be applied to the last few months of the Labour Party Leadership campaign. This is after all a period that has seen Neil Kinnock, a man who lost two General Elections, and Kezia Dugdale, a woman who led her party to third place in a two horse race, lecture us all on the importance of electability. It has served up a challenger who agrees with everything his rival says, but nevertheless feels that plunging his party into a pointless and damaging election is entirely justified. And finally, in what is perhaps the most phoney of all the soundbite salvos hurled Jeremy Corbyn’s way in the last few months, we’ve read that Sadiq Khan believes that it is Owen Smith, not the current leader, who best represents Labour’s core values.
Actually, we should be grateful to Sadiq for his timely reminder of what all of this is really about; Labour’s values. What are they and who is best placed to act as custodian of them? This is truly what’s at stake in this contest for the soul of the party.
Instinctively, when I think of the party’s values, I think about Socialism, and of an organisation that represents the interests of working people; both in Parliament and, when necessary, on the streets and in workplaces. Labour is part of a tradition of struggle that stretches back more than a century, and it has brought huge societal advances in that time. Social housing, weekends off work, the ‘Welfare State,’ the National Health Service and universal education are just a few of Labour’s great achievements.
Of course, in order to deliver all of these things, Labour had to first win power. This is self evident, and on that score, Owen and Sadiq, we are in complete agreement. However, could any of those things have been delivered, if our party’s founders had put the opiate of electability before their values? Would they have campaigned for the rights of children not to be exploited, or for basic care for the elderly poor, had they been utterly preoccupied with ‘public opinion’? Was the media and the general public, in 1906, or in 1945, broadly accepting of Labour’s values? It seems they were not. Yet the likes of Keir Hardie, fought strenuously for them anyway.
Consider this passage from a speech, given by Hardie, Labour’s first leader, in 1914:
“I shall not weary you by repeating the tale of how public opinion has changed during those twenty-one years. But, as an example, I may recall the fact that in those days, and for many years thereafter, it was tenaciously upheld by the public authorities, here and elsewhere, that it was an offence against laws of nature and ruinous to the State for public authorities to provide food for starving children, or independent aid for the aged poor. Even safety regulations in mines and factories were taboo. They interfered with the ‘freedom of the individual’. As for such proposals as an eight-hour day, a minimum wage, the right to work, and municipal houses, any serious mention of such classed a man as a fool.”
If Hardie and Labour had not stayed true to their principles, even in the face of a hostile establishment and media, would future generations have had the courage to implement such a radical programme in 1948?
Even in post World War II Britain, we find that Labour had to fight the ruling class and middle England ‘tooth and nail’ to implement the National Health Service. There were voices, notably Winston Churchill’s, who argued that the nation could not afford such a social experiment. Labour did it anyway, and, though it is in peril from the current administration, it has endured for seventy years, and is still the envy of the world.
This excerpt from a speech by Aneurin Bevan demonstrates the resistance from an educated and powerful medical lobby, that Labour had to overcome, in order to enact its reform programme.
“In the case of the National Health Service very deeply entrenched emotional attitudes were disturbed. The traditions of the medical profession go back a very long way, and it was too much to hope that so drastic a thing as the National Health Service could be accomplished without very much disturbance.”
The point here is that if Labour is to crumble in the face of the prevailing wisdom, every time we advance our programme, then we will always find ourselves articulating a watered down version of the status-quo. Such a manifesto would serve only those in power, while failing the very people who need Labour most. Yes we need a Labour government, perhaps now more than ever, but to do what? If it is not to transform society into one in which all people are of equal value and wealth and power are distributed equitably, then it is for nothing.
The argument that any Labour government is better than the Tories is selling our people short. It is precisely why so many voters have abandoned the party in its heartlands since 1997. Kezia Dugdale would do well to reflect on Labour’s near annihilation in Scotland, on the back of watered down Conservative policies, before she delivers any more sermons on what will and will not win votes. Our people deserve so much more than ‘Tory light’.
People stripped of their dignity and robbed of the help they need by cruel benefits cuts need a party willing to stand up for them, even in the face of relentless criticism and scepticism. They need a leader that campaigns tirelessly in their interests, even when the cost to him or her is great. Children dependant on food banks, or living on the streets, or in temporary accommodation deserve a future that doesn’t offer more of the same, and our elderly need a life worthy of their sacrifices. Indeed the National Health Service desperately requires a Labour movement that is unwilling to compromise on the socialist principles that brought it to life.
Those who put forward arguments about electability seek merely to distract us. Such bluff and bluster only masks their real intent, which is to maintain Labour’s position as a centrist party, committed to managing capitalism slightly better than the Conservatives. After all, it was Tony Blair who said he wouldn’t want Labour to win on a socialist platform, even if that was the only way to guarantee victory.
The argument that Corbyn is incapable of winning an election for Labour is self-evidently wrong. He has done it time and again. He did it in Rotheram and elsewhere, despite dire predictions to the contrary. Lest we forget he also did it for Sadiq Khan.
So let’s end this phoney war, conducted as it is through private briefings and column inches and in TV studios. As ballot papers drop through letterboxes and fill email inboxes, power has now shifted decisively from the plotters to the members. In exercising our democratic choice we should ensure a resounding victory for the only candidate capable of upholding Labour’s core values of socialism; Jeremy Corbyn.
In closing, the words of Keir Hardie, at the end of that great speech in 1914, seem particularly pertinent.
“The emancipation of the worker has still to be achieved and just as the ILP in the past has given a good, straight lead, so shall the ILP in the future, through good report and through ill, pursue the even tenor of its way, until the sunshine of Socialism and human freedom break forth upon our land.”
Any Labour leader, at least one worthy of the name, will always need to stand firm in the face of doubt and hostility; if they are to deliver a programme worthy of the people. They’ll need to do it, as Hardie said, through fair weather or foul and stay true to their purpose. That’s why I’m voting for Corbyn, a man capable of doing just that, and a true custodian of Labour’s values.