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Undermining hope: The toxic legacy of a pointless leadership election

jeremy-corbyn-rallies-supporters-in-liverpool

A year ago today Jeremy Corbyn was elected, by a landslide, as leader of the Labour Party. It was the culmination of a remarkable campaign that had galvanised hundreds of thousands of ordinary people to join the Labour Party, or register as supporters. After the grim despondency of the General Election a great tide of hope emerged, and I am proud to say that I was one of those swept along in its wake.

I can remember the day well. I had taken the train into town, in order to join a ‘refugees welcome’ rally, but I had only one thing on my mind; the special conference to announce the winner of Labour’s leadership election. Corbyn had begun as a rank outsider, owing his place on the ballot to a desire to ensure at least the appearance of a broad church. Nobody actually expected him to win. In fact so certain were Labour’s so called ‘moderate’ wing of his also-ran status, that even Margaret Beckett and Sadiq Khan signed Jeremy’s nomination papers.

What they had not factored into their calculations was the power of hope and the deep yearning in the party and wider society for profound change. Years of apathy and a growing sense that all politicians are as bad as one another, had now given way to the belief that at last a man of genuine conviction and integrity was providing a real alternative to the Westminster elite.

At the outset, I confess, I didn’t think he could win either. The odds, and more importantly the establishment, were stacked against him. But I had hope. And as Vaclav Havel, leader of Czechoslovakia’s so called ‘velvet revolution’, once said; “Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Corbyn

Corbyn’s campaign was truly inspirational. I attended one of his rallies, at the Adelphi Hotel  in Liverpool. It blew me away. In fact I hadn’t seen anything like it since the 80’s, and while there were similarities in terms of the energy and enthusiasm behind the movement, this was very different from past campaigns. The overwhelming majority of people in the room, and those crowded into doorways and standing on tip-toes in the lobby, had never been to a political meeting in their lives.

I left that night utterly certain of victory; not because of this one meeting in Liverpool, but because I had seen the hope in people’s eyes, and I could see that Corbyn had tapped into something universal; the desire for a better world. Why should the working class of Liverpool be any different to those in London, the midlands or the north? Of course I was right and on the day of his victory, twelve months ago, I wrote the following words in these pages:

“The rules of conventional wisdom and political spin said that Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t get this far. He has torn up that rule book. The Labour Party will never be the same again. Beyond it there will be millions of people whose prosperity, health and well-being depend upon the success of this fledgling movement. As I rode the train homeward I realised that ‘New Labour’ is now dead. Long live ‘True Labour’ and a new hope for a better future.”

I was under no illusions. I knew that the onslaught against the new leader and his supporters, during the campaign, would pale by comparison with the barrage to come. We were now in uncharted territory and success was not guaranteed; but as Havel so eloquently put it, this just made sense, regardless of all that.

I still believe this today. In fact my resolve has strengthened. Some have accused me of being an idealist, or a dreamer. When did those things become a crime by the way? I am both, and unashamedly so. Life is painfully short and to devote your energies to anything other than imagining a better world, and striving to make it a reality, is a life wasted.

limest

Besides, I have spent far too much time listening to those who say change is impossible, only to see old orders, once considered permanent, cast aside by people sick of the status quo and desperate for a life worth living. Think of the Berlin Wall, think of Apartheid, once considered immovable monoliths; now consigned to the rubbish heap of history. What is it that gives the current establishment such confidence in their longevity?

Of course they have the full weight of the state at their disposal. From unattributed briefings suggesting military coups, to CCTV footage illegally supplied by billionaires and reported gleefully by Fleet Street, Corbyn has been treated to a ‘baptism of fire’. All of this and more was to be expected. It could even be seen as a sign that we had picked the right candidate. After all no Labour leader worth having is ever going to receive an easy ride from these people.

However, his treatment at the hands of the Parliamentary Labour Party has been hard to take. In his book, ‘A very British coup’, Labour MP, Chris Mullin, shows us a world in which the state conspires to destabilise a left wing Labour leader, Harry Perkins. This is not as far fetched a vision as you might imagine. After all, this week cabinet papers have revealed how Downing Street used the police and law courts to smear striking miners.

However, In the case of Jeremy Corbyn, it seems many of his shadow cabinet colleagues were more than happy to do the establishment’s job for them. Indeed their methods have been far less subtle and much more overt than anything Mullin’s security services could have dreamed up.

We’ve had accusations of far left, and even Thatcherite infiltration. Corbyn’s supporters have been branded Trotskyist Nazi’s, a completely new political ideology, presumably from outer space; and of course linked, spuriously, with violence and intimidation.

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But by far the most insidious weapon used against the Labour leader and his supporters is, in my view, the undermining of that wide eyed sense of hope fostered by Jeremy’s campaign for the leadership and his ultimate victory. This ‘we know best’ mentality only serves to poison aspirations for a fairer society, when Labour should be nurturing such ideas.

Too often the the challenges posed by the most right-wing Conservative government in living memory have been ignored, only for the focus to be shifted onto their ill conceived and poorly executed coup. As a result of this senseless act of sabotage Labour is losing ground to the Tories, and the people it is meant to be fighting for are left behind. After being lectured that socialism is a discredited dream, we are apparently now allowed ‘diet socialism,’ but only if it is packaged in a shirt and tie combo and emblazoned with media friendly soundbites.

Time and again the ‘moderates’ seek to dilute the ideals of the movement in order to make them palatable to the establishment. It seems it is sacrilege to suggest we can partake of the feast, instead we must make do with crumbs. If this is their message now, before they have even engaged the Tories in an election campaign, imagine how much more the message will be diluted, in the face of a hostile press. Conversely consider how steadfast Corbyn and McDonnell have been, in weathering a storm that has lasted for more than a year, and shows no sign of blowing its self out. Doesn’t that epitomise courageous leadership?

I refuse to accept that another world is not possible. I know it will be hard, but it’s time for a Labour Party that offers a real and tangible alternative to a system that plunges millions into poverty and destroys our public services. The time for tinkering and reforming is passed. We need a total transformation and a shifting of power away from an elite few, and into the hands of ordinary people so that they can have control over the decisions that affect their lives.

Only Corbyn’s team are offering this vision. To those who say he is incapable of delivering it, I point to his courage under fire and offer these inspirational words, from Shel Silverstein, an artist and poet, who lived in Chicago in the 1930’s.

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

If you are still undecided in this contest I implore you to choose hope.

30 Comments »

  1. A year on from the first leadership election, and here we are doing it all over again. Thank you for marking where we are and why we’re in this particular ‘bind’. I’m with you and Corbyn all the way – the Shel Silverstein quote is being copied and pasted as soon as I’ve finished posting this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for a great piece. I’m also a Silverstein (and The Lettermen, who can also be inspirational!) fan…..An added bonus was… you have the same name as our son!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We need Jeremy Corbyn.
    I am fed up of having my belt tightened by an uncaring government while they grow fat living on our money and the country disintegrates around us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was at the Wigan Diggers Festival last year when the result of the Leadership election was announced, to tumultuous applause. I was there this year too, when Ken Loach spoke eloquently about the need for politics to change, from representing corporations and pandering to the defunct neoliberal ideology to representing people and embracing democracy, as encapsulated in Jeremy Corbyn. The audience gave Ken an standing ovation. Hope isn’t dead yet, by any means. Great post Jeff – thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with much that’s been said, but I must sound a note of caution against being to carried away with metaphysical concepts like hope. Idealism and aspiration are too easily hi-jacked by others whose mission is to discredit, paralyse and destroy the left. Phrases like “the many not the priviliged few” are insubstantial and carry no weight with voters. Is anyone much concerned to be one fifty-millionth of the massed many? I think not.

    If Jeremy Corbyn can undertake to ensure that every individual will have a habitable home to rent securely for as long as she/he needs it, and at an annual rental not exceeding £3,600, then he will win votes for Labour/Momentum. We must inhabit principles that don’t rely on sentimentality alone, however eloquently expressed. We should also find a way of arguing for ways to overturn the class system which is allied to the dubious concept of meritocracy (rule of the fittest-to-rule over the rest, sez who?). It’s time we had a conversation on republicanism, and the end of monarchy to coincide with the demise of the current monarch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for shaing your perspective I agree with many of your points. In my defence I’d argue that this is a subjective, not scientific piece and I didn’t set out to articulate a programme aside from articulating my desire to see wealth and power distributed more equitably. I was attempting to describe ow I felt, which inevitably lead me down the path of discussing hope etc. Although I take your point, I do believe this is valid in terms of explaining at least part of Corbyn’s appeal. Your points on republicanism are well made and I am in complete agreement.

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      • I appreciate your comments too, Jeff, and especially that you reply quickly! I don’t think I’m very far from you in hoping JC will continue to galvanise the party into securing enough votes in 2020 or whenever to get a parliamentary majority. And it will take time to develop and set out attractive enough policies, working from the grass roots up, so I take your point there too.

        My concern is that we over-egg the pudding and set too much store on JC’s personal charisma in our discussions amongst ourselves. We aren’t cultish, but we mustn’t invite more accusations that we are, however unjustified those may be. Blair encouraged group-think and enjoyed being the subject of widespread idolatry. Jeremy needs friends who can support him on his weaker flanks, and speak truth to his undoubted powers of persuasion and inspiration.

        What do you think are his weaker points and potential vulnerabilities? He will certainly know himself what they are.

        Peter

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I am aware of this when I write, but it’s difficult no to end up being overly defensive, particularly when Jeremy is the focus of attack. I guess my natural inclination to stand in solidarity can come off as being overly positive.

        He does indeed have weaknesses, not least his lack of experience in office. I remember having a conversation with a friend on the day he was elected and saying that, while I wouldn’t want him to indulge in triangulation and focus groups, it would be good if he could surround himself with people who can handle the media better. He has walked into a number of traps. Having said that he is highly unlikely to ever get a fair hearing and we are really talking damage limitation in that respect.

        On the issue of charisma, I’m not really sure that’s how I see him. I don’t think he’s particularly charismatic and he isn’t a great orator, like Benn was for example. Rather he comes across as ordinary and charming, but very sincere – which is his appeal in my view. After years of slick politicians this seems fresh and authentic.

        I’d say the best way to counter the accusations of cultism would be for Jeremy and John to start pushing others forward. There are some incredible talents beginning to emerge in the shadow cabinet.

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  6. Very constructive and helpful response, Jeff. I agree with your charisma point. The word has become debased by its PR connotations of being smooth, ‘telegenic’ and having the ability to be all things to all men. It used to signify a ‘God-given gift’ of grace (it probably still does to the religiously inclined, but means something similar to the secular mind too).

    I think Jeremy is tough, and he needs to be. I share your commitment to him and he will have my support however much he comes under attack and from whatever quarter. As I’ve probably mentioned, I live in France at the moment though I’m domiciled in UK (Rayleigh) and eligible to vote there. But my capacity for active campaign involvement is a bit limited. I’m 78 years old though in good health and still physically active.

    I’m delighted to see that he has the support of many young people, and especially young women. I hope he party will see to it that their voice is adequately represented in all our proceedings and policy decisions. He has some very robust and effective women MPs on the opposition benches from present showings. As they say, hope springs eternal, and you are right to celebrate your own and share it wih your readers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with every word. That is why I fight for Scottish Independence because I have zero confidence that the London establishment will surrender control to the people.
    Labour will only be permitted a “turn” at Westminster if they are good boys and toe the line. A ruling class now have full control via loyal puppets be they red or blue Tories.
    Everything the grassroots movement of Labour members is fighting for is correct. However self interest and greed are now firmly established down Souf’. Society is a poor second to self.
    I wish you good luck and we will keep places open for those who want to come to Scotland and help build a fairer society.

    I’m afraid it is too late for the old Empire to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Julia (especially for reserving places in Scotland for us). I understand and respect your desire for Scottish independence. I wish Scottish and English workers could find a way to fight together to force the establishment to surrender their grip, but I believe in the right of the Scottish people to self determination if that’s what they choose. I am not so pessimistic about our chances south of the border though and will continue to fight for justice and Socialism here. Maybe one day we can unite on the basis of our common desire for social justice for all the people of these Isles and a form of government that serves all the people.

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  8. This is just about the best I have read on the Corbyn sensation. Hope has been at the centre of it since the beginning, and my wife and I, both aged 68, are among the thousands of Trots who have infiltrated the Labour Party (that’s a joke, by the way). The best bit, I think, is about hope making sense, regardless of how it turns out. Abso-bloody-lutely! That wonderful little big man Alexander Dubcek (another bloody Trot; sorry, another joke!) ended up on permanent gardening leave after trying to create “socialism with a human face” – but Dubcek’s hope lives on and on. So does Salvadore Alllende’s (hope these spellings are okay, by the way; can’t check, I’m just off to babysit my amazing grandson ‘Jakey’) and the hope of that Chilean folksinger whose name escapes me at the moment. And George Orwell (couldn’t he put in a shift in Momentum’s midfield!) hit the same nail on the head when he wrote, something along the lines of, no bomb or bullet being able to shatter the “crystal spirit” in people. This, in a way, has been Corbyn’s message, which is why he has inspired so many against impossible odds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks Peter, both for your kinds words and your insights. Of course alongside hope we need a programme, but hope is what gets us out of bed to fight for it. My best to your Grandson Jakey 😊

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  9. Thanks, Jeff. Just taking Jakey to nursery. One small added point: of course we need the programme but, the same as unity must be based on integrity, so the programme must be based on these values, otherwise they (like unity) are worthless). That’s why, I think, Owen Jones keeps disappearing up his own seminars.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. How can you forget the name of a candidate with such enormous self proclaimed abilities, qualities and charisma. I think it might be Smith????

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  11. ‘Some have accused me of being an idealist, or a dreamer. When did those things become a crime by the way?’
    10th May 1979, Jeff! 🙂
    Great piece as Gramsci noted, we must maintain optimism of the will even if we’re intellectually pessimistic.

    Liked by 1 person

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