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Why I won’t be giving up the fight for a socialist Labour Party

jamie-reed-746059

I’d like you to picture a scene. A father and son are hunched over their beers. They’re embroiled in a sometimes heated political debate. Strangely their politics are in complete alignment. Both are socialists. They are each sick of living in a society where greed and private profit take precedence over the needs of millions. Yet they are arguing with each other. Why?

Labour, a political party they have supported their whole lives and one headed by a man who shares their vision for a better society, appears to be struggling. It has lost an election and their enemies, both internal and external are circling, eager to pick at the carcass. How could the very people the party was founded to protect have forsaken it?

The older of the two argues that, although he agrees completely with everything Labour stands for, that’s just not what people want now. He goes further, stating that the leader just isn’t popular and there’s no way people will vote for him. It’s time for a change of direction. The party needs to offer a more ‘voter friendly’ platform and appeal to the centre ground. It’s not fair, but the press, everyone, has got it in for him and he has to go.

The son is incandescent with rage. What is the point of winning power, if it’s not to change things, to make life better for everyone? Middle of the road policies have failed in the past and they will fail again. We should stick to our principles and fight for what we believe in. People will respect that. They’ll come around.

Then his father smiles and it enrages his lad further. “Look son, that’s all well and good, but the media is owned by Tories. He’ll never get his message across.” He takes a drink of his beer, puts his hand on his boy’s shoulder and says “we just need to win power any way we can. Then once we’re there we can start implementing our programme. You can’t do anything in opposition.”

I can imagine this conversation taking place all over the country today as Labour supporters digest the defeat to the Tories in Copeland. Actually I know this particular discourse has actually taken place between a Dad and his lad, almost word for word. Trouble is, it happened around 30 years ago, between my father and me.

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As it happened his views prevailed and, after defeat to Thatcher in 1983, Labour embarked on a path that led to Neil Kinnock’s leadership, which moved the party to the right. Labour lost two elections as that process unfolded. Then somehow we found ourselves with Tony Blair at the helm and the party’s transformation into neo-liberal social democrats was complete.

People including me have very fixed positions about the Blair governments. Actually that’s not entirely true; after witnessing the “gentrification” of the Labour Party at close quarters, my Dad is now a Corbyn supporter.

Blair’s Labour was undoubtedly media friendly. He even managed to win over Murdoch’s S*n; something many of us see as a stain, rather than an achievement. In power the party stuck to Tory spending plans for the first parliament. However, it later introduced social reforms that people like me can be proud of: the minimum wage, ‘Sure Start’, Working Families Tax Credit and it invested in health and education on an unparalleled scale.

However, sadly, we have seen much of that unpicked by the Tories. For many like me, Labour just wasn’t radical enough. It was far too comfortable with inequality, happy to cosy up to the establishment and far too eager to engage in foreign adventures that cost millions their lives and spent billions that could have gone to improving the lives of many.

So was it all worth the sacrifice? Was the jettisoning of principle for transient power justified? There will be those who will argue that 3 terms in office is far from transient. Fair enough, but history would disagree. The people whose benefits are being scrapped now, by the party that won back power from Blair’s Labour in 2010, would also take issue.

To those who are newly homeless or waiting in emergency departments up and down the country, Blair’s government is now a distant memory. We are now witnessing a Tory scorched earth policy when it comes to the public sector and social justice.

Today we face the very real possibility that the health service will be privatised, along with education, while poverty and hunger in our cities becomes endemic; if it isn’t already. Just how much did we sacrifice for those Blair years?

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Of course the feeding frenzy that has followed the Tory gain in Copeland, seeks to pin the blame for Labour’s plight at Jeremy Corbyn’s door. Here is proof positive, they say, that he is toxic, unelectable; all the while ignoring the fact that his Labour party won in Stoke, despite dire predictions to the contrary. Labour also saw off UKIP into the bargain, despite suggestions the party was hanging on by its fingernails because of their challenge.

Round and round the arguments have gone. If Corbyn is responsible for Stoke, he’s also responsible for Copeland, say the right. No, if he’s responsible for Copeland, then you have to also give him credit for Stoke, say the left. We’re like Lilliputians, locked in an endless and ultimately futile war over which end of the egg you crack first.

Are we not spectacularly missing the bigger question here? This is actually not about Jeremy Corbyn, as much as I admire and respect the man as an individual, it never has been. Instead it’s about the ideas he represents. The whole movement that thrust him to power happened precisely because of ideas, not personality. We must never lose sight of that.

You may have already convinced yourself that a more smartly dressed, media savvy figure from the soft left could propel Labour to victory in 2020, but at what cost? Is it not really true that the only Labour leader capable of receiving safe passage in the media is one willing to swallow their narrative whole? If you feel I am being overly dramatic, I invite you to recall their treatment of Ed Miliband.

Ed’s crime was daring to suggest that ‘New Labour’ had been too comfortable with inequality. His programme was far from radical and only slightly to the left of Gordon Brown. He was a politician with front bench experience and appropriately suited and booted, but his attempt to distance the party from Blair’s experiment placed him beyond the pale in many quarters.

The attacks on Corbyn go much further, precisely because his programme is more far reaching. The onslaught has, at times, been horrifically personal. His supporters have not been immune either, with Momentum and others pilloried and smeared. Diane Abbott has been on the receiving end of some of the vilest attacks in all forms of media.

Independent studies  have shown that the mainstream media are systematically misrepresenting Corbyn and his allies. Elements in his own party have openly stated that they are working daily to undermine him. To argue that none of this is having an effect on voter intention is naive in the extreme.

Any Labour leader, who espouses a programme that directly challenges the status-quo, will always face an uphill battle to overcome the wave of vitriol hurled their way, in order to reach the public. There is frankly no easy way through this. Labour’s problems go back decades.

The decline in their vote, in places like Copeland and further north, in Scotland, predates Corbyn. Copeland may be harder to stomach, because voters appear to have once more cast their ballot for a party that is diametrically opposed to their interests. However, the way to win them back is not by repeating the mistakes of the past.

These may be difficult times, but the need for a radical socialist alternative has never been greater. Regardless of who leads Labour, if they are advocating such a programme they will have to deal with the same storm Corbyn has. Of course if they’re not, then we must ask whether they are really worth having at all?

Social justice requires determination in the face of adversity. The suffragettes, the trade union movement, campaigners for LGBT rights and those victims of institutional injustice; such as the Hillsborough campaigners, the victims of ‘Bloody Sunday’ and Orgreave have all had doors slammed in their faces many times over.

Each of these groups have faced state and media attacks. They have had to deal with a sceptical and sometimes hostile public. However, the one thing they all have in common, is that they never run from a fight and they have continued to battle for what they knew was true, until everyone else knew it too.

That’s the challenge that faces Labour today. Run from the fight, or stand firm and see it through? I won’t be running.

64 Comments »

  1. I wish I could have written this, put what I really felt into words in this way. It reaffirms why I still believe in Jeremy Corbyn, a man of great integrity, with whom I share many views and values today. Thankyou Jeff, for writing what I could not

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Jeff this is just what I needed. You expressed exactly how I feel. The last couple of years has been a roller coaster since I rejoined Labour with the attacks and vilification of JC together with his huge successes up and down the country. It’s so refreshing to read something positive. No it won’t be easy but I’m with JC because he and his kinder politics is what we all need and deserve JC4PM ā˜ŗ

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good piece again Jeff. We just have to steel our resolve and keep the faith. But at times, it’s really difficult and very easy to let doubts creep in.I guess it’s an impatience, desperately wanting things to happen that makes a difference. I really struggle with the reality that despite all that this government is doing, the working man continues to vote Tory. Just how bad does it have to get before people rise up and say enough is enough.?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent article with clear direction for us socialists which l totally agree with,but still l ask is their nothing that can be done by members to free labour from the NEC and the PLP damage they causing to this movement?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Well put. I’m rapidly becoming an older man & I’m desperate for my daughter to live in a fair, just, tolerant & loving society, not a selfish intolerant & hate filled one. We need the likes of Corbyn & Sanders more than ever and we’re close. The bloated establishment including our rabidly right wing media are desperate to keep things the way they are, even though life is becoming intolerable for the majority. Heads up & thanks for writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Shared. History teaches us that we have to show courage and determination in the fight for a better, fairer society. Thank you for articulating this so well. I think party members have to keep campaigning locally to get the message across. I went to Stoke twice and saw the power of a mass membership. Most of those people would not have been there if Corbyn wasn’t leader.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thanks for that – am sharing far and wide. This is exactly how I feel and the “discussions” you mention are currently taking place between my husband and myself. I am standing firm and fighting. Most people in this country have said they want the sort of policies that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn are putting forward and they want honest politics which is what they have now got from Labour. He is a man of integrity. However, if you just ask them what they want they agree with these policies, if you then tell them they are his policies they change their mind. This is the sort of thing that we need to be able to overcome if we are to succeed and get into power.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Maria for take the time to read and share your thoughts. I agree that the policies Corbyn is advocating are very popular and overcoming the media narrative, while it may take time, is far from impossible

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  8. Enjoy your electoral oblivion. I’m sure the working people of this country will salute your political purity and integrity as they march to the polling stations to vote for anyone but Labour. If you wanted a hard-left Socialist party, why didn’t you join the SWP instead of emasculating the only political party that has ever challenged the Tories for power in the UK?

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    • Peter, none of the comments made above yours merit the bilious cynicism of your own. You suggest that people of who value integrity and lonely courage have ‘cut the balls off’ (emasculated) the Labour party. The only contributor to this thread who introduces a weapon of naked male aggression here is yourself. Jeremy Corbyn, I would suggest, is better endowed than you.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Great article! I won’t be running away either. Jeremy Corbyn is a man of great integrity. He’s been my MP since 1988. As Labour leader he’s seen the party membership grow like never before. That surely must be a positive sign……… even if the media don’t mention it much.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I can only concur with all of the previous comments, a well written balanced commentary of Labour’s predicament, we either run away and let style rule over substance, or stand and fight for justice and truth.

    Thank you for this article, I will not be running away from the most decent politician this country has seen in generations.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Jeff, your story-telling style and quiet consistency is a true gift. I and many others are very grateful that you put it so generously at the service of the cause you believe in. Even I have moments when my resolve falters, especially when insults and calumnies are daily heaped on Jeremy’s head, and I wish it could be otherwise. How much more of this must the man endure? But he walks on with head unbowed and a smile on his lips, treating everyone with courtesy and grace. Your own encouragement stiffens my sinews and strengthens my will. Keep it up, comrade!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. This is a great article. Agree with all of it bar one tangential quibble. Minimum wage and in-work benefits were a good thing but not when managed as cack-handedly as Blair and Brown. Too low a minimum wage making in-work benefits an automatic subsidy to employers that they don’t even have to do the form-filling for, let alone justify, is one part of the problem. But it is also what allowed London and some other big cities to suck all the investment away from everywhere else. Employers can take the capital gains on their property without paying the full costs of locating the business there. And they don’t have to worry about where their workers will come from because if internal migration isn’tenough, immigration will plug the gap. Combine that with clone high streets expatriating most of the money spent on them, to London and other tax havens, and it’s a recipe for economic disaster.

    It’s the absence of an industrial policy that ensures we don’t abandon entire areas just because it makes the bosses a quick buck that made immigration so problematic for so many and neither Leave nor Remain were politically capable of admitting it. It’s time to stop being charitable about the Blair/Brown era. It only slows down the exodus of parachutees who need to go before the working class will bother to start voting again (the class turnout gap being another appalling ‘achievement’ of the last 30 years).

    Liked by 2 people

  13. You’re a star Jeff. Really look forward to you articles – they always lift my spirits and I’m not alone in that by any means. I was at the anti-fracking rally at Preston New Rd today and there were about 2000 others there who havn’t given up either.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thanks for this. Sometimes I have doubts too, so we need articles like this – we need to remind ourselves of what we are fighting for, and, more importantly, to support each other during a set-back.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Tim. Given the appalling campaign against us in the media, it doesn’t surprise me that people have doubts. Part of the reason I wrote this was that I felt we needed more voices challenging the msm narrative and wanted to add my own. Really appreciate you reading and commenting

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  15. Voters in Copeland voted for the party in power in a byelection,.whilst their local hospital is under threat
    Probably hoping they will be given a ‘sweetheart deal’ in way of a thank you. Who can really blame them for voting tactically? A general election is a totally different situation, the voters have to guess who will ultimately be the government. So will vote for the party that properly represents their views. Watch that space.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Elizabeth. I hope your perspective is correct, but I think we need to redouble efforts to get our message across to these voters. Equally we need the infighting in the party to stop and those MPs who have sought to undermine Jeremy must stop and get behind their leader. Appreciate you reading and commenting.

      Like

  16. Corbyn is our only chance. He has displayed an unflattering resolve and an indepth knowledge that quietly silences the critics when he is allowed to present himself before the public. He won’t stand down when the establishment tell him to. There are not many that could do this. We won’t get another chance because the PLP wouldn’t nominate another in his mould. We have to stand firm with him, because we have one shot to steer this country from the far right path it is treading towards.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Brilliant article. These views need to be constantly restated to counteract the faintheartedness of some Labour supporters who’ve been gradually worn down by the drip ,drip, drip, of the “Corbyn is unelectable” brigade not to mention our disgustingly mendacious media.

    Liked by 2 people

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