As Oliver Stone repeatedly demonstrates in his brilliant series The Untold History of the United States, key figures are important to diplomatic relations.
By the late 1970s, the days of a trade union talisman like Jack Jones were few and far between, and a breakdown in negotiations between unions and the party of Labour they often relied on led to such disastrous events as the Winter of Discontent, and – as a result – Labour in-fighting. With the Winter of Discontent came darker days, blackouts, and the fading of the Post-War Consensus.
The socialism of Michael Foot, who had slowly worked his way up to the leadership of Labour, was routed by the flag-waving nationalism led by the Falklands-fighting Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. With the Winter of Discontent still fresh in the collective psyche of the British population, Labour’s Neil Kinnock turned his back on striking coal miners who were having their pits closed by Thatcher simply because theirs was the strongest union around.
Thatcher went on to dominate the 1980s Social Darwinist culture of “survival of the fittest” she helped contribute to. It was indeed, a different time. Council houses were being bought up and sold off, and almost everyone believed they too could make it big. State services were subjected to a big sell-out. Entire sectors were being deregulated, giving financiers free rein. The money was flowing into London via the stock exchange, bankers were wheeling and dealing, and casino capitalism thrived, and as a result, a devastating £1.5 trillion bank bail-out looming in the not-too-distant future.
As Labour figures like Tony Benn had warned, neoliberalism turned out to be disastrous for our society. Thatcherism and, to a lesser extent, Blairism, exacerbated inequalities and overseas adventures damaged our standing in the world, with Iraq making the Falklands look like a playground fight by comparison. The ramifications would be felt to this very day, given the instability caused to the Middle East as a result of the illegal intervention.
While Tony Benn was with his “favourite politician” Jeremy Corbyn and hundreds of thousands more of us protesting the horrific attack on Iraq, his son Hilary Benn was voting for it. And just this year, he called for air strikes on Syria in what the media claimed was an oratory masterpiece worthy of any historic figure able to rouse his population towards war. And this has been key: form over content; style over substance.
While Hilary Benn was being cheered on by Conservatives in the House of Commons, the same Tories were still intoxicated by the celebration of the harm they’d caused through blaming the debt left by a £1.5 trillion bank bail-out on Labour “overspending” on public services, using the lie as a way to stop said services, or even sell them off to their rich mates. Thatcherism was alive and well: it was “survival of the fittest” again.
Working class people had had enough of being left mere scraps. Some were so angry they’d even fight over the scraps with anyone else disadvantaged, be it neighbour or immigrant. Communities were being devastated. The Eighties were over. Greed was no longer seen as good. “Occupy” protests unfathomable in the Eighties were suddenly commonplace. If Labour’s Eighties brand of weak ineffectual socialism was resented, Eighties Thatcherism was downright hated. When she died, people were burning effigies of her in the street.
In high contrast to Hilary Benn, when Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader in September of 2015 he was criticised for reading out statements from citizens he was representing, and I recall someone on Twitter pointing out, “Surely what matters more are the words on the paper?”
Corbyn’s entire approach has realigned our perception of politicians and made us believe that it can be policy, not pizazz, that matters – that going to court because you refuse to pay the poll tax means more than throwing your jacket over your shoulder, flashing a grin, snapping a selfie, and then going and killing thousands of people. What we do matters more than what we say. Corbyn had a long history of doing the right thing, even when his own party weren’t.
No surprise, then, that Blair’s old buddies were immediately setting out to stop Corbyn as soon as he became leader. They’d plotted to take him down since before the EU referendum. At this point doing better in the polls than other party leaders, Corbyn – who has never been slow to point out the flaws of the EU – still campaigned harder than anyone else in Labour to resist knee-jerk xenophobia and call for us to “remain,” as meanwhile Hilary gathered signatures to call for his resignation.
Hilary and his plotters against Corbyn had already been given a gift by David Cameron: if Britain chose to “remain,” then Corbyn was a hypocrite and only succeeded because of the party’s position on the matter; if the UK decided to “leave,” he was a failed campaigner. Of course, as I had predicted for months, it was the latter: people who wish for the status quo will never mobilise the way those who want change do. It was always going to be “leave.” The only thing that surprised me was that it was as close as it was.
So the plotters upped the ante. They coordinated resignations with the BBC for maximum media effect. They briefed Laura Kuenssberg and, thus, David Cameron, on Corbyn’s planned remarks in parliament.
We can only assume – given the absolutely awful “candidates” they ultimately ended up proposing as alternatives to Corbyn – that their plan was to pile on so much pressure on him that he’d buckle, resign, and they’d have a replacement.
Hilary’s buddies who backed Blair bombing Iraq were no doubt anxious to see a Labour leadership act as an apologist for Blair upon the release of the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry. The nearer it approached, the more heat they put on Corbyn. But still, he didn’t go. Instead, he saw the Chilcot findings as a vindication of his – and our – opposition to the attack on Iraq, and issued a long-needed apology on behalf of the Labour party.
Corbyn standing his ground was more important than that, though. Any resignation from Corbyn would have turned away an entire generation from politics; far from being time-travelers from the 1970s, this is a generation interested again – a generation which values multiculturalism, European diplomacy, and social democracy and who will deliver us the future of our country, and this means we must keep them engaged as citizens or finally reduce them to bitter and twisted consumers as Thatcherism sought. Tens of thousands joined Labour to make it the largest socialist party in all of Europe. Thousands marched in British cities in support of the Labour leader. I’ve been on them myself.
Even those few who had returned to the party were being targeted; Labour head honchos were spending more time, effort and energy chasing out socialists than chasing Tories in the race to power, and when asked who they thought would make a better Prime Minister out of Prime Minister Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn being undermined by his own MPs, the British public were thinking the former, in an <sarcasm>absolute shocker</sarcasm>.
When Angela Eagle stepped aside for the sad figure of Owen Smith in the last resort of a formal leadership challenge, the plotters tried to ensure the incumbent couldn’t again stand for election, such was their fear of Jeremy Corbyn remaining leader. The National Executive Committee then declared he could indeed stand, but set about deducting over a hundred thousand votes from him by declaring newer members ineligible to vote, and blocking members of the Unite union, who in turn suggested regional constituents de-select the plotting MP’s…which of course resulted in the suspension of regional constituency meetings. Which was just a coincidence.
But this isn’t a leadership challenge. It’s a membership challenge. It’s a challenge to all of us, as evidenced by the plotters’ asinine suggestion that they’ll have these challenges over and over and over again until they get the one they – not us – want…one of the most insulting sentiments ever directed at Labour party members who knock on doors and post fliers.
This is a struggle for democracy itself. It’s a struggle between the people and the elites in Westminster, and on Fleet Street – whatever’s left of it, as old media slowly and painfully goes into decline while Corbynistas utilise social media to seek out alternative, more reliable and authentic sources of information rather than the opinions of one rich Australian, or one of his fellow media barons, or the BBC establishment.
This is also an opportunity to start the dismantling of a system of power and control and influence that, if continued, would accelerate, rather than stave off, the destruction of the environment, of workers’ rights, and of democracy itself.
London’s outdated relics house a Westminster bubble of leather and gold representing oppressive established entitlement, where echoes bounce around corridors of power to present us with pantomime as an illusion of democracy. The media outlets highlight the delivery and posture of “Maggie” May as she avoids Corbyn’s question on workers’ wages and instead fires at him a personal attack implying he’s at loggerheads with his own “workers” – leaving the social media-savvy citizens to search for the full clip where Corbyn replies with one of the most poignant and pertinent points of our time: that neither she nor any of her colleagues, nor indeed anyone in Westminster, can relate to those of us relying on food banks to eat.
But this particular attack by May – chosen as Prime Minister of Britain by a hundred or so toffs – is telling: it exposes the real delusion of party politics – that a party leader is akin to a chief executive, with key staffers, and shareholders on the outside. Despite the fact shareholders are generally treated with far more reverence than political party members, this comparison is grotesque, and shows how low our expectations of the political system have sunk since the formation of the Labour party itself just over a hundred years ago. We are not shareholders, but stakeholders. We are driven by values, rather than the value of things.
The accidental representative rather than ambitious leader, Corbyn has embraced the simple idea that being in Westminster isn’t a career, but merely a role designated by communities who select their MP. Angela Eagle nodded in agreement with her own constituents, then walked off, drove away in her car, and days later defied their wishes, challenging Corbyn – such is the arrogance and sense of entitlement of these politicos.
Ed Miliband represents my birthplace of Doncaster with no connection to the town whatsoever, merely gifted a “safe” Labour seat to suit what was an up-and-coming politician rewarded for being part of the political establishment with this role to keep him in Westminster; they don’t want some Trot, rabble or Doncastrian dog such as, say, myself who understands Donny villages like Bentley or Askern. I’m not cut from the right cloth, after all. I’m not a careerist who wants power to push apart the doors to boardrooms and corporate-sponsored trust funds for my kids.
You only have to look at the most successful politician in recent history – Tory blue-blood David Cameron – to see the best example of modern politics: if you’re from the right background, you get gifted a safe seat, you rise up the party, do the bidding of elites, and then quit politics to enjoy your yachts while being a token director of a board of some corporation that gets to spread word on the prawn cocktail circuit that they have a former Prime Minister don’t-you-know, and all the contacts that go with that, right there in their company. They all win. The only losers are us. By this point, it’s all so far removed from democracy that we’re utterly irrelevant.
The rise of Jeremy Corbyn is a threat to all of this. “This is the way it’s always been,” they cry over their canapés.
So it’s not even just about Jeremy Corbyn though, is it? It’s about what he represents. It’s about his desire for politics to embrace the grassroots, rather than coming from these corporate penthouses. And it’s also about his brand of socialism, for which there is an appetite not seen since 1945.
Corbyn has battered the Tories into several reversals in policy, on tax credits, on housing benefits cuts, on disability cuts, on police cuts, on the trade union bill, on academies, and on, and on. All this despite those Westminster elites undermining him, attacking him daily in the press.
Can you imagine what genuine social good could be achieved if the whole party was behind him? If they actually gave a shit about people like you and me, rather than what Board of Directors they get to sit on after parliament, or how big the trust fund for their kids might be.
But though the money never seems to truly trickle down, the sense of entitlement sure does. You can feel it in Labour party events and meetings. The old guard, who stood by war criminal Tony Blair, and scoffed at the hundreds of thousands of us who marched against him. I attended my Constituency Labour Party meeting recently and sat there in utter shock as one woman supporting Owen Smith angrily shouted, ‘We don’t want rallies!’ This sounds like a joke but I’m not making this up. It actually happened! I have witnesses! The punchline would have to be when dozens more “delegates” erupted into applause as us mere members sat stunned at the back of the room (the naughty area, I assume).
Consider this for a moment. Imagine possessing so much passion in opposition of mass mobilisation around your leader and, as a result, your party. What could be the rationale? What could be seen as threatening about this? What is it about this idea that Labour needs to be Blairite? That Tony Blair had got it right? Because that is an idea removed from reality. New Labour was supposed to be an “election-winning machine” yet it bloody hemorrhaged three million votes! So I ask Blairites: do you want to win elections? Do you really actually want that? And if so, is it on the condition that younger people come into your party, go to the back of the room, sit down, shut up, and just deliver fliers for you when you tell them to?
But, I tell them, if you truly wanted to win a general election, you’d get behind the leader the party members, overwhelmingly, chose. You’d join the momentum. You’d get behind the campaign. You’d fight for the true socialist Labour values that he represents, and that have been written on your membership card, if you’d taken the time to actually read it rather than take absolutely everything for granted for years.
So now, if Jeremy Corbyn again becomes Labour leader, and they again undermine him…they clearly want the Tories to win in 2020. It’s as simple as that.
I thought Gordon Brown was an improvement on Tony Blair, but who is he going to brag to about that? I still got chased by police for peacefully protesting the G20 when he was Prime Minister. But you know what? When the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled, I remained a Labour supporter. Just like I did when Ed Miliband was leader.
Abby Tomlinson, the leader of #Milifandom, like Ed, backed Owen Smith, suggesting rallies don’t win elections because, hey, newsflash: the Tories get into power without them!
Despite wisdom beyond her years, this view is an astonishingly naive one, shared by too many in Labour.
While it’s true the Tories don’t win with rallies, it is a fact they win on apathy. They rely on working class citizens staying at home. Corbyn’s rallies have mobilised people, made them excited again, and inspired people to once more believe in democracy and engage in the issues with family and friends – what Michael Moore, when referring to Bernie Sanders over in the States, refers to as the “dragging people to the polls” effect. It’s all so exciting that even Smith himself wants to attend the rallies to talk to Corbyn’s supporters, while Smith’s followers claim rallies are worthless. Confused? Understandably!
If the Labour party now chooses to disconnect itself even further from the communities it was set up to represent, if it feels justified in rigging a democratic process, again and again and again, until it can effectively serve a select few vested interests, and if it decides that it should not fight for democratic socialist values but instead be a “broad church” that is all things to all people – a ship never anchored in principles, left adrift in right-wing waters of murky vested interests – then it won’t have a soul left to be fought for; it will have already lost it. It will have accepted the media and its narrative as it is, when – as Francesca Martinez said – there’s no time left for that; it’s do or die. It’s the end of “The End of History.” It’s an opportunity to truly change things and, hey, as Gordon Brown might say, change the world.
There is one certainty: after this latest ill-intended and anti-democratic process, whatever the result, it will have repercussions on the political landscape felt for many years to come. Either the party elites will save Labour from themselves by ceding more power to democracy, or the politics of cynicism will win the day, casting adrift hundreds of thousands of social democrats who want change – and will seek other means to get it, leaving Labour without the biggest socialist membership in Europe it currently enjoys, but instead a base, and a position, almost every bit as pessimistic, miserable and introspective as the Tories.
Hundreds of thousands of us are involved in this struggle because it matters. I for one will remain active, be it in party politics or simply in politics generally.
Because, after all, politics is too important to be left to politicians.