Fidel Castro once said:
Revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.
The bitter struggle for the leadership of the Labour Party, while not as grave a matter as life and death, does come close to proving the veracity of the Cuban leader’s words. The rancour and bitterness that’s engulfed Labour in the wake of Brexit reached a new level of intensity with the ruling of the Court of Appeal in London to uphold the party bureaucracy’s decision to prevent 130,000 people who joined the party since January from having a vote in the leadership election in September. It reverses an earlier ruling of the High Court in favour of an action brought by a group of party members against the attempt to block them from voting in the election. Understandably, the ruling met with anger from the Corbyn supporters and campaigners, who asserted that the appeal is “wrong” both on democratic and moral grounds. Corbyn’s detractors claim, not without foundation, that he fought a lacklustre campaign in favour of Britain’s continuing membership of the EU. The resulting vote to exit the EU… the Brexit… pushed the country into a period of profound economic and political uncertainty, with a spike in reported incidents of racism and hate crimes against migrants and minorities, evidence of its toxic consequences. The depth of bitterness within Labour, and the challenge mounted against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, reflects the anger felt by many over this state of affairs.
However, Corbyn’s leadership was under siege long before the EU referendum, whilst the disenfranchisement, alienation, and misplaced hostility towards migrant workers and minorities that drove Brexit existed long before he became leader of the party. No matter, despite the huge mandate he received to lead the party last year from its members, Jeremy Corbyn finds himself in a situation in the House of Commons of having his opponents arrayed in front of him in the shape of the Tories and has enemies sitting behind him in the shape of the majority of his own Labour MPs. From there they’ve watched and waited for an opportunity to topple a leader they’ve always viewed as an impostor… whose every utterance is an offence to the centrist beliefs they hold so dear. The strength of opposition to Corbyn’s leadership is also clear in media coverage that’s been so hostile you could’ve been forgiven for thinking he was a criminal mastermind rather than the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition. Ceaseless attacks on his competence, political record, and suitability as a potential prime minister have been the norm. Yet, rather than weakening his support, this anti-Corbyn campaign merely strengthened and solidified it. In truth, the mainstream media’s problem with Corbyn isn’t his competence or record, but the ideology that drives his politics, offering a clear alternative to a status quo of war, neoliberalism, and crippling inequality. It marks a radical departure from the Labour Party led by Tony Blair between 1994 and 2007, a departure amplified by the recent findings of the Chilcot report into the war on Iraq, which heavily criticised Blair’s role in the lead-up to the war.
To gain a deeper understanding of the difference in political vision and direction a Corbyn-led Labour Party has embraced compared to its Blair-led predecessor, we only have to reflect that in retirement, when asked to opine on her greatest political achievement, Margaret Thatcher answered Tony Blair and New Labour… i.e. the transformation of the Labour Party as the party that represents ordinary working people and their needs into a party representing the interests of the rich, the City of London, and big business. It was a shift to the right replicated across Western Europe during the 1990s, as social democratic parties moved to dislodge their conservative counterparts from the centre-right ground they’d traditionally called their own, succumbing to the “End of History” triumphalism that gained wide traction across the West in response to the demise of the USSR, whereby free market fundamentalism reigned.
Corbyn’s surprising and dizzying elevation to the leader’s office in 2015 came on the back of an eruption of previously dormant left-wing sentiment from below. The left within the Labour Party had been so defeated and demoralized over the preceding three decades and more, regarded as a relic of a discredited past, that the party’s hierarchy felt emboldened enough to help him receive the thirty nominations from Labour MPs required to get him onto the ballot for last year’s leadership election… triggered by previous incumbent Ed Miliband’s resignation in the wake of the general election defeat. They did so safe in the knowledge that Corbyn would receive a derisory vote. They were wrong and now they want their party back. Astonishingly, for some within the Labour Party, the surge in new members the party’s enjoyed isn’t a development to celebrate, but proof of a grand conspiracy to subvert it. The party’s general secretary Iain McNicol was key in pressing for the court injunction to block new members from voting in the leadership election, whilst Corbyn’s own deputy, Tom Watson, recently claimed that the party is at risk of being taken over by hard-left “Trotsky entryists”. It defies belief that there could be more than 100 Trotskyists in the whole of the UK, never mind the thousands implied in Watson’s assertion, which Corbyn himself describes as “nonsense”. With the result of the leadership election due at the party’s annual conference on 24 September, this struggle will grow increasingly bitter between now and then. What both sides have in common is an understanding of the consequences of either victory or defeat for not only the Labour Party, but for British politics and society as a whole.
17 August 2016