With another Labour leadership contest now certain, here’s some advice for how supporters of Jeremy Corbyn should approach campaigning this summer.
1. Don’t assume it’s in the bag.
A 60% majority is a huge win in a four-way contest, but much closer in a head-to-head. We don’t yet know what the rules of the election will be in terms of who is allowed to vote. The anti-democrat faction in the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) have deliberately created this crisis, then spun it out in order to push a layer of the membership to the conclusion that we need a change of leader just to break the deadlock.
2. Convince, don’t denounce.
Very few people in the Labour party are Blairites. Your average Labour member is not that different politically from your average Momentum supporter. – they may just have some concerns about Jeremy’s leadership. The responsibility is on us to talk through those concerns, rather than engaging in a campaign of denunciation, either online or offline.
3. Tackle the electability argument.
One concern is electability. For some people, this is used as a smokescreen to avoid talking about political differences. For most Labour supporters, however, it’s a deeply moral issue: the worst Labour government is always better for our people than the best Conservative government.
The electoral system and the long term fragmentation of the Labour base mean winning the next election will be a challenge whoever is leader (this is why none of those on the party’s right who actually want to be prime minister are putting themselves up now). Our best chance is by maintaining the party as a vibrant mass membership organisation with a coherent programme which can speak to and involve diverse sections of society. With this in mind, keeping Corbyn is no guarantee of success in a general election, but removing him is a guarantee of failure.
4. It’s not about Jeremy.
The anti-democrat faction want this contest to be all about Corbyn’s personal qualities. They won’t put forward a coherent political alternative, because they don’t have one. This is about the future political direction of the labour movement. Are we dragged back to a soggy centrism, triangulating our way to a non-existent centre ground, which will merely continue the labour movement’s march into political irrelevance? Or can we rejuvenate the movement into a force which can not only develop radical socialist ideas, but use our mass membership to win over broad sections of society to those ideas?
5. Be politically bold.
The leadership campaign should fight and win on policies, like it did last year. For now, we have won the argument that Labour should be an anti-austerity party, and whoever goes up against Corbyn will pay lip service to this. So we will need to go further.
We should propose a radical restructuring of the labour market: bringing the minimum wage closer to the median wage to prevent the super-exploitation of both British and migrant workers. Legalising the closed shop and instituting national collective bargaining in sectors of the economy where it has disappeared.
We should propose a new constitutional settlement: a federal Britain (preferably a republic). Abolition of the House of Lords. A democratic electoral system. Real revenue-raising powers for local and regional government instead of a hotchpotch of ‘devo’ deals.
We should also propose a grassroots rejuvenation of the labour movement itself: a proper mapping of the skills and talents of activists and members. An end to the cult of the #labourdoorstep in favour of a diversification of political and social activity. The development of cultural organisations and media outlets affiliated to the labour movement, to once again sow the seeds of socialism in Britain’s diverse communities.
6. Talk about the future.
For a long time, left-wing politics has been derided as dinosaur politics. Nationalisation? Impossible. A living wage? Old hat. The brotherhood of all humankind? Not in this day and age!
In reality, it is those who want a return to 1997 who are clearly refusing to engage with the cold political realities of the modern world. The political centre has not articulated a coherent vision of a future society in a long, long time. In contrast, exciting ideas exist on the left about how we respond to mass automation, how we can cut down the drudgery of the working week, how we can help each other eliminate the anxieties and mental health issues which are the plague of modern capitalism. In short, a rediscovery of the old socialist project – building the co-operative commonwealth – in the 21st century world.
This means a relentless focus on the future is necessary. I’m as much of a labour history nerd as anyone, but the point of learning about the old battles is so that you don’t end up re-enacting them.
7. Don’t walk away.
There is already some talk of tearing up party cards if things don’t go our way. This is exactly what the right of the party wants. Chucking it all up and walking away without any plan for what to do instead will merely add to disillusionment and cynicism about the possibility of radical change.
If the worst comes to pass and Jeremy loses, the left in Labour will still be a hundred times stronger than we were a year ago. Parliamentary selections still have to happen. Constituency Labour party (CLP) AGMs still have to happen. No leader will be able to completely ignore a mass membership which wants the party to adopt a left-wing programme. We’re here to stay.
Photo: RonF/Weekly Bull/Flickr
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