Monday, 7 September 2015

Corbyn - he's not the Messiah - he's not even a naughty boy

Last night I was one of the Green Party members to ‘sneak in’ to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak at Great St Mary’s in Cambridge. It was packed to capacity, with hundreds outside too - who actually heard Corbyn’s speech before those inside. I went out of curiosity, to catch some of the spirit of this new political movement on the left, a return by the Labour Party to progressive politics. But I came away disappointed, not enthused or motivated as I expected to be.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard Corbyn speak. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen him at almost every protest and march I’ve attended, from the People’s Assembly to Stop the War, so I already knew what kind of speaker he was and his point of view. He is not a tub-thumper rabble-rousing public speaker like Mark Serwotka, Owen Jones or even our Caroline Lucas. He is a confident and reasoned orator, more of the ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ model.

His message is nothing new and to be honest, not radical. Most of the policies outlined belonged to the Labour Party as ‘givens’ when I was young and are current Green Party policies. Compared to Green ideals, they seem pretty mediocre and I fall firmly into the camp who say that the Greens need to stay Green as Corbyn’s Labour will not provide our core values or fully address the issues that we will face with climate change and environmental degradation. But I was expecting this too, so this wasn’t the source of my feelings of anti-climax.

The reaction of the crowd was predictably upbeat and excited. They applauded him when he came in, and gave him two standing ovations on the way out. They applauded his policy points (which was great, those policies being identical to Green Party policies!).  There wasn’t a dissenting voice, no comment from the pews other than asking him to stand where most of the congregation could see him.

On the way out it was a slightly different story however. When I go to the theatre or see a film I like to dawdle in the foyer or outside the exit to catch snippets of people’s conversations as they go by. On the way out of the church, most of what I heard was negative. Obviously not everyone in the hall was a Labour Party member or supporter  - I’m not. There were bound to be some there who were sceptical or went along out of pure curiosity. But it really seemed as if some of the people who stood in the ovation only minutes previously were now voicing their actual opinion amongst themselves. But even this surprise wasn’t the source of my lack of enthusiasm.

A lot has been made by Owen Jones and other commentators about Corbynmania, about this being the start of something, the English answer to Podemos, Syriza and even the rise of the SNP(!). And after some of the People’s Assembly actions and the Class Conference last year, the Green Surge – I thought it was really happening. I came away from them with fire in my veins  - it was the beginning of a powerful movement. But Corbynmania isn’t it. The energy, the ‘revolutionary zeal’ as some comrades in the SWP might put it, is absent.

What we need, as Cameron throws crumbs to refugees (and commits the first executive ordered extra-judicial killing of a Briton), is real opposition, prepared to leap to the barricades and in the spirit of Corbyn’s parents scream NO PASARAN! But Corbyn junior isn’t it.

Corbyn said in his speech that we shouldn’t shout and throw things at the television. At the most, you’ll end up hoarse with a busted TV. We need to do something real, join with others and get active. What he didn’t say is we need to take back the streets.  And I think that is precisely what he should have said.

On Saturday thousands of people, about 400 right here in Cambridge, took the streets to make it known in no uncertain terms that Refugees are Welcome Here.  Over £600 was collected and the local collection centre was so overloaded with donations of clothes and goods that it had to close its doors.

Next Saturday there will be a mass demonstration in London to demand that Cameron stops shaming this country and admits our fair share of refugees, not just preferentially selected from ‘nice’ camps in Turkey but from Calais, from Italy and Greece, in order to also assist those European countries currently overloaded. This isn’t an Early Day Motion, it isn’t yet another ‘signthispetition’ tweet. It is thousands of people stopping the traffic, making themselves heard and physically seen, to say, ‘up with this we will not put.’

Podemos and Syriza took the streets and the ballot box. In some respects, Syriza was beaten down and failed, capitulating to the unstoppable force of neo-liberalism, the Troika and the banks. But it also shows the limitations perhaps of hoping that by using the system that the elites invented to give the people the illusion of choice and power, that real change can be effected and real power can be distributed to the masses. But this isn’t the case. The whole system needs to be reformed and that cannot be achieved whilst those in power are in power – as they will only seek to maintain their positions for as long as possible. 

Corbyn mentioned reforming the way policy is decided in the Labour Party  - to go back to the way it used to be, to form policy through open debate and fix it through a vote of the membership. It’s a good idea; it’s the way the Green Party do things. But whilst he talked about changing society he didn’t mention electoral reform.

Electoral reform, in particular proportional representation, comes with dangers. It would have meant for example, that the far-right populist UKIP would have dozens of MPs  - but then the argument goes, in a completely reformed system UKIP would not have had half the following they had.  For PR to work it also would need reform of the media, doing away with a biased national broadcaster and smashing media empires – giving independent and local media an even playing field. It would mean the end of private contribution to political parties, funding each party equally from national funds.

But of course this will never happen. The national broadcaster tonight launched the latest smear against Corbyn – a direct attempt to interfere with an internal election of a political party. Clearly the establishment is afraid of what Corbyn represents.

But then Corbyn has become a representation of an ideal, whilst being very far from it. His supporters know his reputation and the smears will only strengthen their resolve. But unlike the rabid personality cult that UKIP cultivated around Farage, it seems that they are also more willing to accept that he isn’t perfect. But he is the best and only chance they’ve got.

Perhaps I’m also expecting too much. Perhaps we should see JC not as the saviour, but ‘as his prophet’. He is a stage on the way to political salvation – the first step as the progressive left stands up again, divided and demoralized as they were, beaten down by Thatcher and Blair. Perhaps to continue the allusion, JC is the one to say to the left, ‘take up thy bed and walk’.

What I was expecting, from the man and more from the movement, was the freedom fighter – casting the money-changers from the temple, talking of bringing figurative swords to the fight.

If Corbyn is the first step, we still have an awful long way to go. And with all the guns of the elite ranged against him, it remains to be seen how successful this forlorn hope is – and if Corbyn does fall, if there will be another to pick up the standard and once more run to the breach.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Corbyn ate my hamster and the Fanatical ABC's

Corbyn is now coming under unprecedented attack from the establishment – mainstream media and the BBC, the right-wing and Blairites within his own Labour party – and now what some would see as the actual ‘hard left’ are also being encouraged to attack him.

Over the past couple of weeks, aside from the ongoing and wholly ridiculous guilt by association (or by being in the same room as, mentioning in the same paragraph as, friending etc. etc.) idea, I’ve seen:
  • ·      Stop the War is pro-war and pro-Putin;
  • ·      apologising for the wholly legal and fully justified Iraq War is a direct insult to veterans and their families;
  • ·      Corbyn grew up in a big house;
  • ·      Corbyn’s son is called Quentin;
  • ·      Corbyn as PM would lead to the destruction of the country, him being evacuated by the UN and an annoyance to President Trump;
  • ·      Corbyn supports women-only train carriages to get the Muslim vote
  • ·      Corbyn would give state secrets to our enemies
  • ·      Corbyn is a threat to national security 

As I write this, teams of unpaid interns in basements in ‘Fleet Street’, BBC Broadcasting House and Labour HQ (oh, and Louise Mensch) will be continuing to pore over thousands of hours of video and reams of documents to find the latest ‘Corbyn ate my hamster’ story.

The latest one to be ‘broken’ was the Corbyn / Bin Laden smear, something so bizarre and ridiculous it falls into self-parody before you even pass the headline. Also with this one was the seeming gleeful acceptance by the Anyone But Corbynistas (ABCs) that to argue against what Corbyn actually said meant that you support the principle of extra-judicial killing by executive order. Not a problem for Pres. Obomber and his drone kill-list, but perhaps something that should be giving Labour party members a moment of pause. Not even Boris agrees with that principle. 

Aside from the usual suspects in these attacks, what we’re seeing increasingly over the past week or so is the use of ‘left-wing’ spokespeople, such as James Bloodworth of Left Foot Forward.  Over issues like Ukraine and ISIL, because the propaganda narrative on these issues is so widely accepted, these are easy hits to divide the left. But surely these attacks are wasted now – if the idea is to divide the left against Corbyn, wouldn’t they be better used at a general election? Unless of course, the idea is to completely split the party. Every time one of these stories is created, Labour MP clowns like Simon Danczuk jump on it - exactly what the Tory press really want.

But it does look like Corbyn will walk into the Labour leadership, and the establishment are absolutely terrified. The first political leader to challenge the status quo in a generation, with Labour core support flocking to his banner. Corbyn has managed to capture the mood right now – a political will that is spreading across the continent and can even be seen in the US.

What some commentators can’t understand is that their best efforts at attack and smear seem only to strengthen the resolve of the Corbynites. But this isn’t because Corbyn is hero-worshipped or because the movement is a crazed UKIP-style personality cult – it is because the movement is bigger than one man. It is about principle and belief, about hope in the face of political movements that have only provided hopelessness. The media are attacking Corbyn the man – not the socialist policies he subscribes to. They have the wrong target.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Corbynmania - good for Labour but keep it Green

Harriet Harman announced the other day that there will be an investigation into all those new Labour members or supporters recently joined with the purpose of participating in the leadership election. It does seem a bit suspect that the vetting seems entirely arbitrary, and as only Corbyn supporters have been accused of ‘entryism’; it seems that the idea might be to ensure that a more ‘suitable’ candidate is elected.

There may be a few people who have paid the £3 to become supporters to cause mischief but I suspect that there wouldn’t be enough to swing any result.  What there may be a good deal of however is former Labour supporters coming back to the party, having been members of other parties or groups, such as TUSC or the Green Party. If they have truly given up their membership of other parties, then is this a valid criterion to use to establish whether they are authentic Labour supporters?

Entryism is a strange accusation to make. When Militant Tendency joined the Labour Party in order to subvert and shift the party to the left, it was a deliberate campaign (that also then found some support from within the party itself). Can thousands of individual supporters and union members, once alienated by the party but now finding a true representative in Corbyn, be accused of such a campaign?

It is also unfortunately possible that Harman’s campaign, even if it fails to weed out many Corbyn supporters, could be used after the vote to discredit and invalidate the result. I might be being cynical and distrusting of the Labour exec, but then I owe them no loyalty and it certainly wouldn’t be a surprising move to make.

Confusingly, it is true that an official release from the Green Party said that members could pay the £3 to be Labour supporters and remain Greens - the Labour constitution does not recognize these ‘supporters’ as members, and so on that technicality, it would not be in breach of the Green Party constitution. However, there are members who are already preparing to have this corrected at conference, and I would support such a move. Green Party members should have no part to play in the internal affairs of another party – and those who do, should resign their Green Party membership and join that party as full members.

So for my part, why should I take interest in this at all? I have supported and promoted Corbyn’s campaign on social media, simply because he is the only alternative candidate to the red tory and blairite factions, and would bring the party back to its roots and core supporters. But I have no intention of leaving the Green Party. Whilst a lot of Corbyn’s policies reflect those of the Greens, they simply don’t go far enough especially when we need to be moving now to a post-capitalist economy – the only way to effectively combat and reduce the impacts of climate change. It is too late for even a more equitable socialist economy to effect the kind of change necessary, whilst it is still based on production, capital and growth.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Labour's betrayal continues - but where next for the Greens?

The Green Party recently fought a county council by-election in Cambridge. We had the best candidate, there was no incumbent; nationally LibDems are practically destroyed and the Labour party in the process of self-destruction. Locally, both parties have been unpopular due to decisions made at city and council level. But we still lost.

The Tory cuts get worse by the day – yet most of the electorate voted for the pro-austerity Labour and LibDem parties. It seems that people will doggedly vote according to historical allegiance no matter what – even if the party they have always voted for in effect no longer exists.

Did 70% of the ward really vote for austerity? Of course not. They voted Red and Yellow. Just like picking crisp flavours or skimmed or full-fat milk, they only looked at the colours, not the labels. 

Yet in my generation (born in the sixties) and younger, what Labour archetype are they voting for? Callaghan? Wilson? They probably don’t even know who they were let alone the way they ran the country.

Historically it seems that Labour voters are not voting for what Labour is, but what it is not. They are not the Tories. And that is all, and enough to secure their vote. Similarly with the LibDems, are they also reduced to what they still perceive as the middle ground – not wanting Tory but still seeing Labour as radical left?

The more active Labour party seems to be wholly concerned with being electable. And this is the over-arching, defining policy that remains. The ideology, the history, all of it has been abandoned and anything is up for grabs as long as they can get into power. They will go full UKIP if that is required. And in the weeks approaching the general election, we saw one more populist policy after another being adopted. We have seen this again with the Labour Party endorsement of the most horrific and damaging Tory budget in modern times. Labour has abandoned the welfare state, the young, the working poor and disabled.

Women will be most adversely affected by this budget. A high proportion of low income families rely on women employed in the public sector – with pay increases capped at 1%, welfare caps and the ‘living wage’ designed to make any full time worker ineligible for tax credits – anyone remember Harman’s Pink Bus?

So where does this leave the Green Party? Do we have to wait until the current generation dies out before we can get a look-in? Even when the truth is that we are very electable and have a real possibility of victory – we don’t. The traditional voters might like our policies and agree with us, but they don’t believe that we can win and won’t vote for us.

How does the Green Party shift traditional allegiances and ingrained ‘brand-loyalty’ in five years let alone one? At the current rate, in five years’ time we won’t have a welfare state or society left to save.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

For a new progressive alliance to be born, Labour must die

In the last few weeks, Green supporters like me were pressured to ‘swap’ our votes or simply vote Labour to stop the Tories – not a positive message, not based on hope, not based on policy – purely based on fear. But it truly was ‘vote for the lesser of two evils’, where Labour were just Tories with the volume turned down. And no doubt many thousands of Green voters did exactly that – even here in Cambridge we saw split votes, voting Green locally and Labour nationally. The reason why Labour lost was not the Greens – it was their lack of opposition, failure to provide an alternative and wholesale acceptance of the Tory version of the truth.

Labour embraced the ‘deficit’ narrative buying into the way this was distorted by the Tories where ‘deficit’ was somehow equated conceptually with household debt. We built the welfare state, provided free education with a deficit and real debt much higher than we have currently. There is no external pressure to pay this fake debt back either – no giant bailiffs at the door. This has everything to do with profit, and the way our economy works, which is no longer based on production but the creation and movement of money. Yet Labour never questioned this, never opposed it. Their shadow chancellor accepted Tory fiscal policy and Labour MPs voted with the government for a further £30bn in cuts.

In truth, the policy of austerity is driven by two things – to stabilize and maximize the profit margins in the City, restoring confidence in UK banks; and a neo-liberalist ideology to destroy the welfare state.

Across the board Labour abandoned their principles and own ideology in favour of what they called ‘centrist’ but what I would see as a right-wing populism, in some cases even adopting versions of UKIP policies. They carved ‘immigration control’ on a stone tablet; bought into the continuing right-wing denigration of the teaching profession, continuing the OFSTED reign of terror and introducing idiotic ideas like the ‘teacher MOT’ and ‘oath’; replaced the bedroom tax with youth tax; deserted the poor for ‘working families’; only disputed Trident on the basis of precisely how many WMDs they’d like: - the list goes on.

When a political party abandons ideology and principles simply to garner the maximum number of votes, what does it become? How can it retain any identity, or more critically, how does it remain distinct from other parties and offer an alternative?

I think what we have seen here is that it cannot. If you admit the same fiscal problems and follow the same solutions as another party, but offer a toned-down version of the same solution, what do you think the electorate will do? Vote for the full version of the solution to this problem you have admitted, or for the non-committed version that you offer?

 -You accept that fracking is a good thing for the country and the economy, but with ‘conditions’. The Tories say the same thing but will go full on. What’s the option for the voter?

 -Tories say that the NHS needs private capital. You agree, but will limit it to just 5%. Why?

Another terrible mistake was buying into the Tory narrative that the Scots are the ‘enemy within’. The betrayal of the Scots by the Labour party during and immediately after the Indyref was inexcusable, but then to add insult to injury by admitting that another Tory government would be preferable to any deal with the SNP – Labour was deservedly eradicated.

When Nicola Sturgeon – not even standing in this election in Scotland – won the Leaders’ Debate hands-down amongst even the English electorate, Labour possibly recognized then, too late, they had made a horrific mistake. Painting the anti-austerity SNP as rebels and secessionists and as a threat to England (and even democracy!) was their only option. The SNP didn’t stand on a devolution ticket in this election. They stood proudly and firmly against the Tories, they provided a real alternative and true opposition. And they sent ‘proud Edward’s army home tae think again’!

It has been said that for the Syriza alliance and Podemos to grow in Greece and Spain, their Labour parties had to die. In many ways, the Labour party of old, to which we owe a great debt of gratitude, died with John Smith. Blair was a thatcherite populist, to put it politely, and yet as the Labour exec casts about for identity, they are forgetting his crimes and crediting him with ‘Labour’s‘ last electoral win. But the memory of Labour is only disgraced by Blair, and to credit him with anything other than the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands is sickeningly deluded.

Now is the right time for a new alliance, and a new party to be born from the ashes – a rebirth of true labour. But only the death of the party will ensure that the base will switch allegiance, forced to admit that the Labour Party no longer represents them or their best interests, and look to a new party on the basis of ideology and policy – the fundamental elements that create the distinctive identity of a political party -  and which make it electable.