First published by International Business Times UK on 17th August 2016
Despite the Conservative Party’s success in leading Britain into the disaster of Brexit, the complete lack of responsibility taken by the three key figures in the Brexit campaign (Johnson, Farage and Gove), the very public mess of professional backstabbings that followed, and the fact that Theresa May, a politician will a clear disregard for basic human rights, is ensconced in Number 10, all eyes seem to be on the Labour Party’s struggles.
Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have been unfairly demonized by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and by comfortable, London-based political pundits since the outset. His inclusion on the leadership ballot in June last year was viewed as an indulgence, a foolish little outing for an ageing, left-wing politician, and his unprecedented win saw hackles rise within the party and across the media landscape. Even the ‘ethical’ and purportedly left-wing Guardian would not give their support to Corbyn.
Corbyn has been forced to battle on all fronts, taking on not only the Tories, but his own party who have hardly covered themselves with glory during this episode in Labour’s history. Accusations from leadership contender Owen Smith in today’s BBC hustings debate that Corbyn has failed to work with his colleagues are truly laughable, as Corbyn’s only crime towards the PLP has been to be voted leader (with the biggest mandate in Labour Party history). Mass resignations, open disloyalty and barbed comments to the media were carried out by anti-Corbyn Labour MPs and the responsibility for these actions sits squarely on their shoulders. They have shown a remarkable disrespect for the Labour members and supporters who voted overwhelmingly to elect Mr Corbyn as leader.
The National Executive Committee’s (NEC) move to block 130,000 Labour members who joined after January 2016 (and the subsequent legal wranglings) is another attack on Corbyn’s supporters and it feels horribly unfair that the NEC is able to simply rewrite the rules of Labour membership because they wish to oust Corbyn. Last week former Deputy Tom Watson warned of ‘Trotskyist infiltration’ in the Labour party and of course Jeremy Corbyn was to blame for this. Corbyn has become Britain’s most popular scapegoat, and his supporters are tarred with the same brush.
Owen Smith’s accusation that Corbyn of taking Labour back to a 1980s politics of mass protest rallies in last Thursday’s leadership debate is absolutely indicative of the paternalistic attitude of many of Corbyn’s critics. It doesn’t seem to matter what ordinary Labour party members and supporters want. We’re treated as plebs, fools and extremists, not as the people that the PLC is there to represent.
It’s immaterial how many people have joined the Labour party because they’re energised by the common sense policies and ‘kinder politics’ espoused by Corbyn, or how many people have turned out to attend rallies up and down the country. It’s of no consequence that Labour members are calling for a fairer Britain where the agenda of austerity is challenged, tuition fees are scrapped, corporations are forced to pay their taxes, rail fares are affordable, mental health is addressed in a compassionate and cohesive manner, green solutions are engaged with, and billions are saved instead of being funnelled into nuclear weapons. It doesn’t matter to the PLP because they always know best.
Saying that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable doesn’t necessarily make it true. If he were so unelectable, why would the NEC need to go to such great legal lengths to ensure that the 130,000 new Labour members were excluded from the leadership ballot? Why would the media bother with bias and smear if Labour has no chance of being elected under Corbyn? It has, of course, been proven that clear bias has been applied to articles about Corbyn across major publications, in a vicious and destructive way previously unseen even in the hard-knock world of political reporting. The ugly treatment of Corbyn indicates fear of a man who has forever voted on the right side of history and who cannot be bought.
I’m now going to take the opportunity to state that the abuse of ‘Blairite’ or anti-Corbyn MPs by those who support the Labour leader is absolutely abhorrent. It flies in the face of everything that Corbyn stands for. There is no room for sexist or homophobic abuse, threats of violence, or any other kind of intimidation or harassment among Labour supporters. It is unequivocally wrong and it disgraces all of us.
However, it’s essential that this bad behaviour from some supporters does not eclipse the consistently bad behaviour of anti-Corbyn MPs, media pundits and the NEC. Labour must start listening to it’s members, and fast. Within the media bubble, it’s easy to see Corbyn as a lame duck, dragging his wounded body towards a sad conclusion, but when you get out on the streets and talk to people, a very different picture emerges. Corbyn has already won 285 nominations from constituency Labour parties, not because people want to see some kind of ersatz ‘Red Britain’ or because they are stupid, or even because they’re endeared by Corbyn’s ‘dad dancing’. His support comes from the fact that he was the only 2015 leadership candidate to provide an alternative to the Tories’ cruelty and their slash-and-burn austerity agenda, and from the policies he stands by. If we are to move towards a fairer Britain, the PLP must scrap it’s patronising ‘Daddy knows best’ approach and wake up to the real concerns of Labour members.