23rd April 2017
Photo: Jeremy Corbyn launches Labour’s election campaign
Ironically, the snap UK General Election called by Prime Minister, Theresa May, last week seems to have caught everyone off guard, except the Labour Party leadership. In a series of eye catching policy announcements Jeremy Corbyn had already outlined Labour’s position on a range of issues from free schools meals to housing, transport policy to the arts, the NHS to the environment. An emerging manifesto, just at the right time.
Corbyn has never equivocated on any of the issues which will no doubt form part of the manifesto once finalised. An avowed internationalist, peace campaigner and advocate of the rights of the working class, against those of the rich and the monopolies, there is no question that Corbyn will make a strong pitch to put the needs of working people at the heart of Labour’s election campaign. In his first speech of the campaign Corbyn made clear the scale of the challenge for Labour,
“It’s the establishment versus the people, and it’s our job to make sure the people prevail.”
The extent to which the Labour campaign will be about those on the outside attempting to break the mould of UK politics was further reinforced when Corbyn emphasised the scale of the task faced in tackling both the political establishment and the UK media,
“It is the establishment that complains I don’t play by the rules: by which they mean their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game.
“And in a sense, the establishment and their followers in the media are quite right. I don’t play by their rules. And if a Labour Government is elected on 8th June, then we won’t play by their rules either!”
In one sense, this is an election that Corbyn cannot lose. After two years of a war of attrition against the backstabbers inside the Labour Party he finally has the chance to cut loose and put a progressive programme in front of the British people. As Brian Topping, North Shields succinctly puts it in recent correspondence to the Morning Star,
“For the first time in a generation the Left faces a general election which is not only about keeping the Tories out but is also a campaign for a socialist alternative.
Jeremy Corbyn’s “not playing by their rules” speech may not be a socialist programme but it is in every sense a call for fundamental progressive change. If the Tories are defeated and Corbyn’s approach implemented, mobilization for socialist advance will be on the cards.”
For this generation in the Labour Movement the 2017 General Election is, in many senses, their Miner’s Strike moment. The historic 1984/85 strike for pits, jobs and communities had the establishment and the media ranged against it. All the forces of the state were either deployed during the strike, or ready to intervene should the NUM have been victorious. So far, so predictable.
The real Achilles heel for the NUM however was the weakness and vacillation of sections of the Labour Movement and, in particular, the leadership of the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock. When the battle was truly joined, and a chance presented itself to inflict a blow against the British ruling class, many on the Labour side not only went missing in action but actively collaborated to undermine the NUM and its leadership.
It may not be politic of Corbyn to say so publicly, as he seeks to maximise Party unity in the campaign period, but he will know that he is facing the same struggle. Backstabbers in some constituencies have already said they will stand down, in an attempt to create an air of crisis. All the better for those prepared to take up the fight and provide the bottle needed in the event of a Labour victory.
The Tory line that without Theresa May in No.10 all that will be left is a “coalition of chaos”, constituting the Labour Party and SNP, was trotted out early on and will no doubt be a constant refrain throughout the campaign. Corbyn’s leadership credentials will be the subject of rigorous vilification and contrasted, no doubt with BBC collusion, with the more ‘statesmanlike’ Theresa May, who will be playing by the correct rules!
However, as Ronan Bennett pointed out last September (The Guardian 16/09/16) Corbyn has shown clear leadership on all of the key questions of the past thirty years. Corbyn voted against the bombing of Libya, which has resulted in disaster in that country. Corbyn voted against the deployment of UK air power over Syria, he voted against the disastrous intervention in Iraq in 2003. As Bennett quite rightly states,
“It is all very well to say, years after the event, that you believed the prime minister when he said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or that bombing Gaddafi would bring peace and democracy to Libya. But what counts is what you do in the moment. What counts is where your vote goes. That’s when you get the chance to make the right decision.”
Leadership is not an issue for Corbyn. He has shown leadership and can stick to his principles. The issue is for his opponents. A victory for Corbyn might just make life uncomfortable for them. That, not their new found love of the people, is their real concern.