Corbyn 1 – Labour 0

by Elias Blum

Labour politicians opposed to Jeremy Corbyn often claim that the only way to succeed in getting the Labour party elected is to ‘move to the centre’ – that is, to abandon any sort of residual commitment to social democracy, reducing economic inequalities, restraining the excesses of capitalism, and building a more just and solidaristic society, and instead to embrace the rhetoric of the right wing, with its neo-liberal economics, paranoid authoritarianism, and weird imperialist hangover.

But is getting the Labour party elected the correct aim? Or is the correct aim to contribute is some practical way to the building a more just and equal society? There may well be an overlap between these two things (the assumption being, of course, that the only way to a just and equal society being to have a Labour government). But we know that achieving a more just and equal society is not dependent on having the Labour party in office (after all, the foundations of the welfare state were laid by the Liberals even before Labour’s 1945 landslide). Equally, we know that having the Labour party in office doesn’t necessarily lead to a more just and equal society (Blair’s record, was, at best, rather mixed). It seems that the key question is, “What shall it profit a party, if it wins every election but loses its own soul?”

I am one of those who has never really trusted the Labour party. If nothing else, they are just not my ‘kind of people’. It sounds terrible, I know, but my abiding image of Labour is of a corrupt, sleazy, and rather stupid party – a party of third-rate Glasgow councillors who become MPs when they reach a certain level of arrogance. It appears as a party that has no real principles, no vision, no imagination, no moral centre. So I generally see the Labour party as an obstacle to, rather than as a vehicle for, effective change.

I don’t blame Blair for this; the rot had set in by the 1960s, and all Blair did was push the rotten tree down. Also, this is not to deny some of the achievements of Labour in office (Blair did, for all his many faults, help to reduce child poverty, introduce the minimum wage, and sign up for the Social Chapter that protected maternity and paid vacation rights). But Labour have always been a party of the establishment, whose function – to the establishment, and as part of the establishment – is to triangulate demands for change while always lowering public expectations.

I have always been attracted to the other strands of the left: the Liberal Democrats (pre-Clegg), the Greens, and of course the SNP. Jeremy Corbyn represented a brief ray of hope, a possibility of a Labour party that might at long last actually offer something bold and positive to replace the stark hegemony of austerity, neo-liberalism, neo-imperialism and apathetic, unprincipled politics.

However, the destrutive behaviour of the rest of the Labour party, and their attempts to undermine of his leadership, just confirms my assumption that (while Corbyn might be one of the good ones) the Labour party as a whole is part of the problem not part of the solution. I find that tragic.

But I am also increasingly of the opinion that who is in government matters much less than the intellectual, moral and policy climate in which governments have to operate. Political leadership might be less to do with holding office, and more to do with setting the terms and boundaries of debate within which the office-holders have to work. I don’t care whether Corbyn becomes Prime Minister or not; I just hope that whoever the next Prime Minister is, they inherit a country that has moved some way to the left, and that if they are a Tory they will be forced, as a consequence, to moderate their positions, and that if they are Labour they will be emboldened to go a little further to the left than they otherwise would. If Corbyn can do that, if he can break the consensus forged by Thatcher and Blair, then he will have done a very good – and very necessary – job.