Notes from the front – of the week 4/8/2015

All out for Corbyn!

The right’s attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Leadership campaign are intensifying as the vote approaches in just under two weeks and the momentum behind his campaign continues to build.

With the nominations’ period now ended Corbyn has the endorsement of Labour affiliated unions Unite, UNISON, CWU, TSSA, ASLEF and BWAFU, with non-affiliated backing from RMT, POA and the FBU. The Labour Party reports that 152 local Labour Parties have also nominated Jeremy Corbyn, with Andy Burnham on 111, Yvette Cooper 106 and Liz Kendall only 18.

A number of polls have placed Corbyn in the lead, including one by YouGov poll where Corbyn beats Burnham by 6% and a poll reported by the Mirror where Corbyn beats Cooper by 2%.

How accurate these polls are is unclear, but the response to the reported narrow lead of Corbyn has been a ratcheting up the political offensive against him. The main tack of the Labour right, and their backers in the media, is to attempt to scare Labour members away from Corbyn with the claims that under his leadership, Labour would be unelectable, would not have a functioning Shadow Cabinet and be shackled to an unworkable economic policy. This is already a daily barrage against Corbyn and will step up over the next few weeks.

However the real reason the right is in a frenzy is not because they seriously believe that Labour cannot win with an anti-austerity leader; their real fear is that it can and it will. The serious right in British politics understands perfectly that austerity is not popular and that if Labour stood on a programme to improve living standards and defend public services it would do well. What happened in Scotland in May when the SNP stood opposed to austerity is evidence of this.

Moreover, the serious right also knows that all the rhetoric about Labour struggling to win in 2020 is the opposite of the real situation. The fact is that although the Tories won the election, it is a weak government, backed by the lowest vote share for a Tory majority government – only 36.8% – and with only an 11 strong parliamentary majority. The austerity policies of the previous Coalition Government led to their support falling by 14.4% relative to 2010, but the Tories were able to deflect the price for unpopularity onto the Lib Dems who took almost the entire hit.

In 2020 the Tories will stand on their own record of cuts and austerity, with no Lib Dem buffer to protect them, and they are likely to lose a great deal of support. As the bottom line for the ruling class is that austerity continues, they are determined that Labour should be committed to continuing it if it forms the next government. Aware of just how weak the government is, the media are campaigning flat out for a docile Labour Party – led by a leader that does not organise opposition to the government’s fundamental policies. The Labour right capitulates to this and refuses to stand up to the Tories’ radical attacks on living standards.

This is what is driving the ‘stop Corbyn’ campaign. Labour must not elect an anti-austerity Leader, not because this means Labour might lose in 2020, but on the contrary because it stands a good chance of winning.

Corbyn’s rising support is part of the wider opposition to austerity in Europe. In Britain it was registered clearly at the 7 May General Election, when there was a 9.2% share of the vote cast to the left of Labour, almost three times its 3.3% level in 2010. The growth of the left also has a significant component inside Labour, which Corbyn is currently mobilising.

Corbyn is putting forward a traditional progressive Labour programme; such as an NHS free of privatisation, defence of welfare provision, state investment and nationalised railways. Corbyn’s proposal to increase investment and use the tax receipts from growth to reduce the deficit is not just a viable way forward, but without investment all other proposals to deliver economic growth will fail. That’s why pro-investment policies do not just have support on the left, but contrary to the claims by Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie that ‘Corbynomics’ would be a ‘disaster’, they are also endorsed by a wide range of mainstream economic commentators.

It is not a wild claim to say that rather than being a loser, Jeremy Corbyn is Labour’s best chance of getting back into No10.

But none of this is the framework of Labour’s front bench. The Labour rightwing backs Tory policy to such a degree that it will not even vote against cuts of £12bn to welfare support. They attack the policies of the last Labour government for spending too much and Ed Miliband for the minimal interventions he proposed to defend living standards. The failure of Cooper and Burnham in particularly to vote against the Tories’ Welfare Bill revealed that despite their rhetoric they have the same fundamental policies as Kendall.

But a significant problem for Labour’s right-wing is that pro-austerity policies have now lost Labour two general elections and almost every Scottish seat it previously held. Austerity is increasingly unpopular. The right’s mantra that Labour lost for being too left wing does not stand up to scrutiny. An increasing number of Labour supporters understand that the opposite to be true: that it was capitulation to pro-austerity policies whittled away its 2012 commanding opinion poll lead of 10%.

Not since Tony Benn’s Deputy Leadership campaign in 1981 has the Labour left been so close to winning a top position and Corbyn is standing for Leader not Deputy. His meetings and rallies across the country are mobilising huge crowds of Labour supporters. For example, a meeting last night (3 August) in London was attended by several thousand, crammed into the Camden Centre, overflow rooms, with a huge crowd also being addressed by Corbyn outside on to the street.

From now till ballot papers go out, and then continuing throughout the summer, left activists should do everything possible to help win this contest. To volunteer visit here.

Unlike the national Leadership contest, where the right has been wrong footed by the entry of the left into the battle, in London the Labour Mayoral selection fight always had a left candidate, Diane Abbott. So the rightwing has presented itself in a more traditional social democratic guise. Whilst Tessa Jowell is pro-austerity and pro-privatisation, her campaign rhetoric about improving housing has so far shielded her from the dwindling support that has hit Liz Kendall’s campaign. Abbott, as London Mayor, would freeze public transport fares, build homes, restore the Education Maintenance Allowance, introduce a green investment fund and use all available levers to extend the London Living Wage and improve the housing situation. She would campaign against the Tories’ austerity policies. To assist her campaign volunteer here.

The ballot papers for the Leadership and London Mayoral selection are due to be sent out on 14 August. The ballot closes on 10 September.

Support Labour’s standard bearers against austerity, racism and war. Vote Corbyn and Abbott.

The Tories’ agenda on Europe is to whip up racism

The framework Cameron is setting out in advance of the referendum on Europe is to position his government as the main anti-migrant force in British politics. For the past two weeks, in response to a growing humanitarian crisis at Calais, the Tory government has spurred on a racist tabloid agenda with a series of draconian announcements attacking the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

Cameron has called the Calais migrants a ‘swarm’ and is demanding more dogs and razor wire be sent to stop them crossing the Channel. The Tories’ have eclipsed UKIP in vile racist rhetoric.

The problems for migrants at Calais would be easily resolvable if the British government had the will. There are only an estimated 5,000 people living in the makeshift camps. This is a small number of people compared to net migration into Britain of over 300,000 last year. Britain could easily assimilate these people.

The influx of migrants to Europe is heavily driven by the military interventions carried out or resourced by the European states. Large numbers of people are fleeing the war-torn countries of Syria and Libya. As this excellent Stop The War Coalition briefing points out, the UNHCR representative in France reports that most of the Calais migrants are fleeing violence.

Syria has overtaken Afghanistan as the top place of origin of refugees. The West is arming and sponsoring the war against Syria’s government that has forced millions of people to seek safety outside Syria. Most are refugees in neighbouring countries, with more than two million in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and another 1.7 million in Turkey.

In comparison to the Middle East, Europe provides refuge to very few people. The total number of asylum applications, from all countries of origin, last year to EU countries was less than 700,000, not so large a figure when you consider the EU population is 500 million. Applications to Britain are more difficult to make than elsewhere in Europe, so only 25,000 were made in the year ending this March.

Migrants who reach Europe have risked their lives to get here – 1,800 died crossing the Mediterranean in the first four months of this year. Some also die at Calais attempting to cross the Channel.

The UN migration special representative, Peter Sutherland, has compared the treatment of migrants at Calais to that of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. And the government’s racist rhetoric is reminiscent of 1930’s anti-Semitism.

The government is also trumpeting new measures it plans to introduce with its immigration bill. These include stripping families of failed asylum seekers of meagre financial support and threatening to jail landlords who lease properties to illegal migrants.

This is the Tories agenda on Europe, so campaigning against racism needs to be stepped up. On 31 July Downing Street was picketed to protest this new racist offensive. Organised by Stand Up To Racism, their campaigns can be followed here on Facebook and Twitter.