Notes from the front – of the week 16/12/2015

After Oldham – time for Corbyn to consolidate

In the aftermath of Labour’s landslide victory in the Oldham by-election on 3 December Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters and his team have the opportunity to consolidate their position.

The Corbyn-led party, contrary to the right-wing’s predictions, achieved an impressive 8.6 per cent Tory to Labour swing in Oldham. This followed Labour’s political success in parliament, forcing the Tories to announce withdrawal of their tax credit cut proposals.

The Tories’ small parliamentary majority makes it difficult for them to pursue contentious issues. They are also caught up with a real scandal of bullying and the related suicide of a young party member.

The ComRes poll published in the 13 December Independent on Sunday reported good news for Corbyn. Relative to the previous month Labour support has risen two per cent to 29 and the Tories have fallen two per cent to 40. Plus more voters consider Corbyn a good leader of the Labour Party (25 per cent) than considered Ed Miliband one (17 per cent) at this stage, three months into their respective leaderships.

Labour’s current successes are undermining the right-wing’s campaign to replace its Leader. So the right-wing, including significant elements within Labour, is desperate for the party to fail at next May’s elections. That is why Corbyn has appointed Jon Trickett MP, a supporter of his, to oversee the election campaigning.

The right’s preferred issues for attacks on Corbyn are foreign policy, war and security. It wants to keep living standards and austerity off the political agenda, as this is the terrain on which he secures the widest support.

The Labour right’s support for Tory welfare cuts is now widely understood as having been pivotal in Corbyn securing election as Leader, so it is reluctant to directly challenge Corbyn’s anti-austerity agenda.

This provides an opportunity for McDonnell and Corbyn to develop the policies required to tackle Britain’s slow economic growth and declining living standards. There needs to be a clear plan to raise the level of government investment to secure higher growth. The Labour leadership’s proposed national investment bank would be an important instrument in this policy.

Behind a facade Labour’s right remains wedded to increased austerity, pushing foward the issue but not currently confronting the Labour leadership on it. For example Alan Johnson MP has outlined, on the Andrew Marr Show on 13 December, how Cameron could reduce in-work benefits to migrants without clashing with the EU. Benefits could just be changed from being ‘non-contributory’ to ‘contributory’, avoiding the need to discriminate by cutting them for everyone!

Attacks on Corbyn’s international policies have also suffered a set back. He clearly has the backing of his party on the most important issue recently confronted. The majority of Labour’s membership, its MPs and the Shadow Cabinet do not support British military action in Syria. Hence the campaign against the Stop The War Coalition and Corbyn’s attendance at its fundraising dinner has had so little resonance inside Labour.

Since his election as Labour Leader in September Corbyn has increased his support amongst Labour members. Two-thirds reported they consider he is doing well in YouGov’s November poll. So the right cannot replace Corbyn democratically, which is why the discussion keeps returning to the issue of mounting a coup.

Every week there are media reports about a plan to come forward with a single candidate to challenge Corbyn and then, exploiting a lack of clarity in the Labour Party rules on leadership elections, stop Corbyn from being on the ballot paper. When the rules were drafted it was not the intention to keep an incumbent Leader off the ballot paper. Clarifying this would help stabilise the situation in the Labour Party.

Following Corbyn’s recent successes there is increasing frustration expressed by the centre of the Labour Party at the Labour right’s constant barrage against the Leader. Ed Miliband and John Prescott have both called for Labour’s side to focus the attacks on the Tories.

Labour Party members get to select parliamentary candidates, under what will likely be new constituency boundaries, in the next few years. Labour MPs are aware their voting record and loyalty to the party and its leadership will be issues that get raised should they again seek selection. Hence the Labour right, itself well organised, is fearful of and hostile to Corbyn supporters collectively organising.

The Corbynite Momentum movement has been campaigning to take forward the agenda on which Corbyn won the leadership. It played a significant role in helping Labour members lobby MPs against supporting bombing in Syria.


FN bandwagon grinds to a halt but threat remains

The concerted effort of the French ruling class to bolster the Front National was disappointed in the second round voting of the regional elections. The aim had been to create sufficient support for the far right so that the Socialists and their voters would collapse into the arms of the Sarkozy’s Republicans (LR).

But the operation did not go to plan. There had been wildly exaggerated claims that the FN ‘won’ the first round when in reality there was an effective three-way tie between the FN, the LR and the Partie Socialiste (PS) and its allies. Below is a table of the 2nd round vote and percentages for each of the three main parties, as well as the change from the 1st round.




2nd round vote, millions (+ change from 1st round)







2nd round % (+ change from 1st round)







It is clear that the FN failed to gather any additional voters on the same scale as the PS or especially the LR. The failure to come second is a big blow to the project of herding the PS voters towards Sarkozy to ‘keep out Le Pen’. In this and prior elections some candidates from the PS withdrew to make way for Sarkozy’s followers, but this is never reciprocated.

The FN policies, particularly on Europe do not correspond to the current interests of French big business, although naturally they are unconcerned by its virulent racism. The FN’s allotted role was to relegate the PS to the margins and to deliver the Presidency to Sarkozy in 2017.

For now, this project has received an important setback. But the danger is there will be a renewed offensive of racism, Islamophobia and ‘security’ to create a climate where the FN thrives. It is also unlikely the economic situation will dramatically improve.

The PS can legitimately claim it is still a larger force than the far right and so should contest the presidential race in both rounds. There has also been a convergence between the FN and LR, with Sarkozy in particular promoting overtly racist policies and rhetoric. So there is no principled reason to defer to Sarkozy. But in order to win the PS would need to adopt anti-racist policies as well change course on austerity and wars and there can be little realistic expectation of that.

Trump’s role- dragging US politics into gutter

Donald Trump continues to widen his lead on the race for the Republican Party nomination for next year’s Presidential election. Each vile racist soundbite seems to add to his lead over the rest of the field trailing as also-rans.

However it is not certain that Trump will win the Republican nomination as the anti-Trump vote may coalesce around a single candidate. But it is certain he cannot win the Presidency. Like Marine Le Pen, who he politically resembles, his policies do not correspond to the interests of the ruling class. And nowhere is it more obvious than in the US that all national political leaders represent the interests of the ruling class as whole.

The effect of the Trump campaign is to drag the whole of politics to the right. Other candidates may criticise his offensive remarks, but not their racist content. The issues raised in the contest between the self-styled socialist candidate Bernie Sanders (on pay, equality, and so on) and Hilary Clinton are drowned out in a racist cacophony. This explains Clinton’s reluctance to criticise Trump.

But there is one important caveat. Anti-racists and decent voters have sometimes mistakenly described Trump as a ‘fascist’. This is an error and prettifies fascism. Trump has no hordes of armed gangs attacking and killing workers organisations, and has no intention of the industrial slaughter of millions political opponents, ethnic minorities, lesbians and gays, among others.

He is instead a vile populist racist in the mould of George Wallace. His politics can be defeated with anti-racism. But the main risk is that the other candidates will bend in his direction, so that Trump’s politics gain even as he fails.