Notes from the front 01-08-16
All out for Corbyn! – Oppose the threat to split Labour
Labour’s leadership election is the central fight in British politics this summer. Capitalism is determined to block the possibility of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government. It recognises that in Corbyn it faces a determined opponent, who is resolute in his defence of the welfare state, opposition to US military adventures and the promotion of racism.
Given the current crisis in British politics, big business is concerned to defeat any possibility of the election of a Corbyn-led Labour government. The Tory government, with its small majority, faces increasing internal division as it tries to assemble an agreed policy for negotiating exit terms from the EU, with the strains already visible.
Big business opposes Labour exploiting the Tories’ weakness, which is why Labour’s right wing is reluctant to act as an opposition within parliament. Under Corbyn’s leadership Labour has demonstrated how defeats can be imposed on government policy.
Corbyn’s Labour is already showing how it can win elections. In the real electoral tests that have taken place under his leadership, Labour has consistently advanced in England.
The 5 May local elections saw Labour come from seven percentage points behind the Tories in 2015 to one percentage point ahead (2015 Labour 30%, Tories 37%; 2016 Labour 33%, Tories 32% – Estimated national equivalent share of vote data from House of Commons Library).
Likewise Labour convincingly increased its vote shares in all three English parliamentary by-elections; in Tooting by 8.7 per cent, in Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough by 5.9 per cent and in Oldham West and Royton by 7.3 per cent.
Big business wants a Labour Party that acts more like the party does in Scotland and Wales, where it continues to lose electoral support. The right wing politics of the Scottish and Welsh Labour leaderships, campaigning against Corbyn’s framework and against him as Labour Leader, have clear electoral consequences. In Scotland this May Labour fell below its 24 per cent 2015 vote share to 21 per cent, behind the Tories in votes and seats in the Scottish Parliament. In Wales Labour’s vote fell below its 37 per cent 2015 level to 33 per cent at the Assembly election. Whilst in the by-election in Wales, for the Ogmore seat, Labour won, but its vote share declined by 0.3 per cent.
Contrary to the right wing mantra that Corbyn can only lead Labour to defeat, all the electoral evidence so far is that he is Labour’s best chance of getting back into Number 10.
Of course Labour disunity – the coup attempt, smears against Corbyn and the current leadership election – has hit the party’s standing in opinion polls, but it is Corbyn’s advance in real elections that worries big business.
Having tried to rig the current leadership election, firstly by fighting for Labour’s NEC to rule against Corbyn being automatically on the ballot paper, then by asking a High Court judge to overturn the NEC’s decision, the Labour right is still determined to gerrymander the election as much as possible. The exclusion of more than 150,000 members who joined after 12 January, the raising of the registered supporters fee more than eight-fold and the lock-down of local Labour Parties was the start. There will also be attempts to remove the vote from as many left wing members and supporters as possible with claims of infiltration and abusive conduct, plus other machinations are likely.
Since the summer of 2015, when the different currents on Labour’s right wing stood against each other for the leadership, they have managed to set some of their differences to one side. The Blairites have capitulated to the more socially illiberal Labour right and are largely following a strategy, as Peter Mandelson set out last year, of engaging those ‘who regard themselves as “blue” rather than “new” — those in the Labour family who stress the place of national and local identity, of traditional culture and language in our politics.’ The Blairites understand they cannot win support based on their policies such as the Iraq war or privatising public services. So the political objective is to channel growing discontent with austerity down a reactionary path that confronts Corbyn’s genuinely progressive framework. It is understood that Corbyn’s support reaches well beyond the traditional Labour left and into the centre ground of the trade unions and the goal is to drive down this support. This is the Labour right’s focus and it is backed in this by the Tories.
So the political mantle the Labour right is claiming for the current leadership campaign is ‘anti-austerity’ and it is presenting its candidate as on the ‘left’. Owen Smith’s past views, his voting record and references to PFI, the NHS, welfare cuts have been airbrushed away and replaced with a series of redistribution proposals. Clearly Corbyn has won the argument against austerity within Labour! Smith’s views on women, ‘normal’ relationships etc are not part of the right’s official campaign.
The biggest policy problem for the Labour right is that it lacks an economic policy that can raise living standards. It accepts the framework that gives the private sector a veto over economic policy, including when the latter does not wish to promote economic growth.
Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, on the other hand, have been setting out a clear alternative to the Tories on economic policy and are proposing a Labour government with a £500bn investment programme to build up infrastructure, making use of the creation of a new National Investment Bank.
These policies set out by Corbyn and McDonnell are not remotely the same as Labour’s at the 2015 General Election, which remains the framework of the current Labour right. Those who suggest otherwise, including Owen Jones, are simply wrong, which may be because of genuine misunderstanding. The difference between the frameworks of Corbyn/McDonnell and the Labour right including Gordon Brown/Ed Balls, is that the former propose a massive increase in public sector investment, whilst the latter neither proposes it nor carries it out when in office. McDonnell’s Fiscal Credibility Rule is about increasing investment by allowing borrowing for capital expenditure, whilst balancing current or day-to-day spending over the medium-term cycle. The latter part of the fiscal framework clearly allows for current spending to rise temporarily in a crisis, again not the cuts policy supported by the Tories and Labour right.
Labour’s right wing is threatening to split the party if it does not get its way in the leadership election and it is reported that Owen Smith has refused to condemn MPs supporting his campaign who are talking of splitting Labour.
There is no doubt significant business pressure on the Labour right to split the party whilst it maintains its current left wing direction. When the right split the Labour Party in 1981 to create the SDP the real goal, and the split’s real achievement, was in keeping a mildly left wing Labour Party out of power whilst creating the conditions within Labour for the right to re-establish control over the party.
Whilst big business hailed the success of that split, the Labour MPs involved were not the beneficiaries. At the 1983 General Election the Labour vote was divided, ensuring the re-election of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government. However most of the 28 Labour MPs who split to join the SDP failed to return to parliament. Within a few years the SDP itself had merged into the Liberal Democrats. Many of today’s right wing Labour MPs understand the dangers for their own careers in splitting the party.
The Labour left has to fight for Labour unity and denounce the pressures on the Labour right to split. A united Labour Party led by its left can win a general election and introduce the radical policies needed to reverse the decline in living standards and make people better off.
The current stage of the Labour leadership contest is that local Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) are making nominations. So far (at the time when this article was published) 72 CLPs had made supporting nominations, 15 for Smith and 57 for Corbyn. The deadline for CLP nominations is 15 August. After that ballot papers will be sent out around 22 August. Labour Party activists should volunteer for the Jeremy for Labour campaign via its campaign website.
Key Dates in the leadership election timetable
Monday 8 August: Deadline for new affiliated supporters to join here (who must have been a member of a Labour affiliated organisation/ socialist society at 12 January).
Monday 15 August, noon: CLP supporting nominations close
Wednesday 22 August: Ballot mailing despatched
Wednesday 21 September, noon: Ballot closes
Saturday 24 September: Special conference to announce result