A Vote for Hope

With only a few days to go before the Labour’s leadership election result is announced, TERRY JACQUES shares his reasons for taking the ‘difficult decision’ to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

It was not an easy decision by any means but in the end I voted for Jeremy Corbyn. I’d like to explain why.

The Labour Leadership election, the first ever based on one person one vote, has dramatically changed the political climate in a way no-one predicted and it has shaken the Labour Party establishment to its roots.

Over the past few weeks I have had mixed and changing views about who to support among the four lightweight candidates.

Corbyn landscapeCorbyn’s campaign got off to a bizarre start insofar as he was unable to command the required 35 nominations. It was only the kindness of several right-wing Labour MPs (none of whom actually supported him) that enabled the little-known lefty to limp over the line and post his leadership candidacy at the 24th hour, on 15 June.

Since then, developments have taken a  phenomenal turn with Corbyn leap-frogging into the lead over the three safe establishment candidates and addressing enthusiastic and packed-out rallies across the country. This has delighted those of a leftish temperament but plunged centre right supporters into deepest gloom with the Westminster establishment and Tony Blair issuing dire warnings about political annihilation should Corbyn win.

Last Sunday’s Observer (6 September 2015) carried an article headed ‘Labour leadership election: MPs prepare to resist Corbynistas’ with a strap line which read ‘MPs prepare to lay the foundations of a resistance to the Islington North MP and his expected victory in the leadership race’.

So, despite Labour holding its most democratic election ever, some Labour MPs don’t like the possible result and are already plotting against Corbyn even before the result is announced.

But, I ask myself, is it utopian to expect Labour MPs to respect a membership ballot? And did any of these Labour representatives in Parliament complain when they themselves were elected by Labour Party members?

What to make of ‘Corbynmania’?

Of course, it’s not unusual for defeated political parties to argue that they would have fared better in an election if only they had been more true to their ideological roots. We saw this in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher’s victory led to the election (in a Bennite fever of enthusiasm) of Michael Foot as Labour leader, and after 1997 when the Conservatives elected three right-wing leaders before finding David Cameron in 2005.

In both cases the swing back to core ideology resulted in heavy defeats. So what is different this time around? Or will the election of Corbyn as leader produce the same result?

History suggests there is a strong case for a repeat of the early 1980s with Labour out of government for many years to come. After 1945 Labour was riven by left-right factional disputes and we know that divided parties seldom prosper. The party was out of power for another 13 years before Harold Wilson’s cautious prospectus won a tiny majority in 1964.

During the 1970s the left established the Benn-led alternative economic programme, which triumphed internally after 1979 but was totally rejected by the electorate in 1983 when Thatcher enjoyed a landslide win. Labour lost heavily again in 1987 and yet again in 1992. This might suggest that we should support anyone but JC.

Indeed, while he is clearly going down well with Party members, and with many of its £3 supporters, in a hostile political climate and with many Labour MPs fuming at the bit and briefing against him, I suspect a Corbyn-led Labour Party will fail to appeal to the wider electorate. Indeed, his leadership could even do permanent damage to Labour’s prospects of regaining power at the next election, leaving them possibly for a generation.

Honesty & integrity, Cooper & clause IV

However, like so many ordinary party members, I like Corbyn’s honesty and obvious integrity, and the way he conducts himself – without the name-calling and disparaging of opponents so typical of modern day Westminster politics. I also think much of Corbyn’s appeal has been magnified simply because the alternatives – Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham – have proved such hopeless candidates who speak a language full of vacuous political spin.

Indeed, I find it difficult to understand what the three of them stand for, what their policies are and who it is they really represent. In this regard, Cooper has recently said she wants to change Labour’s clause IV to champion equality without bothering to explain what she means by this laudable, but ambiguous and rather hollow statement.

Is she ready to acknowledge that the neoliberal economic strategy is an unmitigated horror story? Has she accepted that the Blair and Brown governments she served in, which did many good things, overall resulted in grotesque levels of inequality and unfairness, helping the rich becoming super-rich while  the working poor and those most vulnerable, those lacking trade union support, suffered cruelly in the wake of the privatisation, outsourcing and wage cuts revolution? Does she realise that this has been facilitated by consecutive Tory, Labour and coalition governments over the past 30 years?

Throughout the New Labour years, when Cooper was in government, the percentage of employment costs paid in wages declined dramatically, while the share of national income going to capital grew exponentially. At this time it was not uncommon for Westminster Labour to gladly take the trade union shilling and then to shamelessly brief against the movement in an attempt to curry favour with the Murdoch press and any corporate CEO prepared to listen.

I wonder how many people know that one of Cooper’s leadership backers is the Martin Clarke of the Automobile Association who, in addition to funding her campaign to the tune of £37,500, has recently sacked 300 roadside engineers and de-recognised the GMB trade union.

So it is safe to assume, I think, that Cooper’s new clause IV will have little to do with workplace equality or with “securing for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry”.

Westminster gravy train

At a personal level, I was an active Labour Party member for more than 45 years, but resigned from the party over the MPs’ expenses scandal when so many Labour MPs thought there was nothing wrong in abusing the Parliamentary system. Of course, not all Labour MPs’ were on the make and a number in all parties stood out in stark contrast to their discredited colleagues.

However, what made the situation so much more unacceptable was the view that it was the system, not MPs’ behaviour that was at fault. The recent behaviour of Jack Straw and Lord Sewel would suggest that nothing much has changed.

I had long had the feeling that Labour no longer represented working class people, and the current batch of Labour MPs seem to be driven by the same political spin and career ambitions and, as such, inspire very few.

I know of many long-standing working class Labour voters who no longer support the Party, and some who have even started voting UKIP. At this May’s general election I did vote Labour again, as I have done all my adult life, but without enthusiasm nor any hope that things would change.

It is for these reasons, and my own lack of enthusiasm for the current Party establishment, that I decided, reluctantly, to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I have done so, in the hope that Labour under his leadership will renew itself and move away from most of the current bunch of career politicians. But I also did so in the hope that Corbyn will moderate some of his more extreme left-wing policies.

Overall, I have voted for change and for the hope that my party, the Labour Party, will become once again a truly inclusive and party that working people can trust, one that will oppose 100% the trashing of our welfare state and the privatisation of our NHS.

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Read and endorse the ILP’s statement on the Labour leadership election here. It sets out four principles which should guide the Party’s behaviour, whoever wins the vote.

For more on the Labour leadership election, click here.

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