In spite of criticism in public and horrendous verbal thrashings in private from his Members of Parliament, a hostile media and attempts to keep him out of meetings and ballots, Jeremy Corbyn will be on the ballot paper in the Labour Party’s leadership election.
Though I am a supporter of Corbyn, I concede that there have been better leaders. Corbyn is polite, caring and honest, but his oratory is not up to scratch. He is more comfortable bellowing into a microphone from a rooftop or a hastily-constructed wooden dais than holding the Prime Minister to account in the House of Commons. His methodology and its effects on how his supporters, the ‘Corbynistas’ (including his Praetorian Cohort ‘Momentum’), could well turn the Labour Party back into the protest movement of Chartists, Methodists and socialists that had inspired the formation of the political party.
But too many people believe that Jeremy Corbyn will be the death of Labour. After the result of the EU referendum, the majority of his Shadow Cabinet resigned, at an approximate rate of one member hourly. His colleagues in parliament were out to remove him and haven’t stopped trying.
When, by the skin of his teeth, Corbyn achieved the minimum nominations of fellow MPs to stand in the post-election Labour leadership contest in 2015, the party enjoyed a huge surge in membership. Corbyn spoke to the disenchanted voters of old, those who believed that the party had sold its soul to Thatcherism and free market capitalism. He also appealed to much younger voters like myself who are very cynical of politicians, especially with so many of us getting into debt in order to attend university. Corbyn, who achieved poor grades at school and did not attend university, is not one of the Westminster elite; neither is he willing to compromise on his beliefs in favour of popularity or personal gain. Labour’s membership has been rising ever since, including a gain of over 100,000 new members after the ‘Brexit’ result.
Jeremy Corbyn is in no way the anti-Christ, wreaking havoc upon his party. Corbyn was voted into the top position of a party that had lost much of its traditional support. Though Tony Blair gained electoral victory, his approach sacrificed much of the ideology to which many Labour members held dear. ‘Clause IV’, featuring the party’s commitment to public ownership of industry, is a notable policy that Blair abandoned. Many from all sides of the political spectrum believe that it was Tony Blair, not David Cameron, who was the ‘real’ successor to Margaret Thatcher, failing to reverse many of her economic policies concerning the market and the ownership of enterprise. Though it is a lie that Labour’s profligacy caused the 2008 financial catastrophe (a lie that is still repeated in the Houses of Parliament today), financial regulation was not a priority of Blair’s government. “What counts is what works,” the party stated in its 1997 manifesto: Blair was willing to redefine his party to such an extent that they favoured the previous government’s practical solutions more than the beliefs for which Labour has previously campaigned.
Blair’s time in office also created division within the party: the commitment to the invasion of Iraq was arguably the moment that the Labour Party enjoyed its greatest internal unrest. Jeremy Corbyn was one of many Labour MPs who opposed intervention, playing a huge role with the ‘Stop the War Coalition’.
Labour has undergone periods of division between its left- and right-wings, fighting over nuclear disarmament and whether Britain should detach itself from the European Economic Community. Today the Labour Party is a ragged bundle of many ideas and voices: there are the traditional socialists of old, trade unionists, Keynesians, and the New Labour enthusiasts; there are Bennites, ‘Blairites’ and ‘Brownites’. There are voices calling for racial equality and other progressive values and perhaps just as many voices who believe that large-scale immigration and multiculturalism have destroyed the life and community of the British working class. The Labour Party was never united on its stance on European politics and this was no different last month: ex- and current MPs, from George Galloway to Gisela Stuart and Dennis Skinner, voted to leave the European Union.
Some believe that Owen Smith will unite the party, but he has just as little hope. If Smith becomes the new leader, he will merely replace Corbyn in the middle of a tug-of-war. Corbyn sought to unite the party under one banner, but it seems to be a forlorn hope. The church is so broad that no single reverend can command the congregation.