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Only Jeremy Corbyn can save Labour

JeremyCorbyn1I left the Labour Party in 2001, after over 20 years of active membership. By 2001 the party’s direction was firmly neoliberal as the Blair government attacked single parents and asylum-seekers and privatised public services.

It wasn’t just the politics of the government. Blair had changed the party’s structures so that it was no longer even theoretically possible for a party member or constituency Labour Party to take a proposed policy change to conference. 

I decided that the party’s embrace of neoliberal politics and top-down control meant that it was no longer the Labour Party I had joined, or wished to support. I’ve stuck to that view ever since, not least when Blair took Britain into an illegal and immoral war, ignoring the millions who marched in protest.

If the Labour leadership contest was solely between Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, I would stay resolutely outside and a member of Left Unity.

Jeremy Corbyn running for leader has upset the mainstream consensus. I’ve known Jeremy for over 30 years, but it’s his politics that have got me back supporting the party. Since 1983, when he first entered Parliament, Jeremy has been a steadfast and fearless advocate for peace, international solidarity, human rights and what we now call anti-austerity.

Back in the ’80s he was pilloried for supporting causes that are now utterly mainstream: discussions with Sinn Fein, anti-apartheid protests. As the world celebrates the US Supreme Court’s decision that gay marriage is lawful across the US, it’s hard to believe that just 30 years ago, the mainstream derided lesbian and gay rights as “loony left.”

Jeremy was always principled in his support for lesbian and gay rights, at a time when other politicians ran a mile.

Whenever I’ve been on a CND march or anti-Trident protest, Jeremy has been there. Unilateral nuclear disarmament, again attacked vehemently in the 1980s as surrendering to the Russians, seems blindingly obvious these days, not least for the public money it would save.

Jeremy was a founding member of Stop the War; I remember his speech at the very first meeting, in late September 2001, at Friends’ Meeting House.

In 2013, he was awarded the Gandhi International Peace Award, a recognition of his stance against neocolonial wars, weapons of mass destruction and violence.

Jeremy’s internationalism has taken him to meetings of Dalit activists in India, to campaign in solidarity with Chavez’s government in Venezuela. He is supporting our comrades in Syriza as they justly resist the austerity and misery threatened by Europe’s political elites.

He campaigned for Pinochet to be held accountable for his crimes and has been working with Mexican activists for justice for the relatives of the “disappeared.”

He is pressing the government to bring forward proposals to outlaw caste discrimination in Britain. Above all, his support for Palestinian rights has been tireless. And throughout, he makes it clear that he believes in non-violence and human rights.

No other Labour leadership candidate addressed the End Austerity Now March two weeks ago. Unlike the Labour leadership, and the three other candidates for leader, Jeremy has consistently voted against the Tories’ punitive public spending cuts, including the benefit cap for individuals and the fixed cap on overall benefits.

Jeremy understands poverty, not least because his constituency of Islington North contains genuine deprivation, and it makes him angry. Calling for the right to buy for private rented tenants is a stroke of genius. New Labour and the Tories will scream “nationalisation.” But if housing associations can be forced to sell their stock, why not other private landlords? If nothing else, it would put an end to house prices being driven by speculative buy-to-let landlords.

Jeremy’s principles have carried him through the darkest days. In November 2001, Blair’s response to the September 11 atrocity was to rush indefinite detention without charge of so-called “suspected international terrorists” through Parliament.  Only four Labour MPs (and three Tories) voted against. It was not an easy or populist stance.

Jeremy not only got the politics right, he got the law right. In 2005, the House of Lords struck down the measure as unlawful. While the record of New Labour and the Tories has been shameful on civil liberties, neither has tried indefinite detention without charge or trial again. And on other civil liberties measures, Jeremy has been consistent in his support for individual freedom, voting against ID cards and 40-day detention.

I’ve worked with Jeremy most recently while campaigning to save legal aid. And I’ve seen how Jeremy doesn’t just put his name to a cause, he really works at it. He supported lobbies, conferences, rallies and other events in defence of legal aid. He makes sure he understands the details. He got himself onto the justice committee, where he and John McDonnell interrogated government ministers and exposed the flaws in their arguments. All this, plus cycling, climate change and animal rights too.

The right responds scornfully, “Well, of course, he can’t win.” Why “of course”? Millions of people were disenfranchised in the general election because there was no mainstream anti-austerity party to vote for. Some voted Labour “holding their nose” as Polly Toynbee would put it.

Jeremy reaches out to those who could not bear to hold their nose. He’s a pretty successful politician electorally, having been re-elected with at least a 50 per cent share of the vote seven times in Islington North. The rush of support on social media testifies to his ability to reach out to constituencies who no longer support the Labour Party, but would do if he were leader.

The two largest groups of potential voters who do not vote are the young and the poor. Jeremy stands up for their rights and he can get them turning out to vote Labour. Will that put off other voters? Voters respond to politicians who are principled and don’t seem part of the “Westminster bubble.” Jeremy is just that. Sure, people who believe in low taxes or scapegoating migrants won’t vote Labour. Labour is never going to win an election competing for that vote.

A Corbyn-led Labour Party would not only engage with the millions of voters who are disenfranchised by the neoliberal consensus of what Tariq Ali calls the extreme centre of British politics. He will also help to create a mass movement for social justice to ensure that, once elected, the Labour Party is capable of challenging the hostile political forces and economic interests in the City, among large corporations and in Whitehall, which have in the past sought to undermine Labour governments.

So, I found myself clicking on supporters.labour.org.uk and I registered as a Labour supporter. Alternatively, you can text SUPPORT to 78555. The deadline is noon on August 12 2015. Do it. Help make British politics a better place and support Jeremy reaching out to voters that politicians traditionally ignore.

Liz Davies is a housing rights barrister. This article originally appeared in the Morning Star.

12 Comments

  1. SANDRA CRAWFORD says:

    I could have written this piece myself in terms of having left and returned to the Labour Party. I returned thinking Miliband would return to real Labour Policy, as he criticised the banks, the Iraq war, and neoliberalism.
    Unfortunately he was either repressed by the Progress Party or economically illiterate regarding government spending and the deficit. Read Bill Mitchells “ridiculous proposal.”http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=30762
    The fact that Ed Balls has gone to the very neoliberal Harvard school to do research shows where he really stands.
    The left must learn about Modern Monetary Theory and sectorial balances, and become what Stephany Kelton calls “deficit owls.”

  2. Rod says:

    There needs to be a ‘plan B’ – what to do if Corbyn loses.

    There’s little point in falling in behind the pro-austerity and pro-market candidates while pledging to begin the fight for socialism within the Labour Party once the next general election is won.

    That just won’t do.

    Supporters of Corbyn and the anti-austerity position should build on the momentum of Corbyn’s campaign and legitimacy now being acccorded anti-austerity arguments.

    Labour MPs should take the lead by resigning their seats and re-fighting on a Peoples Labour platform.

    Had anti-war MPs done the same over Iraq the Labour Left wouldn’t have lost credibility along with the Blairites.

  3. David Ellis says:

    This is correct. Labour will be finished if Corbyn does not get elected and if, in that instance, the Labour Left does nothing but pat themselves on the back and says `oh well we gave it a go’ and then nestles in behind some New Labour clone trying to out-manoeuvre Cameron from the right they will disappear down the shit hole with it. If Corbyn loses the left MPs must form an anti-austerity bloc in parliament that an represent the growing anti-austerity movement outside and provide genuine opposition to this vicious Tory government and indeed New Labour’s capitulation to it.

    One thing though, Corbyn needs to distance himself from the pro-Putin so-called Stop the War Coaltion.

    1. gerry says:

      David – valid last point: Stop the War Coalition is pro- Putin pro- Islamist and anti- everything a decent socialist should stand for!

  4. James Martin says:

    Well at least Liz is being honest to a point about her failed attempt to find a left outside the Party after she flounced…

    1. John P Reid says:

      Quite

    2. Ric Euteneuer says:

      She didn’t – she’s in Left Unity. Not my personal choice, but is factual rather than based on anti-leftism.

  5. John P Reid says:

    This is a new definition of save.
    as in destroy

  6. John P Reid says:

    Didn’t Liz Davies leave labour 15 years go, what does she know about what can save labour,
    David Owen left labour 33 years ago and he thought Ed miliband was th eanswer

    1. gerry says:

      Good points. Liz Davies et al have very little positive to offer us in 2015.

  7. David Pavett says:

    I will vote for Jeremy Corbyn and I hope that he wins (although I don’t expect that to happen). However, I think that this article by Liz Davies is a good example of the weakness of Corbyn’s campaign and the arguments of his supporters. LD’s points are all oppositional. I agree with them but it is not enough to be against someone else’s politics. To have a reasonable chance of success surely this has to be complemented by a postive programme. I just had a look at Jeremy Corbyn’s website and could find nothing about such a positive programme.

    Also, if Labour were to have a genuinely left-wing leader the hostility of the media would make the attackes on /Ed Mliband look like a tea party. To resists such an onslought it woul be vital to have clear broad objectives and clear arguments and data which support those objectives. As yet, as far as I can see, we have none of that as yet. I don’t think this is very serious so I will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn on the basis that he the least inadequate of the candidates and not because he is the new Messiah. At least he believes that there is a socialist alternative to capitalist society and has not collapsed his idea of politics to talking (and ultimately thinking) only within the limits of tweaking features of existing society. But I still wish he could tell us the changes he would want make to the working of our financial instituions.

    1. David Ellis says:

      Absolutely agree with this. Anti-austerity is all very well but it can only be a temporary stop on the journey for the working class. Whilst supporting the Corbyn campaign wholeheartedly we must continue to expose its shortcoming and fight for it to adopt a positive programme for working class power and the transition to socialism. Austerity cannot simply be reversed as if it is merely a whim of politicians. It will take serious class struggle and the toppling of capitalism for which austerity is now a permanent feature.

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