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Moderates and extremists: What is the Labour Left today?

The near-deafening media hysteria over Jeremy Corbyn, variously described as a ‘veteran’, ‘hard left’, and always ‘hirsute’ socialist candidate for Labour leader reached new levels this week, with Progress dragging out Tony Blair to tell 43% of the party that they needed a heart transplant if they want Corbyn to be leader.

Owen Jones has said this looks like the establishment closing ranks, and unfortunately for the Blairite commentariat the party members still aren’t listening, with Jeremy on course to make it into the final round of voting, ensuring a second place finish or, according to YouGov, the leadership, with Liz Kendall destined for a very deserved fourth place for her decision to channel Blair and triangulate UKIP and the 1922 Committee. 

What frustrates me most about these attacks on Jeremy is not their vitriol, it is the sheer hyperbole of calling Jeremy’s purely anti-austerity stance in this leadership ‘hard left’, or in the case of some, ‘extreme’. Old clips of his speeches are brought up, his support for Tony Benn in 1981 against Denis Healey (the right’s candidate who only won on the votes of MPs who immediately split and formed the SDP afterwards), and his variety of principled yet unpopular stances over the years. Whereas the old Labour Left, of which Jeremy certainly belonged, fought for an Alternative Economic Strategy (AES), the democratisation of society’s wealth, and public control of the economy, their marginalisation today and the triumph of Thatcherism – in both the Conservative and Labour parties, has moved the Left to an entirely different call to arms.

Now in our age of austerity the Labour Left is proposing something very different. A small modicum of human decency towards the unemployed, those in poverty, and disabled people. The Labour Left’s centre of gravity has shifted from proposing an entirely new economic system, via the AES or otherwise, to an actually very, very moderate proposal: children should have enough to eat, families should have enough to pay their bills, people should be able to find work if they can and security if they cannot, while immigrants should be welcomed and protected, not victimised then deported.

Of course the Labour Right object to this. They think we need to attack those people to win elections. But the type of policies needed to achieve those very moderate goals are found only on the Left of the Parliamentary Labour Party, despite being popular with the membership and with the party’s old working-class base. Mass council house-building to the bring down rent (and save money on housing benefit), a statutory living wage to abolish poverty pay (and save money on tax credits), the abolition of benefit sanctions and the welfare cap, restoration of the Independent Living Fund and an end to Tory welfare reforms. These are only the preserve of Jeremy Corbyn, not the self-proclaimed moderates like Caroline Flint, who actually wants to ‘kick’ these ‘scroungers’.

How did moderation and extremism become so confused? How did these modest proposals for a baseline of human decency become caricatured as parliamentary bolshevism?

If anyone has ‘extreme’ views in this party, or this leadership election, it is those who believe we must put children into poverty in order to please the Tory voters of Nuneaton and Swindon. Let’s assess what the policy prescriptions of the right would mean in practice. The decision to abstain on the welfare vote this week was made despite the bill outlining £12bn of welfare cuts by restricting tax credits to the first two children, capping benefits at £20,000 a year, or £23,000 in London, cutting Employment and Support Allowance for many disabled people by £30 a week, and removing the words ‘child poverty’ from the Child Poverty Act 2010, which was one of New Labour’s most successful legacies.

There is a difference between saying Labour needs to appeal to aspirational, middle-class voters, and saying that the way it does this it to cut benefits for the most vulnerable. Which is what we did in power, what we proposed in opposition, and what austerity Labour wants us to do in future. In a recent interview, Jeremy pointed out that everyone needs a healthcare service, everyone is just a car crash away from a disability, everyone will get old, while everyone needs a home and half the country are parents. We all share common needs for quality public services. By returning to the fundamentals of Labour politics, the bread-and-butter issues of socialism like jobs, housing, welfare, Jeremy can appeal right across the socio-economic spectrum as some issues affect all voters.

The only ‘moderate’ position left in the Labour Party is to stand uncompromisingly in opposition to those within our own party who promote austerity. If I were to propose that we had a Labour government in 2020 that reduced poverty, that enhanced workers’ rights, that rebuilt ailing public services, then the only leadership candidate I have left to vote for is Jeremy Corbyn – because sadly, he is the only candidate who isn’t stuck in the belief that we have to support some of the policies from a government that is more vicious and reactionary than Thatcher in order to get elected, and do what exactly? Continue them? Yet according to the papers, they are the ‘moderates’, and they call us the ‘extremists’.

16 Comments

  1. David Ellis says:

    Capitalism is coming for its pound of flesh. The 2008 collapse marked the start of the process of rapid decay. From here on in the working classes will be squeezed, squashed, trashed, dumped and generally shat on in ever increasing intensity. This process will proceed until the death of both the system and the working class or until the working classes take power and begin the transition to socialism. There can be no half way house, no `negotiations’, no hope. This is war and appeasement doesn’t work.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      I completely agree with you and to use the metaphor of the Titanic, the Blair babes are like the spoiled rich kids fighting, threatening, cajoling and lying their way on anything that look as if it might be a life boat and to hell, (literally,) with rest of us.

      The historical and the social, “causes,” of socialism remain as powerful as they ever have been and indeed become ever more acute by the year as does the need for it.

  2. Mukkinese says:

    Hear! Hear!

    What utter arrogance the right of Labour have to tell the party they work for that the 43% that strongly disagree with them are wrong and must get a “Heart transplant”, but at the same time, the 24% of the electorate that voted Tory, not only voted for all the Welfare cuts, but are also right and should be pandered to.

    While I would agree that we should broaden Labour’s appeal, the views of a small number of soft Tory voters should not take precedence over the mass core vote. This was the mistake we made in Scotland and leaving the core voter behind did not work well there.

    The time is right for a new party of the left, because this lot have abandoned the left in favour of becoming the new LibDems…

    1. Tim Barlow says:

      The absurdity of the Blairite position is now, as Owen Jones pointed out in today’s Guardian, that the only defenders of the better legacies of New Labour (tax credits, fighting child poverty, investment in public services, not to mention the minimum wage) are the left and New Labour’s own supporters are disowning them and telling us they were a mistake, which is why we should submit to Tory “wisdom” on welfare reform and the economy.
      This suggests they are in the grip of advanced Stockholm Syndrome (captives coming to identify with their captors) and are far more interested in power at any cost, than a consistent set of guiding principles. They are cuckoos in whichever nest they decide to squat and should be despatched like the vermin they are. Now who was it that Bevan compared to vermin, anybody?…

  3. jeffrey davies says:

    the blair babies cannot understand the masses want a real labour party who oppose the torys yet greedie mps the tb of the party cant or wont cross that floor to their bigger brother the torys yet the real culprits in all this are banksters who still robbing us blind whilst the tories hand out contracts to those failed yanky companies who takes the tax payers monies but not saving but claiming fraudulently just like they did in us but then we now have ministers getting paid by these companies isnt this big fraud given contracts to themselves ops its run by crooks is parliament but untill a real labour mp takes over or another party of real labour then we are doomed by this lot who want nothing better than a american system jeff3

  4. Barry Ewart says:

    Many years ago I was poor and remember often being down to my last fish finger the day before the giro eventually came.
    But higher education got me out of poverty – I was the first in my working clas family (as a mature student) to go to University.
    There I remember laughing outloud reading Middle Class Hayek’s book (The Road to Serfdom) with the author (one of the fathers of Neo-Liberalism) calling welfare “Tryanny.”
    Mine was also a very good course because one of the best things I also learnt is that there is a working class welfare state AND an upper class welfare state.
    The first is associated with cheapness and stigma, the second is luxurious and is mainly invisible to the general public.
    But I have always been a Left Wing Democratic Socialist and although I have done fine in life I still always think of others too (like the Left) and never forget my roots.
    I’ve been there and can also empathise.
    Jeremy Corbyn is fighting a very good campaign and if we win we should get policy and power back to members, which is why the top downers in Labour are rattled – but these ‘great men and women of history’ are in trapped in their own self-chosen Neo-Liberal straight jackets – we on the Left have set ourselves free, so they can choose to, or choose not to, “You better free your mind instead” – John Lennon.
    We only have one life and we do not have to accept bland, safe, and crumbs.
    To quote from one of my songs:
    “See the people play.
    Hear the workers say.
    We make it all.
    They take it all.
    We make the World.
    And lose it all.”
    We on the Left on the other hand burst with ideas to make life better for all (in the UK and World) and to empower people and from our collective life experiences we can come up with policies of mass appeal; we just need to have faith in the grassroots, and communicate our ideas simply, clearly, honestly, and with passion.
    From my lifetime of reading I recommend Paul Frolich’s biography of Rosa Luxemburg (Rosa warned of the dangers of bourgeois socialism – top down, elite, undemocratic central committees etc), and the wonderful Paulo Freire (radical empowering adult education) and of course the music of John Lennon – with cuts to University maintenance grants for working class kids perhaps the best hope for the young may be political self-education as well as learning by joining trade unions, campaigns, and by joining the Left.
    We need to appeal to the 15.9m who did not vote (probably seeing them as all being the same – Neo-Liberals – what Tariq Ali calls the “extreme centre”), we need to appeal to working class communities, appeal to the progressive middle class, and to try to politicise the general middle class (who are socialised by the Mail, Telegraph, Sun etc to vote Tory).
    Jeremy is right – we are all vulnerable human beings really, one accident or serious illness away from possible penury.
    I believe the future is grassroots, bottom up and democratic, which is what socialism was always really about.
    To quote from another of my songs:
    “Sold my soul to the zero hour.
    But I could not make it pay.
    Was hounded by the Benefits.
    Cos’ I was ill one day.
    So I contemplated suicide.
    Yes I nearly did give in.
    ‘Till I read about peaceful revolution.
    And I knew that we could win.”
    We need to keep faith and offer hope!
    Best of luck to Jeremy!
    Yours in solidarity.

  5. Chris says:

    I agree the left is moderate and generally right, but do you think Corbyn could command the loyalty of the PLP?

    1. swatantra says:

      JC is the best person to bring the 2 wings of the Party together. Think if Liz were to win, then we could suffer a split with the blairites going off to the Lib Dems to boost their numbers like the Gang of 4 did. If Yvette or Andy were to win, it would ignore vast number of members really unhappy with the Party organisation, and membership would fall dramatically.
      JC is actually a moderate compared to the swivel eyed loons that took over the Party in ’83.

      1. David Ellis says:

        There can be no talk of bringing the two wings of the party together. The New Labour clones have already declared that they are not prepared to serve in a Corbyn shadow cabinet. He should look elsewhere then including the likes of Mhairi Black and other SNPers and even Caroline Lucas of the Greens. This is a chance to watch the Blairite vandals disappear out the door with a flea up their arses.

        1. swatantra says:

          I’m sure tempers will cool down once this divisive Leadership Contest is over, and Liz Andy and Yvette will be part of JC’s team; without them he’s not going to get that broad appeal and reach out to the general public and win them over, if he is too narrow and constrained.
          And Black and Lucas are in different Parties and have their own Agendas; true they can work with us on some issues but at the end of they day they are Green and SNP. Of course they’re welcome to join the LP at anytime if they so wish to.

  6. john P Reid says:

    regarding Blairs comments, maybe Blair doens’t understand htat some poeple vote Corbyn as they like to be in permanent opposition,so they can dream of hte revelution and over throw those nasty tories who keep getting re elected, as for Kendall deserving to come forth,to quote Tony benn,it’s better to lose on what you believe in,its amoral victory

    1. David Ellis says:

      Why don’t you fuck off you trolling clown?

    2. James Martin says:

      John, why should we take the comments of a war criminal seriously? Particularly a war criminal who on the one hand said that he wanted to see a Labour leader that could win elections, but then went on to say that if it was a popular left-wing platform (similar to Syriza) that he wouldn’t want the Party to win an election anyway – which even to a numpty gives their real game away!

  7. grahamramsey says:

    Very sad that we have come to this, the sick, poor and disabled are going to get a right kicking we shouldn’t be doing this we should be helping the disadvantaged

  8. Syzygy says:

    Admirable prescience from Luke Akehurst, in 2007 following John Cruddas’ success in deputy leadership election:

    ‘This worries the right. As New Labour blogger Luke Akehurst wrote following Cruddas’s result: ‘If we don’t ensure that the successors to the current generation of general secretaries [of the TUs] are from the moderate wing of the party, we’ll end up in a decade’s time with Brown’s successor in a contested election being from the left.‘

    http://think-left.org/2012/06/04/new-labour-excluded-the-parliamentary-left-in-a-sealed-tomb/

  9. David Pavett says:

    The hostile reaction of leading Guardian journalists to Jeremy Corbyn has been particularly striking. Polly Toynbee, Jonathan Freedland, Martin Kettle, Nick Cohen et al have combined their most dismissive vitriol to tell us what a disaster a Corbyn would be. What they all have in common is their refusal to discuss any ideas or policies that he advocates. It is enough that he believes that there us a socialist alternative to capitalism for them to get them shouting abuse.

    The nearest that these critics come to scoring a point against Jeremy Corbyn is when they say that his policies amount to a series of slogans lacking subtantial detail. Anyone not easily satisfied by headline statements and slogans is, I believe, is bound to agree with this criticism. However, what Corbyn’s critics fail to point out is that the same criticism can be equally well levelled at the other leadership contenders.

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