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Owen Jones's history of the Labour movement under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn - 'This Land - The Story of a Movement' - was published on 24 September this year. Jones is a writer and socialist, an historian by training. We share these three strands. Today, I finished my reading of Owen's 319 pages and now in this blogpost I share my responses to the questions I was asking myself as I turned the pages.
|Jeremy Corbyn, wearing a tie and badge in commemoration of the Grenfell victims |
Was I learning anything that I did not know before? Undoubtedly, yes. And has it made a difference to the way I view and understand the phenomenon of Jeremy Corbyn and what I will call 'Corbynism', aterm better understood as 'socialism'. The answer is yes - in some ways - but not in any fundamental sense. I am still proud to have campaigned for a man who was always this century's Clement Attlee figure, waiting for his opportunity to transform this country along the lines that opinion polls show most people want.
The beauty of Owen Jones' book is that it is written by a socialist about a socialist who became the leader of the Labour Party so unexpectedly in 2015 thanks to the votes of just over a quarter of a million people who were attracted by Jeremy Corbyn's vision of a socialism fit for the 21st century. I was one of those inspired by Jeremy. He was articulating what I had always believed. The world could be a fairer and more decent place. Rich and powerful people were responsible for the inequalities that had been escalating in our country since the neoliberal Tories took power in the aftermath of the financial crash in 2008. Their policy of Austerity was always a nasty political choice, never an economic necessity.
|The chancellor of the exchequer - George Osborne - another Oxford Bullingdon club member - and millionaire |
What have I learned that has opened my eyes? I already had some grasp of the mess at the heart of Labour Party headquarters, thanks to the leaks of staff emails. The guys responsible for the smooth running of the party bureaucracy - the paid employees, the staffers - had elements within their number who were bitterly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn being the leader of the Labour Party. I knew how nasty they could be. I knew that a case can be made that they were in part responsible for Jeremy Corbyn's failure to become the prime minister in the 2017 general election, alongside the hostility of Labour MPs who could only see the future through the lens of Blairism and a New Labour antipathy to socialism. But the full extent of the party's internal chaos and division and the links with the anti-socialist mainstream media critique of Corbyn I had not grasped. Such internal divisions played straight into the hands of those intent on destroying the socialist threat.
Owen Jones was a participant observer in the world he reveals. When he makes the case that Jeremy Corbyn, my hero, was indecisive too often and reluctant to grasp the nettles that leaders sometimes need to, I am convinced by his arguments and examples. But always I return to the amazing strength and quality of a leader who was being so vilified by his opponents whilst experiencing disloyalty from within his own headquarters and party. After being subject to such unprecedented venom for the best part of two years, he was able to come within a hair's breadth of being the PM. If a few thousand votes in a dozen constituencies had gone the other way, this tale would be so different. The man's appeal and message so nearly won him and the Labour Party victory in less than six weeks of campaigning in 2017.
|My contribution: 'The Road to Corbyn' (2016) by Rob Donovan, on sale in the Fahrenheit radical bookshop in Middlesborough. |
It came as a shock to read Owen Jones and realize that there were indeed hundreds of complaints of antisemitism that the staffers at Labour Party headquarters were not processing - and that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership on this issue was less than what was needed. For a man who saw himself through the filter of decades of activism in the service of antiracism, to be associated with antisemitism must have been so hard to take. He knew that the government in Israel had made it their covert policy to associate support for the Palestinians with an antisemitism stance. Unfortunately, as Owen Jones makes clear, Jeremy Corbyn was too often both too slow and too indecisive in his responses to the charges being made against his party and himself. There was antisemitism in the Labour party - and the party had been too slow to deal with the issue.
|The Battle of Cable Street (1936) - Labour Party activists played an important part in this successful defence of Jewish communities faced with attack from fascist agitators. |
By the time the Tories had seen the back of Theresa May as prime minister and replaced her with Boris Johnson (and his special advisor, Dominic Cummings), the stage was set for the final curtain on the Corbyn leadership. Everything was now being played out according to a script that David Cameron, the other Eton and Oxford Bullingdon boy, had written. Cameron's Austerity had squeezed the incomes and well-being of millions, not least in the north and the midlands of England. Cameron then decided to ride his luck, based on his sense of invincibility, by calling a referendum in 2015 on the European issue - Remain or Leave. He was bound to win. We would remain. All backfired horribly. The alienated poor took their revenge on the governing class - and voted Leave. Four years later, Cameron may have appreciated the twist of fate that had now given the Tories the head of Corbyn, crushed in a landslide engineered by the loss in the December 2019 general election of the Labour heartlands in the north and midlands as traditional Labour voters voted Tory for the first time in their lives. Why? To get Brexit done. To have their decision back in 2015 honoured.
The traditional working classes in 2019 were now voting Tory rather than Labour. The Corbyn project was confined to the dustbin of history by the mainstream media and by most of the chattering classes. The new leader of the Labour Party after Corbyn's resignation was a knight of the realm, rewarded for his professional career achievements in the field of law, Sir Keir Starmer. His leadership election pitch aimed to attract those in the mass membership - still around half a million - who had joined because they shared similar values to those Jeremy held dear. Starmer enjoyed a landslide victory.
|An image I could not resist including - captions invited!|
But these are now times of plague. Starmer did not oppose Johnson in this time of national crisis. Until very late in the day - and then only it seemed as a token gesture. He has not championed the policies of the green industrial revolution as Jeremy did - and much else is missing too from the man who claimed he would follow in Corbyn's footsteps. But using the antisemitism issue, the corpse of Jeremy has now been dug up by Keir and nailed to the wall. Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended from the Labour Party. Oh, Keir - beware the ides of autumn next year. There may well be a challenge to your leadership and we are still a mass membership party.
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