By Ipsita Barik:
The history of Labour Party in UK can be traced back to the 1800s. Its foundation is embedded in the backdrop of escalating factory labour in the cities and their subsequent franchise empowerment in 19th c England. Keir Hardie, the founding leader of the party, was a coal mine worker, who climbed up the ranks of Scottish unions and was voted in as one of the earliest Labour MPs in parliament. Subsequent leaders, including Arthur Henderson and George Nicoll Barnes, were rooted in working class careers. The Labour party soon replaced the Liberal Party as the main opposition to the Conservative Party in UK. It has since navigated from its original socialist political commitments to adopting the ‘Third Way’ social democratic stance.
The party, under the lead of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, ushered in the ‘New Labour’ era. It defined and distinguished itself from the ‘Old Labour’ that was deeply entwined in trade unionism and working labour support. The Labour party has since engaged in the shifts including Post Thatcherite Conservative ‘Big Society’ call, the Blue Labour evocation and the Red Tories of Scotland. The past few years have brought rebellion back in vogue, with massive movements such as ‘Occupy Wall Street‘, ‘Blockupy‘, the Arab Spring, Gezi park protests, 2011 English riots, Chilean Winter, anti-austerity movements such as ‘The Indignants‘ and the political offshoots in Podemos and Syriza. In the above context, the 2015 Labour party leadership elections has assumed enormous significance. Will Corbynmania swing the Labour to the left or will the New Labour withstand the rebels?What’s getting British Conservatives all excited this season? That a possible Corbyn victory in the upcoming Labour leadership elections in Britain might just spell doomsday for the Labour party. Wishes are indeed wild horses! Jeremy Corbyn is to the left of the Labour party spectrum. He is a Bennite and one of his significant political schools were the ‘Sunday evening salons‘ chaired by Tony Benn. Corbyn calls himself a democratic socialist. The big question doing circles of the Big Ben these days, is whether Corbyn’s radical left politics within the Labour party will lead to a windfall for the conservatives and the pits for the Labour. Many have pointed out that David Miliband’s left swing in 2015 general elections was the key causal behind the party’s loss in the elections and that Corbyn’s ultra-left politics will only push the party to the brink.
It’s interesting that even a party that traces its origins to trade union activism, is hesitant to adopt the socialist tagline! The faction on the other side of the fence argues that the significant gains made by the SNP (Scottish National Party), was due to its bold support for anti-austerity economics, which the Labour party never wholeheartedly vouched for. In that case the broadsheets howling bloody murder with headlines claiming a looming Labour crisis, lest Corbyn is voted the 25th Leader, is far beyond a “bit of a stretch mate!”
Andy Burnham, one of the contesting candidates alongside Corbyn, accounts that the political clamour surrounding Corbyn actually boils down to August being the ‘silly season‘ in British media. On the other hand the surging union and member support for Corbyn, doesn’t indicate similar goofiness or puerility on part of the ballot!
Edward Vallance, in his article analyses Corbyn’s interest in the 17th century radical John Lilburne and says that the Corbyn political past of confronting party whips fits him perfectly into the adage – “if the world was emptied of all but John Lilburne, Lilburne would quarrel with John and John with Lilburne!” I quite like this Lilburne guy already! They say the age of radicalism and socialism is long dead and yet in the spate of social movements that have washed the streets of both the 1st World and the rest of the ‘worlds’, including the Occupy movement, Blockupy, the Arab Spring, Gezi park protests, 2011 English riots, The Indignants, Chilean Winter; the two stated ideas have been evoked, debated, dissected, thrashed, revoked and all over again! Are the 60s back already or what? Who cares whether the movements/protests have been successful or not, the fact that politics is back on to the streets, is an achievement worth celebrating with a ’round of shots’. It’s just like toasting the fact that Corbyn’s candidacy for Labour Party leadership elections got the mandatory 35 nominations by a whisker!
That Blair and Gordon have warned of stringent consequences [render Labour unelectable] in case Corbyn is elected, hasn’t led to the demise of the Corbynmania. MP Emily Thornberry voices that – “to be the Leader of the Labour Party, you need to have the ability to negotiate, to compromise” – which Corbyn with his Whip-defying history might not bring to the table. But what Corbyn does bring, as Esther Addley points out, is a wider definition of politics. While hammering out the North England political policy in the paper ‘Northern Future‘, Corbyn and his team, invited ideas and opinion from all registered Labour supporters in the North via email, which ultimately found their way into the paper and not the garbage can. So with Corbyn it is just not supporting participatory politics, it’s practicing it too.
The political season in Britain is anything but dopey. The political debates have landed at the dinner tables and it doesn’t get more gripping than this. That Corbyn evoked the 1983 manifesto [gulp!] has supposedly left the conservatives rubbing their hands gleefully, awaiting the Labour foundering, cause the last time the same was bellowed over the hills, the conservatives swept in with Margaret Thatcher! That the second preferences are counted under the Alternative vote system has left many political pundits hollering for supporters to cast their seconds in favour of anyone but Corbyn! Whatever the ultimate outcome might be, facts such as 160,000 new voters joined in on the final day of registration, that some shadow Labour cabinet ministers were eager to halt the impending leadership election, the Clause IV furore and the rally around cornering the second preferences makes it a riveting battleground.
Politics demands spurts of street fights and the ‘dog bites’, otherwise it ain’t politics no more. The Alternative vote system has left many political pundits hollering for supporters to commitment, which could get the Labour party to think about what it actually stands for. Isn’t that the core call here? Corbyn takes a clear stance, without dodging issues, whether austerity, anti-war, social housing, public schooling or Palestine. When he states – “Austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity,” he bites the bullet. With changing times, ideological weights within political parties swing to either the left or right, or simply hovers the middle ground. This is an indispensable process that inescapably happens. No point in evading and trashing natural political churning. Rather let’s wait with abated breath, to see in which direction the Labour bloc swings this once! It has swayed towards Corbyn already. But will it swing too?