Jeremy Corbyn has been elected the new Labour Party leader for about an hour or so and already carnage is breaking out among the Blairites and the Tories. There’s shadow cabinet members quitting to a wave of apathy, though most people are smirking about Rachel Reeves stepping down as she’s the person that said Labour shouldn’t represent people on benefits, or indeed, anyone that isn’t working. So frankly, she can get to fuck.
Corbyn as leader is something the Blairites in Labour hoped would never happen and it’s astonishing to see leading Tories using the same sort of language as them in their opposition to Corbyn’s election but the fact is that for the moment, Labour have moved massively to the left and potential allies in the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens have reached out to him in order to stand against the Tories.
This isn’t to say that I’m going to rush to vote, or even rejoin Labour. Corbyn’s a Unionist, and I find it odd that someone that does hold so many good progressive opinions supports an outdated, broken, corrupt and undemocratic institution like the United Kingdom. I know many in Scotland feel the same too, so the scale of Corbyn’s task in Scotland is probably unassailable because the Labour Party in Scotland is dying. Corbyn’s election may halt that for a while but the face of Labour in Scotland isn’t Corbyn, it’s Kezia Dugdale and her shadow cabinet of arch Blairites so there’s a problem right away.As reported after his talks in Scotland, Corbyn doesn’t really get what’s changed there, or indeed, does he know about Scottish politics but the entire heart of his campaign to get elected is rooted in what’s been happening there over the last four years.His bigger problems lies elsewhere.
It is of course in England where UK elections are lost and won and it’s here where the battles are seriously going to be fought because as many has pointed out, if Corbyn’s Labour can’t get enough seats in England they’re not going to even be the core of a progressive alliance. In fact it’s worth reading this quite splendid Bella Caledonia piece to get the size of the task before Corbyn in England and these paragraphs are important.
In a postscript added to the second edition of Parliamentary Socialism, Miliband provided a brief survey of the Wilson government (1964-70). There is an insightful passage here which begins with Lord Cromer, then Governor of the Bank of England, explaining to Wilson the imperative of Tory policies in 1964. It is worth quoting, not only for what it tells us about Labour governments up to 1970 but also for its prescience, given that these words were written almost some five decades before New Labour left office in 2010:
“There is a Tory way of carrying out Tory policies, and there is a Labour way of carrying out Tory policies. It may readily be granted that the [Labour] Government carried out Tory policies in a Labour way, with heart-searching, qualifications, exceptions and so forth. But carry them out it did, all the same, and thereby cleared the way for the more drastic application of Tory policies by their Tory successors”
What Miliband is saying here is that Britain is, in effect, a one-party state. Not only because of the preponderance of Conservative governments in Britain, or because the twentieth century was the ‘Conservative century’ but because, even when the Conservatives have not been in government they have still been in power, and the ruling class interests which they protect in the British state have had little reason, whatever their protestations, to fear any Labour government. While it’s true that the British ruling class has often feared Labour governments more than Tory governments, that rather underlines the point that the main ‘progressive’ gloss that can be put on Labour governments is that they have not been as regressive as the Tories. But with the ‘progressive’ bar being set so low in Britain, that hardly constitutes its own recommendation, all the more so in Scotland where oppositional politics, for generations, has been lined up against a Tory party which last won a general election in Scotland in 1955.
The Milliband mentioned here, is Ralph Milliband, Ed and David’s father. The truth of these paragraphs need to be taken in because the UK has effectively been running a one-party state since 1979 which is why there was so much opposition not just to Scottish independence (after all breaking up that state means a restructuring and possible removal of things the state holds dear over it’s people) but to the SNP and to a lesser extent, the Greens when they surged before the election. The SNP though were and still do threaten the old hegemony of the Tory/Labour axis to such a degree that all the Unionist parties united in endless attacks upon them and their supporters in an never ending Project Fear.
That Project Fear was extended to Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t a shock to anyone that’d followed Scottish politics since 2011, but it opened up the eyes of so many in England and Wales who’d not see just how far the state acts as one when confronted by a potential threat because even though Corbyn is a Unionist, he’s a threat nonetheless. After all he’s one election victory away from seeing all the stuff Prime Minister’s keep secret, plus with deputy leader Tom Watson he’s got a fantastic campaigner against the cover-up of institutional paedophillia so imagine him getting to see secret files? There must be people in the high levels of influence and power quite literally shitting themselves at the thought of people exposed right now.
Of course there are issues with Corbyn as I’ve mentioned. The fact he’s sat in a party that’s become as rabidly right wing as Labour and not tried for the leadership before is a sign that he’s not a natural leader, and indeed, this was (and it is) his last attempt to try to reform the party from within. Some of his ideas are thin, plus frankly, I find some of the old Labour socialist rhetoric a bit cringeworthy at times as this is the 21st century. Left wing politics have moved on and Corbyn also needs to realise to win elections, especially in England that he needs to reach out to everyone, not just the left.
So here’s an idea but it’s inspired somewhat from this Mhairi Black speech.
Rather than just draw a shadow cabinet from Labour MP’s who are mainly a bunch of hopeless bastards biding their time to overthrow Corbyn, why not offer positions to MP’s from other parties in a progressive shadow cabinet against the Tories? Not only does that get voters in England used to the idea of consensus politics, but it might give the likes of say, Caroline Lucas as shadow environment minister or even Mhairi Black as shadow welfare minister a louder voice? It is of course a pipe dream as it’ll never happen, Corbyn wants Labour to win itself and unite his party but he could well find himself needing allies from other parties as his own MP’s ensure his term as leader goes as badly as possible.
But is Corbyn is serious about reaching out then good. The people of England in particular need this but if it doesn’t look as if Corbyn is going to win the next UK election then the date of a second independence referendum for Scotland becomes very clear as Nicola Sturgeon has already pointed out.
She’s right. If England doesn’t accept even Corbyn’s vision of social democracy married with old-school socialism then it’s over for the UK because make no doubt, that the people of Scotland aren’t going to tolerate perpetual Tory government and the continued policy of austerity. Independence will be the only option left so for all those Labour activists getting exited that all they’ll need to do is wave Corbyn as few times at the people of Scotland and they’ll come running back, they need to realise it’s not as easy as that and as said, things have developed in Scotland down a different path to England.
I wish Corbyn well. I hope he does manage to form alliances, fight the Tories and win elections not just in England, but in areas that have strong Tory support, but I can’t help inject a note of caution. There’s going to be hard times ahead and battles will be dirty, plus the early signs are that the Blairites are not going to go quietly.
Right now though it’s a good day for the fight against the Tories, and that’s the focus now. Fighting the Tories, be they on the government benches on sitting behind Corbyn planning and plotting because in five years time the country is going to be ravaged by Tory policy if Labour don’t join the SNP, Greens, Plaid, and the others in the fight against them.