A week, as the old cliche goes, is a long time in politics.
After a ten month enforced absence from the local political scene I dipped my toes back in by attending a few meetings and listening to what different people (some new to me) were saying about what has been going on.
The last year has been unprecedented due to the sheer unpredictability of events. No one could have predicted a majority for Cameron or that his new Government would last just over the 12 month mark before the referendum vote saw his Government fall in spectacular fashion. And if you had staked a fiver on a backbench rebel of some 32 years standing being swept to the helm of the Labour Party people would have told you to shut your purse.
The successes Labour in opposition had inflicted on the Tories over the last year including seeing off punitive tax credit measures and the TTIP threat to the NHS, should have seen a Tory Party ripped asunder (again) over Europe driven from Office and a general election called. With the Conservative Party in meltdown it should have heralded a straightforward enough victory and a Labour Government.
But as we know from bitter experience the Left in this country doesn’t do, “straightforward”. Thanks to the recalcitrance of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the leaders of 7,000 odd councillors whose ride on the gravy train is threatened by a Labour Party actually doing what the public wants by fighting cuts and Austerity, the Left has formed a circular firing squad. This means that whilst the Left’s fire is trained on each other (I’m not sure about this metaphor anymore) the Tories are now in a position where if Mrs. May called a snap election they’d be done for. I had a ride with a serving prison officer on Monday who has to top up his trashed wages by driving ambulance cars on his day off. He bemoaned everything about this Government but when I inquired, “What about Labour?“, he looked at me askance and said, “I wouldn’t trust them to run a bath, let alone the country. They’d most likely fall in and drown themselves!” Quite.
The surge of socialism in the Labour Party isn’t about Corbyn alone. He’s just a figurehead. And (whisper it) a pretty ineffective one at that. He failed miserably to identify that Local Government will be the frontline in this Parliament by immediately ruling out a campaign on cuts. Instead of building a coalition of Labour Councils to take on a Government with a wafer thin majority and a weak leader in Cameron, John McDonnell told the media that councils shouldn’t bother pushing back against the slashing of budgets as it was pointless. This was exactly the message promulgated by the previous leadership of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, followed by the likes of the ruling Hull City Council Labour Group and condemned by McDonnell at a Public Meeting in Hull in February 2014.
In fact Owen Smith, the first in line as a stalking donkey candidate put up by the Bennite PLP has done Jeremy Corbyn a huge favour. Because he is under the cosh he has been forced to break cover from his Islington set/ Westminster Bubble thumb sucking comfort zone and get out and about around the country mixing it with everyday folk (as well as the liberal self appointed intelligentsia). This has emboldened Corbyn and infused him with the confidence that he is the elected leader by right. It was not an accident when his name was read out last September; and this huge victory is set to be repeated. No one can then say with any sliver of justification that the Right Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP does not have a cast iron mandate to be Leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
The Left Leadership has manifold drawbacks, not least this idea that State Capitalism is the panacea for what ails the UK. It isn’t. Been there. Done that. Without true workers democracy and full control of the means of production (by this I mean two key elements in 21st C Britain; land and the financial system) allied to support for small businesses then we are doomed to repeat the failures of the consensus era (1945/79). This was characterised by sluggish growth and industrial anarchy, with a few pluses such as the narrowest inequality (1976) and social reform.
If we want Owen Smith to be remembered there is a simple way to put his name in the history books. The Left must unite around Corbyn and bury all these daft sectarian groups holding separate (but hey, politically pure) meetings across the nation.
Socialists, Trade Unionists and progressive activists should come together to form a Broad Left alliance, devise a programme and put the pressure on Corbyn to deliver not just in Parliament but in Council Chambers and neighbourhoods everywhere. This re invigorated Labour Party can then thank Owen for giving it the chance to shine. But Corbyn should not, and will not be given carte blanche. If he fails to deliver then a new Workers Party can emerge from the ashes and once again Owen Smith can take the credit.