Picture: Nick Chaffey (Southampton Socialist Party)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Labour have, against the odds – after the Collins Review, which was based on the assumption that the electorate in the UK are right-wing and agree that austerity is a necessary evil; on the Blairite assumption that you have to moderate your demands to the very mildest squeaks of protests against the Tories to be “electable”; on the assumption that the Left and trade union movement were finished, so that it was now safe to open up the Labour leadership election to anyone who could stump up the price of a pint – elected Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. He stands against cuts, for peace and socialism and for a new kind of politics.
So why are the majority of the Labour Parliamentary Party and Labour councillors at odds with their own leader? He has been mandated with 6o% of the vote – their most popular Labour leader in decades. He has the potential to win over the mass of the electorate who don’t vote, because they have no-one who stands up for their interests. the only choice on offer is of three parties made up of professional politicians who see their calling as a career, not as a privilege, most of whom were educated at private schools and who would happily take backhanders from private companies, in addition to their generous pensions, expenses, second home allowances and Parliamentary salaries.
By way of example, I take you to the first of our cities – Coventry, in the heart of England – a once thriving beacon of industrialism, which was home to Britain’s engineering and transport industries. The factories stand idle – replaced with zero hour contracts and low paid jobs. There, the former socialist MP Dave Nellist (1983-92) stood and is still standing for a different vision, against Thatcher’s winner-take-all mentality, for community, socialism and a workers’ MP on a worker’s wage. He stood firmly against war and for basic principles of solidarity with ordinary people, that a representative in Parliament or on the council chamber is a shop steward for those who elected them, a voice for the dispossessed. Yet Labour still oppose the stand of TUSC (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) and actively campaign against socialists – why do they not target Tory seats in the city?
We then travel to our second city, Southampton – where faced with the closure of a local swimming pool, two councillors, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, opposed the ruling Labour council. For their principled position, they were kicked out of the Labour Party. They stood as Independent Councillors against Cuts and were comfortably re-elected. Yet Labour still stand in opposition to them. In last night’s local elections, the ward of Coxford gained another socialist, independent councillor, Tammy Thomas, the daughter of Don, who follows in his footsteps, fighting for a working-class political voice. Yet Labour campaigned hard against her.
Finally, in the town of Warrington, the former Labour councillor Kevin Bennett was forced out of Labour due to opposition to cuts. Yet the local Labour leaflet pleaded with voters not to indulge in gesture politics, but to stick with Labour councillors who were wielding the Tory axe to public services. Against a backdrop of boundary changes, a media blackout for TUSC, and a spirited campaign to keep his seat, he achieved a massively creditable 921 votes, just 76 short of being elected. Three Labour candidates, with a much larger national ‘machine’ behind them, unfortunately pipped him to the post. But why just one of them could not have stepped down, in order to make way for Kevin, is beyond me.
TUSC has the principle of bringing together all those who oppose cuts, whether in the Labour Party, or without, whether they come from different socialist traditions or not. We are trying, from a small base, to build a new mass workers’ party – to represent the interests of the 99%, not a tiny minority in society who own most of the wealth. We are not beholden to big business and support workers in struggle. We are glad that Corbyn has won the leadership of the Labour Party and hope that it can be won over to the ideas of socialism. But would it be too much to ask, in the handful of seats where they have a real chance of winning, for the Labour Party to stand aside and not challenge socialists? This would be a hallmark of a party that is serious about transforming itself – after the dark days of Blairism – into a force that opposes all cuts, is truly democratic and casts aside any compromise with Tory austerity?
Instead, we have a Labour party at war with itself – plots to oust Corbyn, backbench rebellions and Labour councils which pass on Tory cuts. Corbyn should call a conference – with representatives of the 400,000 people who joined Labour to fight against cuts, of the trade unions and community campaigners. He should join with left forces outside the Labour Party, rather than fighting against those who share his aims.
Instead, sadly, Corbyn has sought to placate the right-wing of Labour – by suspending Ken Livingstone, by backing down on the EU, by not whipping MPs on Syria. Blairites need to be replaced with class fighters, otherwise Corbyn’s promises of equality and socialism will forever be a distant mirage.