After the cataclysmic shitstorm that was GE2015, The Bemolution was very content to take an extended/permanent sabbatical from talking about mainstream parliamentary politics. In fact, we spent June 3rd having a long lie down in a darkened room, although that was as much to do with a nuclear-grade migraine as the seemingly insurmountable shitness of the Murdoch-mediated, corporate-pandering, learned-nothing-from-the-crash neoliberal consensus.
Then veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn announced he was standing in Labour’s leadership election. And it was fantastic, because so far the contest has been disgustingly, disgustingly bad.
Even after Blair, Labour still contains everyone from Simon Danczuk MP to people left of Lenin. But the leadership contest doesn’t reflect that at all. Instead, Labour members and supporters have been offered a dismal selection of centre-right drones built out of spare bits of Peter Mandelson. It’s looked more like a dull fringe meeting by Progress, the Lord Sainsbury-funded ultra-Blairite pressure group, than anything approaching a democratic election.
Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham have heroically trundled out to say how much they’d secretly disliked Ed Miliband’s politics all along (a man even they now portray as an enterprise-hating communist), and that Labour lost because it was too left-wing. Various analyses of how Britain voted, from Labour MP Jon Trickett’s to exit pollster John Curtice’s, show that’s just plain wrong. But Labour’s rising stars won’t let mere fact get in the way of parroting corporate media narratives in an attempt to get a leg-up from The Sun.
Which is why Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected candidacy is overwhelmingly good news. One of the most unapologetically radical MPs in parliament, Corbyn is everything Tristram Hunt isn’t – a committed, principled socialist activist (in the full, transformative sense of the word) without a hint of ministerial ambition. who’s dedicated his life to doing what he can to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.
He’s got a weekly column in the Morning Star. He’s Chairman of the Stop The War campaign. He’s a vice-chair of CND. These aren’t things you usually find on Labour leadership candidate’s declarations of interests. In the 80s, he was a proud Bennite. He’d probably still describe himself as such today. And like Benn, Corbyn knows full well that radical change is only ever going to come about if the power of parliament is put at the disposal of grassroots campaigns, organisations of democratic citizens on the ground– a process in which MPs and whips and Prime Ministers and all the rest would only play a small part.
It goes without saying – it’s incredibly unlikely Jeremy Corbyn will win. He knows that very well, and so do most of the people who’ll support him. He’s not standing to win. He’s standing to encourage and reinvigorate the Labour left, to inject some desperately-needed radicalism into a stagnant mainstream – and perhaps, most valuably of all, even win over some more recruits by proving politics doesn’t have to be about peddling neoliberalism with a human face.
He’s already won support from Owen Jones and rebel student activist Shelly Asquith, all-round neo-Bennite good eggs. Given our sneaking suspicion that the generation now in their 20s might be more left-wing than any since the Baby Boomers, it’s certainly fitting that it could well be a 66 year-old socialist who gives a voice to swathes of young people politicised by austerity.
Of course, it’s quite possible he won’t even get the 35 nominations from fellow MPs he needs to stand. The 35-nomination hurdle was specifically designed to keep people like Jeremy Corbyn away from frontline politics, after all. It’s scandalously undemocratic. The vast, vast majority of a movement with thousands of members and millions of supporters is completely debarred from influencing who stands to lead it. The only people with a choice? An obsessively vetted elite for whom career advancement comes in exchange for kow-towing to the party leadership.
That said, the 2015 intake of new Labour MPs included 10 who were brave and left-wing enough to sign a letter calling on the party leadership to oppose austerity and not lurch back to Blairism. If a left-wing leadership candidate was ever going to get nominated in the post-Blair era, this might be about as favourable as conditions will get without a drastic (and much-needed) transformation of the British political landscape.
For the pittance it’s worth, the Bemolution supports Corbyn all the way. It’s not an objective endorsement in the slightest. We’ve always been a huge fan. But perhaps more urgently than at any other time in human history, we need a radical overhaul in the way we live, and the way societies operate. Climate change, and the staggeringly wasteful, wrenchingly unequal consumer capitalism that’s causing it, poses the greatest threat to our continued existence the species has ever faced. We need transformative politics – and you’re not going to get that from Liz Kendall.