The campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn must be the start of the fight to transform Labour, writes Charles Gradnitzer of Labour Party Marxists
With only a few seconds to spare before the Labour leadership nominations closed at midday on June 15, Jeremy Corbyn secured his place on the ballot paper. This was the result of the pressure placed on MPs to nominate Corbyn by grassroots Labour Party activists and organisations, including the social media campaign run by Red Labour.
His performance during the hustings on Newsnight on June 17 demonstrated that he is the only supportable candidate. He drew a clear line between himself and the other candidates, never capitulating to anti-migrant chauvinism, putting forward a clear anti-austerity message, championing the welfare state and opposing imperialist wars.
When an audience member asked about immigration, the other candidates fell over themselves to engage in the sort of anti-migrant chauvinism they imagined people wanted to hear, with Liz Kendall reminding us of recent images from the Daily Mail showing asylum-seekers clinging onto trucks in Calais in order to live a life on benefits in Britain. Corbyn instead did the unthinkable by making a principled and impassioned speech in favour of the right to migrate, which was met with rapturous applause.
The other candidates also stuck to the official austerity-lite message, with Kendall telling a firefighter who had voted for the UK Independence Party as a “protest” against Tory and Labour cuts that she would continue with the ‘deficit reduction’ plan. Later, Andy Burnham became confused about whether he thought Labour overspent when it was in government, replying both “yes” and “no” at different points in his answer. Corbyn was the only candidate to oppose austerity, privatisation and the marketisation of public services – statements that were met with more applause.
The final and crucial difference between Corbyn and the other candidates could be seen in his statements in favour of party democracy. While he does not go as far as we in Labour Party Marxists would like, his proposal to be able to elect a leader every year and his criticism of Tony Blair’s destruction of party democracy are supportable and a step in the right direction.
Of course, you cannot gauge how popular somebody is from the reaction of the sort of people who would voluntarily travel to Nuneaton to participate in a Labour Party leadership hustings and it is also foolish to rely on polls. But it is safe to say that Corbyn’s message seems already to be resonating with a substantial section of the working class.
While the Newsnight audience seemed receptive to Corbyn, he has been attacked by the rightwing press, Labour Party MPs and an assortment of commentators
Alan Johnson, editor of the pro-Israel Fathom journal, tells us that Corbyn, as the “most leftwing candidate”, really “should” be getting his vote. But no, he will not be backing Corbyn because of his involvement in the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.2 Johnson’s article consists of a couple of quotes from Corbyn defending Raed Salah, a leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, followed by a list of unpleasant remarks from Salah. The intention being to smear Corbyn as an anti-Semite.
Johnson also criticises Corbyn for inviting the Lebanese minister of agriculture, Hussein Hajj Hassan, a member of Hezbollah, to launch the British section of the International Union of Parliamentarians for Palestine. There then follow several anti-Semitic quotes from Hezbollah’s founder, Hassan Nasrallah.
The article is incredibly dishonest for two reasons. Firstly Corbyn is not an anti-Semite or standing on an anti-Semitic platform and Johnson can only imply that he is; secondly Johnson, despite claiming to be of the left, would never support Corbyn unless he was a pro-Israel chauvinist like himself. Nevertheless, this slander has made it into the rightwing press, which is happy to join in the smears.
From within the party Corbyn has been attacked by rightwing MPs and councillors, though in some cases their criticisms ought to be taken as glowing endorsements. Simon Danczuk MP wrote: “It seems like there is a small group of MPs who would rather lose the general election, as long as they could say they had stuck to their principles” – as if principles are something to be ashamed of. Jonathan Reynolds, former aide to Ed Miliband, said Corbyn “would not ‘improve the debate’, but would shift the contest even further to the left”, when what the party needed was to “accept the world as it is, not how we’d like it to be”.
There is also a campaign from Conservative Party members to register as Labour supporters in order to vote for Corbyn. Ostensibly this is because they think Labour would be ‘unelectable’ if he was leader and the Tories would automatically benefit (if he actually won the leadership contest this would be used to cast doubt on the legitimacy of his victory, of course). No doubt the Tories do think that Corbyn is unelectable, or else they would not be Tories, but this is surely part of a campaign to make sure he has no chance.
The leadership contest is now a straight-up ‘One member, one vote’ affair, since the rules were changed at the special conference in March 2014. This was one of the few positive changes to the internal election system, as it drastically reduced the power of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which accounted for one third of the votes under the previous electoral college system.
If you are not an individual Labour member, but belong to an affiliated trade union or socialist society, then you can register as an affiliated supporter for free. If not, then you can become a registered supporter for a £3 fee.3 Remember, you must sign up before 12 noon on August 12 in order to have a vote in the leadership election.
If you are an individual member then your Constituency Labour Party ought to be holding a supporting nomination meeting, where the merits of the leadership candidates will be debated and the CLP can choose to give a supporting nomination to one of them. It is important for Corbyn to get as many of these supporting nominations as possible in order to highlight the schism between the PLP and the Labour Party membership as a whole. It could also bump up his list of nominations from the original 36 when the ballot papers are mailed out.
But the campaign to shift Labour left should not end in September when the new leader is elected. It needs to be the start of a more powerful movement to transform the Labour Party into an instrument for working class advance – an ally in the Marxist struggle for international socialism. To this end we encourage all those involved in the campaign to join us in Labour Party Marxists.4
1. See www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/06/17/conrad- landin/jeremy4leader.
2. http://leftfootforward.org/2015/06/an-open- letter-to-jeremy-corbyn.