Every since last September, and even before then, Jeremy Corbyn has been attacked from all sides by the powerful interests in Britain. Despite coming into power on the back of the strongest mandate any Labour Party leader has ever seen – with 59.5% of the voters, over 250,000 people, in that election voting for him – he has seen Conservatives (naturally) attack him, members of the government attack him, media figures from just about every single one of Britain’s newspapers, and most disappointingly, members of his own Parliamentary Labour Party. Following the disappointing result in the EU Referendum, those same Labour parliamentarians have seen fit to launch a palace coup against their democratically elected leader. I haven’t spoken publicly about the Labour leader, however now I want to give my verdict considering the frankly unbelievable scenes we are now witnessing in the Labour Party.
Let’s look at the facts first. In the party’s Independent Inquiry report it released this year, Labour’s Future, it states a factor which Labour did not consider in the last election: “the electorate is both economically radical and fiscally prudent”. What does this mean? Well, the report backs the statement up with statistics – a range of polls asking people from across the country and the electorate. In response to the statement “I am most likely to vote for the political party that redistributes wealth from rich to poor”, 43% of those polled agreed with the statement. The statement “the economic system in this country unfairly favours powerful interests” received 60% support from those polled, a figure rising to 78% among Labour voters. On the other hand, “We must live within our means so cutting the deficit is the top priority” got 58% from the electorate, and the statement “Our welfare system is too generous to people who aren’t prepared to work hard for a living” received 65% support. From the first two statements, it’s clear the British people consider Conservative economics as being unfair and not in their interests. But it’s the second set of statements which present the real problem here.
Now anyone who understands economics knows that economic radicalism and fiscal prudence are not easily compatible ideas. Nevertheless, it’s about framing; if you allow yourself to be presented, without sufficient counter-argument, as a potential profligate government who will continue to waste borrowed money, then yes, people won’t trust you with their taxes. On the other hand, if you present yourself clearly as the party who will stand up for the average man, who will not allow people to be constantly ripped off by corporate interests, who will ensure public services are well-funded, if you shift the conversation with real economics away from the nonsense argument peddled by the right-wing about austerity and cuts for years, then you’ll get people onside. What is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party about? Wealth redistribution, re-balancing away from those unfair powerful interests, ensuring well-funded public services. What has Corbyn’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, been doing for the past few months? Providing the ‘New Economics’ lectures up and down the country, giving economic weight to the progressive arguments about the negative impacts of religious deficit reduction and austerity cuts. 57% of voters want services which work well, private or publicly run. For those publicly funded services to work well, they need sufficient government spending on them. This is the debate Corbyn’s Labour party is trying to bring to the nation. Furthermore, UKIP voters, many of whom were former Labour voters, largely agree with the remaining Labour voters on these issues (e.g. 73% on the ‘unfair economic system). If Labour wants to reclaim some of these voters, perhaps it should make this part of its argument clearer, rather than adopt the Tory argument of austerity. Furthermore, by trying the break the falsehood that cutting the deficit is good for people’s finances and the economy, perhaps those numbers supporting this argument might start falling.
If we take a look at the official report commissioned by the party leadership, it found the most leftist policies proposed by Ed Miliband, former Labour leader, such as the energy price freeze and potential re-nationalisation of the railways, were some of the most popular policies he put forward. Furthermore, throughout these reports, it appears the major problem was one of communicating ideas, presentation and creating a narrative. All thinks which require crucially authenticity, to make the message seem real.
If we take a look at the impact putting these issues at the front of the Party’s manifesto has had, we get far less an apocalyptic message than those on the right and in the media would have you believe. 65% of Labour voters actually voted to remain in the EU on 23rd June. Now, according to Angela Eagle and her friends, Corbyn lost the vote among Labour voters. Apparently she didn’t read the figures. I was at one of Corbyn’s speeches on the referendum, and it certainly wasn’t half-hearted. Far from it. He laid out clearly the leftist principles and objectives he stood for, and why remaining in the Union would be best to achieve those objectives; apparently that worked for Labour voters. Let’s go back a bit further, to the local and regional elections in May. Of the 4 Mayoral elections taking place, Labour won all 4 of them; 2 were in the northern cities Salford and Liverpool. They were retained from the previous elections – London and Bristol were won from Conservative and Independent Mayors. Not a single local council was lost by the party, and only 18 seats were lost, compared to the Conservatives 48 seats and 1 local council. All 12 of Labour’s London Assembly seats were held and only 1 seat was lost in the Welsh Assembly, which still remains under Labour control. The only disappointing result was in the Scottish Parliament, however this can’t be seen as a result of Corbyn leading the party to the left – the overwhelming majority of Scots voted for another leftist party. In fact, the Independent report on Labour’s general election result said a reason for the SNP’s success in 2015 was that the “SNP has succeeded in attaching patriotism to ‘progressive’ values”. So apparently it can work. Furthermore, it seems Corbyn’s leftist, progressive values and polices have not utterly destroyed the ability of Labour to win elections, or its own base. Perhaps it’s even reinvigorated that base.
Finally, let’s look at the party itself. 51% of actual party members voted for Corbyn, subtracting the 88,449 people who paid £3 to be associated with the party and vote in the leadership election. Following Corbyn’s election, Labour Party membership surged from 201,293 members to 388,407 (in Jan 2016). Following the attempt to remove Corbyn by his parliamentarians, around 160,000 have joined the party, bringing total membership up to around 600,000 people, the largest left-wing party in Europe. So it seems a lot of people like where the Labour Party is going. The political movement ‘Momentum’, set up specifically to support Corbyn, is thought to have around 60,000 members. Local Labour parties also came out in favour of Corbyn following the MPs overthrow-attempt. 82% of constituency parties have so far come out in favour of the party leader. According to a poll published in May, 64% of members would vote for Corbyn in a re-run of the leadership election, and 72% think he is doing a good job. 53% think he could win a general election (on a side note, Ipsos MORI telephone poll in June put Labour one point behind the Conservatives, within the margin of error). This doesn’t sound like a party that is not behind its leader. Far from it. And with what you hear from the mainstream media figures and politicians, you’d imagine Corbyn and Labour’s polling to be abysmal by now. It is not.
What to take from this. Jeremy Corbyn is not a monster, he’s not a madman. He’s certainly not a fascist as J.K. Rowling unfortunately described him only last week. And by the looks of the polling, he’s not disastrously unelectable either. What he is, what he’s tapped into, is a new kind of politics in Britain. A politics which engages both members of the parties and people outside the party as long as they are willing to contribute. A politics which does actually take into account the will of the people and wants to provide for them. Why do you think the Parliamentary Labour Party despise him? Because he represents a massive shift in politics. Likewise John McDonnell represents such a shift in economics. And that terrifies them. That terrifies all of them. Yanis Varoufakis has described this as potentially our generation’s Harold Wilson, and his “white heat of the scientific revolution” spirit. It’s easy to portray Corbyn as an old 1970s state-socialist. But the real reason he’s in the position he is, is not because he represents a reaction in this country, but a revolution.
This article was updated to incorporate more recent figures
Sources: YouGov, Ipsos MORI, The Guardian, The Independent, Business Insider