In late September, it was announced that Jeremy Corbyn had been re-elected as leader of the British Labour Party. This marks a major change of direction for the main opposition party.
In the late 20th century the rise to power of Tony Blair saw the Labour Party accept the policies of neoliberalism and support for the US in its ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan, Iraq and so on. The re-election of Jeremy shows that most people in the Labour Party now want to campaign against austerity, privatisation and war.
However, Jeremy and his supporters face a sustained attack from the right wing who still control much of the apparatus of the Labour Party. He was first elected as leader of the Labour Party in July 2015. Around this election and since around 300,000 people have joined the Labour Party most of whom are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, making it the largest political party in Europe. But in July last year, most of the Labour Party members of parliament supported a motion of no confidence in his leadership. This is lead to another election for the leader of the Labour Party.
The leaders of the Labour Party then closed down the Labour Party for three months. They excluded 130,000 members who had joined the Party in early last year from voting and prevented any Labour Party meetings. They are also excluded a number of other people who they claimed had joined the Labour Party from other parties.
Despite these manoeuvres Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected with an increased majority and 62% of the vote. This was the result of many of his supporters being organised in Momentum. This is a loose confederation of socialists which now has over 20,000 members organised in 150 branches. This organisation will be central to mobilising the 600,000 members of the Labour party that will be necessary if the Labour Party is to win the next general election.
Jeremy is one of the most left wing leaders that the Labour Party has ever had. He was a founding member and President of the Stop the War Coalition. This is the body that organised the largest ever demonstrations in Britain in 2003, against the invasion of Iraq. Jeremy has also been a firm supporter of trade unions and has regularly visited the picket lines organised by workers on strike.
His first act on being elected leader of the Labour Party last year was to join a demonstration in support of refugees. Recently he was criticised by the right wing for speaking to 1500 people at the national conference of Stand Up To Racism, an organisation heavily supported by the Socialist Workers Party in Britain.
Despite this, most of the policies which Jeremy has publicly committed himself to are relatively modest. For example, they include the following 10 demands:
- Full employment and an economy that works for all – a million good quality jobs
- A secure homes guarantee – a million new homes in five years
- Security at work – stronger employment and trade union rights
- Secure the National Health Service and social care - end privatisation
- A National Education Service, open to all – free education for all
- Action to secure our environment – compliance with the Paris climate agreement
- Put the public back into our economy and services – rebuild public services and re-nationalise the railways
- Cut income and wealth inequality – progressive taxation, boost the incomes of the poorest and close the gender pay gap
- Action to secure an equal society – tackle violence against women and girls, racism and discrimination on the basis of faith or sexuality
- Peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy – working through the United Nations, end support for aggressive wars of intervention.
But most of the current Labour Party members of parliament do not support these policies. They voted for a new set of nuclear weapons – the Trident system and new ministers talk about the need for stronger immigration controls. These policies can also be criticised for not promising to end student fees and to tax the rich harder.
Even Momentum has shown it is not strong enough to withstand attacks from the right wing. It recently sacked its vice chair for criticising the racist state of Israel. Jackie Walker is a black Jewish member who Momentum should have supported. Although she does retain her seat on Momentums national committee.
If the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbin, is to win the next general election, in 2020, there will have to be a massive discussion. The majority of the 600,000 members of the Labour Party will have to to actively argue for people to vote for the Labour Party. This will need effective organisation by Momentum and many other Labour Party members.
The rise of Jeremy Corbyn has given great hope to socialists in Britain. It joins an international trend which includes Bernie Saunders in the US, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the Economic Freedom fighters in South Africa. However, the fight against imperialism, neoliberalism and the so-called ‘War on Terror’ will still require consistent organisation and hard work by socialists across the world.
by Drew Povey