Wednesday, July 29, 2015

'The Policies Labour Needs to Win with Diane Abbott & Jeremy Corbyn' at the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, 28th July 2015

There is a spectre haunting Labour. And it's got a truly magnificent beard.

I turned 18 a couple of days after the 2001 General Election. Had I been able to vote it would have been the only time I could have voted Labour without holding my nose. After the disaster of the Iraq War, the crackdown on civil liberties and the party gradually slinking towards the centre right the only reason to vote Labour became "well, at least they're not the Tories".

Now they are. In 2015 the differences between the two parties are minute; both advocate the discredited economic dogma of austerity; both treat heavy cuts to public services as a necessity; both are in thrall to the false narrative of 'strivers and scroungers' and, most disturbingly, both are eager to pile any blame on those in society least able to defend themselves. After Harriet Harman's disturbing edict that MPs to abstain on the Welfare Bill, you can't help but wonder... What's the point of the Labour Party?

That question was on the tip of everyone's tongue at the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church last night. This was a joint meeting hosted by two candidates who hope to shape the future of Labour; Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn. Abbott has designs on becoming the next Mayor of London, Corbyn on being the leader of the party and next Prime Minister. Joining them were a smattering of personalities from the Labour left, Clive Webb MP, Councillor Claudia Webb, Christine Shawcroft of the Labour Party NEC, Andrew Berry from UNISON and Siddo Dwyer, Young Labour BME rep.

The atmosphere was electric. Queues snaked around the block, the hall rapidly filling to standing room only. Organisers urged the 800 strong crowd to "share like good socialists" and squeeze together to fit more in. Even after this a sizeable number were pressed against the back wall, sitting on the steps between rows - or relegated to an overspill room where the speeches were televised. The source of all this excitement? The MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn has electrified this leadership contest, throwing the qualities (or lack of) his three opponents into sharp relief. Andy Burnham, previous the de facto 'left' candidate has proved to lack any political credibility whatsoever, abstaining from the Welfare Bill then criticising it. Yvette Cooper is... I don't know.. her campaign seems largely predicated on her gender rather than any discernible political stance. And then there's Liz Kendall. At least she's got principles. The problem is they're the principles of a middle-of-the-road Tory MP. Perhaps most telling is that in a poisonous sea of anti-Corbyn sentiment, none of them has managed to articulate any coherent argument either against Corbyn's politics or for their own.

In this field of non-entities, Corbyn stands out a mile. Rather than some freshly birthed, Ozwald Boateng-clad PPE mannequin, he's a backbencher of more than thirty years experience, an iron clad set of principles, a powerful sense of justice, an almost surreal humility and a truly excellent beard. I'd first met him during the election campaign at a housing hustings organised by Islington Private Tenants, and before all this leadership hoo-ha he impressed me as an intelligent, practical man who genuinely cares about his constituents. 

He would be an excellent party leader; able to counter Cameron's slick n' heartless positioning with integrity and compassion. He recognises that at the heart of Britain's problems is social inequality. As he spoke, there was palpable anger in his voice at the notion of London being filled with uninhabited luxury flats while homeless people scratch out a life in the gutter below. When he straightforwardly decries benefits systems under which people suffering from obvious disabilities are pronounced 'fit for work', driving some to suicide, he doesn't sugarcoat it. When he berates those who'd sell council houses to private landlords, renting the state's property back to the tenants whopaid for their construction, you feel a weird excited thrill. He means what he says.

All other candidates are engaged in the triangulation game - desperately trying to position their views to appeal to vacillating Tory voters. They squabble amongst each other to be 'tough on immigration' or 'willing to make the difficult cuts': their views an amorphous, shifting entity apparently dictated by the whims of the right-wing press. This inevitably leads to our homogenous politics where parties quibble over minute policy differences. Their intellectually bankrupt position can be boiled down thusly: the Tories won, maybe if Labour is Tory they will win too. 

Then there are those within the party intent on smearing Corbyn; denouncing him as unelectable and treating his supporters like infants. "Now now" they condescend, "we know you're disgusted by politicians who abandon their principles to seize power, but we're never going to seize power if you don't abandon your principles." Bollocks to that! I gritted my teeth and voted for Labour's neoliberal rubbish in 2010 and 2015, and what did that achieve? Two crushing defeats! Creeping ever more towards the right is not the answer.

Corbyn's runaway success in the polls, gathering more volunteers and donations than his campaign knows what to do with, amassing crowds of energetic supporters who cram themselves into last night's speech, prove that there's a burning need for socialism in this age of economic Darwinism, where a person's value is dictated by their bank balance.

Doomsayers predict the end of the Labour Party in the event of a Corbyn victory. Apparently the party will split, fundraising will dry up, voters will disappear into the ether and the party will become a mainstream laughing stock. But what if the other three win? Their slow transformation into a Diet Tory party squashes political debate - what's the point of democracy when the opposition party is in ideological lockstep with the government?

Last night's speeches were delivered to an intelligent, active audience hungry for political change. These have been taking place up and down the country; rooms packed full of those ecstatic that a politician with unimpeachable socialist convictions is primed for success. The idea of Burnham, Kendall or Cooper filling a hall to bursting point is laughable (I doubt they could fill a phonebox) - theirs is a cynical brand of politics that's proved to have gossamer thin credibility.

Labour shouldn't be terrified of a Corbyn victory. Rather, they should be thankful they have men and women of Corbyn's calibre in their back benches. He should win this election. He must win this election.

He will win this election.

Tags: , , , ,

0 Responses to “'The Policies Labour Needs to Win with Diane Abbott & Jeremy Corbyn' at the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, 28th July 2015”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights