AFTER another summer of intensive campaigning by his supporters, Jeremy Corbyn swept to victory in a second Labour leadership election on September 24th, with an even larger mandate of 62% of the votes, despite tens of thousands being denied a vote in systematic ‘purges’ by the Labour Party establishment.
To fully understand the implications of this second victory, it is useful to cast our minds back a year, to when Corbyn first became leader of the Labour Party in September 2015, indicating a major victory for the left and a shift away from the neoliberal Conservative policies which had pervaded British politics over the previous five years.
It was clear from the moment Corbyn was successfully allowed on to the nominations list that many of the MPs to the right of the party didn’t believe he stood a chance at winning, let alone by such a decided mandate. This was the first significant victory for the British left in decades, following a long stretch of Conservative and ‘Blairite’ neoliberalism.
From the outset, this (first) landslide victory was tantalisingly fragile. It came as no surprise to many on the left when, within days of Corbyn’s election, he was met from the mainstream media with petty, personal taunts – perhaps because they were threatened by the logic and evident popularity of his politics, they resorted to the buttoning of his shirt and whether or not he chose to sing the National Anthem before the Queen. As the months went on, Corbyn succeeded in preventing the passage of significant Conservative austerity legislation targeting the poor and people with disabilities whilst reducing taxes on the rich, and forcing the government to cancel its contract to build prisons for its ally Saudi Arabia, whilst simultaneously developing his own policies for the Labour Party. However, the right of the party too was beginning to develop more seemingly serious arguments. Corbyn was unelectable; he was incompetent in leading the party, much less the country – and, of course, the very real issues of sexism and anti-Semitism were as usual manipulated for no purpose other than to attack the left, with no regard for women’s and Jewish voices of the left protesting against their experiences being trivialised in this way. Opposition from the left to Zionism and the State of Israel was shamelessly equated with anti-Semitism – despite many Jewish people on the left asserting that this in itself amounts to a demonisation of all followers of the faith.
But what really set the ball rolling for these ‘Blairite’ MPs to actually take action and attempt to get rid of Corbyn was probably the outcome of the referendum in late June, on whether the UK should remain in the European Union. Predictably enough, the outcome of ‘Brexit’ – which disappointed millions across the political spectrum – was used by the MPs to suggest that Corbyn was somehow responsible, despite his relentless campaigning and the fact that 63% of Labour voters voted to remain in the EU. Of course, it is no coincidence that the days following Brexit, when Blairite MPs were plotting frantically to overturn Corbyn’s leadership and find an opponent (anyone would do for them – the eventual candidate, Owen Smith, was so little known that even his supporters often referred to him as ‘the other guy’), were also the days leading up to the Chilcot Report, which was to expose the war crimes of former Prime Minister Tony Blair during the Iraq war. Needless to say, his followers were clearly threatened by this, and hoped to destabilise Corbyn within days to try and prevent the report from being released. They failed to do this, however, and in fact it wasn’t until late July that Owen Smith, who is now likely to go down in history as the unsuccessful opponent of Jeremy Corbyn, appeared on the scene.
And so it was: despite winning last year with a decided – and large - mandate from the membership, Corbyn’s supporters were obliged to spend another summer campaigning to get him re-elected as leader of the Labour party. Time which could have been spent drawing up and developing policies, or reaching out to the wider public, had to instead be invested in persuading existing members to vote for Corbyn once again.
That is not to say that nothing positive came out of this campaign. In fact, more than a hundred thousand new members joined the Labour party thanks to the need to re-elect Corbyn, bringing its total membership to over half a million. Of course these new members were all too predictably shunned by the Blairites as ‘entryists’, despite only a handful having actually come from other left parties. Furthermore, it is deeply ironic that radical politics is treated as something foreign to the Labour party, which was after all originally formed to give a voice to the working-class, whilst many of its MPs are deeply conservative and hold values akin to the Conservative party (for instance, abstaining on or voting against taxation of the rich, and voting for austerity measures).
Since his re-election Corbyn has created ‘the most diverse Shadow Cabinet ever’, including 16 women and 14 men, and five people of non-white ethnicities. But it is not just representation which has improved so greatly; the cabinet is laying out some exciting and highly progressive policies to combat some recent Conservative proposals – for instance, Angela Rayner’s ‘Education not Segregation’ campaign against the return to exclusive grammar schools (schools catering only to an exclusive set of 'academically-oriented' students, while ordinary students would study in regular secondary schools). Since the Brexit result there has been a sharp intensification of xenophobia and racism, with the Conservative party openly adopting far-right policies such as ‘British jobs for British Workers’. This discourse has been taken beyond earlier debates on immigration laws and become explicitly about targeting all ‘foreigners’. Corbyn, who has a long history of involvement in anti-racist struggles, has continued to passionately oppose this scapegoating and has steadfastly refused to compromise on the issue of maintaining freedom of movement post-Brexit. He has also called for teaching on the destructive impact of British colonialism and Empire in schools to be compulsory. There is a clear sense of hope now, as the movement around Corbyn continues to grow, that ‘a new kind of politics’ is gaining popularity. However, it is crucial that the movement is able to both resist the constant attacks from the Labour right as well as the mainstream media and the Conservatives, whilst channelling energy into building struggles on the ground and centring those most affected by this escalating racism and neoliberal austerity.