The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader on 12 September caused great delight among the quarter of a million party members who voted for him and a great shock to his opponents. Since then, very little has gone right for this 66-year old outsider, now the official head of what the pompous British establishment calls "her Majesty's Opposition".
There has been an unrelenting barrage of so-called Corbyn-bashing. Worse, after every statement he makes, even his own Labour MPs rush forward to brief against him, including one or two shadow cabinet members. Not so surprising, perhaps, since the Parliamentary Labour Party still largely consists of the former cronies of Blair, Brown and Miliband. He only has the political backing of around 20 out of Labour's current 241 MPs in the Commons - mainly crusted backbenchers who still dare to identify in some way or another with the "left".
So at the time of writing, even though it is not even two months since the leadership election, the pressurised Corbyn has already made multiple U-turns - and following the Paris terrorist attacks on Friday 13th November, it has made another, over Cameron's resolution to send bombers over Syria.
On this issue, it would mean a full circle, in fact. His right-hand man (and certainly moving rapidly more and more right-ward politically!), shadow chancellor John McDonnell, had already suggested giving Labour MPs a "free vote" before the Paris attacks, while Corbyn's position remained, even afterwards, firmly against bombing (it would cause "yet more conflict, more mayhem and more loss"). MPs were to be told to vote against, accordingly. Now the issue is again up in the air.
The fact that Corbyn has placed himself in such a political trap, unable even to voice the policies he stands for in parliament, was of course, preordained by the nature of the Labour party itself. But it is ironic that he has so quickly and easily become the butt of the very same infantile jeering - whether inside parliament during Prime Minister's Questions every Wednesday, or in the blood-thirsty media every day - which he had pledged during his election campaign to "eradicate" by his new and mature style of leadership.
Sadly for him,, he has so far only succeeded in making matters a lot worse, by not even standing up for some of the principles which had quite obviously been such winning features of his campaign. And yet it would seem that he has had no good reason not to. He has a tremendous mandate from Labour's "grass roots" and the over 100,000 new members who joined (and old members who rejoined) to cast their vote on his name, in the wave of enthusiasm generated by his election campaign. In fact this support grew further after his election and remains quite solid, for now, judging from the many contributions on the Labour members' website called "Your Britain"(!) as well as the latest opinion polls.
For many, "JC" or Jezza, represents the hope that Labour can return to the "Old Labour" of the pre-1980s before the Thatcher era - when its adherence to the capitalist market was much more covert. Certainly, the consensus among ordinary party members the Blair-Brown-Miliband "New Labour" politics of the past decades must be well and truly dumped. But Corbyn, even as leader, has not got the power to overrule those who pull the Labour Party's strings, make its policy and control its machinery, that is, the tiny minority that makes up the PLP and the Labour National Executive.
Nevertheless, Corbyn's victory in the leadership contest has seemingly, against all odds, built up the illusion that "another Labour Party is possible". So can the "Corbyn phenomenon" last and will it, as many of his supporters hope, it can have a positive impact from the point of view of the working class?
Corbyn's upward trajectory
It may help to trace the unexpected trajectory of this reluctant backbencher, who has represented London's Islington North constituency in parliament since 1983. Always known as a left-winger, Corbyn was never prominent in Labour Party circles and has never before held any official position, neither in government nor in opposition. Over the years, he always associated himself with "left" causes alongside fellow back-bencher John McDonnell, Ken Livingstone and the late Tony Benn, identifying with campaigns such as the "Troops Out Movement" and Irish republicanism - understandably, given the large number of residents of Irish extraction in his Camden constituency.
So it was contrary to all predictions, that he should lead the leadership race right from the start. He got onto the ballot by the skin of his teeth and at the last minute, with just 36 nominations from the PLP - one more than the required 35 minimum. Of the others who made it, the "favourite", Andy Burnham, a young "Brownite" veteran of leadership contests, who lost to Ed Miliband in 2010 and then served as his shadow health minister, got 68 nominations. Yvette Cooper, former Treasury minister under Brown and shadow home minister under Miliband, got 59. And Liz Kendall, Miliband's former shadow secretary for social care and the elderly, got 41.
Cooper and Burnham were, of course, unappetising protagonists of Miliband's fated "austerity-lite" policies, admitting responsibility for the "bad economic management" of which Brown's 2005-2010 regime in government is accused. Whereas the less well-known Liz Kendall was an unashamed Blairite. In contrast, Corbyn was a self-confessed "socialist": the "straight-talker" of his election poster: an honest "man of principle", speaking against austerity.
That his patronising view of "democracy" sounded attractive or "left-wing" is perhaps a measure of the distaste Labour's rank and file felt for the "same old" politics (a lighter shade of Tory, said many) of his rivals: Corbyn's campaign website declared that "the great changes in our society, from votes for women, to anti-discrimination laws and support for the disabled have all come from ordinary people demanding that their MP do what is right for them." This apparently sounded good - but it still meant that "ordinary people" are not meant to act for themselves to make the changes, but ask a nice Labour MP to do it for them...
In fact his social protectionism laced with empty pacifism was not terribly impressive: "Social housing should be available to all; the NHS and welfare state must be kept to protect us in times of need; and getting rid of dangerous and wasteful nuclear weapons and ending the wars that have blighted the globe in recent years are a must..." A "must"? But how this was to be achieved, Corbyn did not bother to say!
Corbyn proudly describes his political activities as follows: "I helped establish the Stop the War coalition in 2001 and I am now their chair [although he has subsequently resigned]... I've travelled to many countries to speak out against militarisation, calling for solutions through peaceful negotiation. I continue to argue for the rights of the oppressed, in particular, the Palestinians, the Chagos Islanders, the Saharwi, but many more."
He adds, almost as an afterthought, that he "was originally a full time official for NUPE (now part of Unison) and when in parliament, a member of, and supported by Unison."
For lack of an alternative?
Despite this old-fashioned and rather bashful reformism, Corbyn drew hundreds and sometimes thousands to his rallies. These turned into huge street meetings when the pre-booked halls couldn't accommodate those who came to hear him speak.
While the Blairite wing of the Labour party and Blair himself generally agreed with the right-wing press that electing Corbyn would "spell disaster" for Labour - as if it wasn't already mired in a catastrophic post-election disaster - many voices, including in the Guardian and Mirror newspapers (Seumas Milne, Owen Jones, Kevin Maguire) spoke up for the "hopeful vision" which Corbyn represented.
But the media's attention soon switched to the sudden influx of new members to the party - the "£3" registered membership which had been created as a result of the 2014 change in the procedure for the leadership election. This new system was supposed to distance Labour from labour with a small "l", by diluting the union vote. Instead of the 3 electoral colleges (the PLP, affiliated unions and Co-operative societies, and the individual members) each having an equal one third share of the vote, for the first time, the leader was to be elected according to "one member, one vote". All members, plus a new category of "registered members" who could join by paying a £3 fee, would thus receive an equal vote. And to compensate for removing the automatic voting rights of affiliated union members, they could register as a separate category of "affiliated" members.
Of course, many on the left and also some on the far-left, having long given up trying to build a working class party based around independent class politics, took the opportunity of campaigning for Corbyn. This played into the hands of those who were creating a big hullabaloo over the £3 "infiltrators" - who allegedly joined purely in order to vote for Corbyn and thus "consign Labour to electoral oblivion" - in the words of right-wing journalist Toby Young, who was busy advocating that Tories should join, to do just that!
The situation became quite farcical: 260 new members who were also members of other parties (Greens, the Trotskyist-associated Left Unity, Alliance for Workers Liberty and Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, etc.,) as well as "left-leaning personalities" such as PCS union leader Mark Serwotka, comedians Jeremy Hardy and Mark Steel, film maker Ken Loach - but also the above-mentioned Toby Young - were immediately blocked from voting. A Tory MP (Tim Loughton) was caught trying to register. Eventually, by the end of the campaign, as many as 56,000 (9% of the 610,753 members considered eligible to vote) were refused voting rights - 45,000 of whom were not even on the electoral register!
Of course, in the end, Corbyn's 251,417 votes gave him a huge majority over his rivals. Andy Burnham got just 80,462 votes (19%) and Yvette Cooper, 17%. Trailing her with just 4.5% was Liz Kendall, who ironically had been the bookies' favourite at the beginning of the contest.
Corbyn had won outright and would have won even without the support he got from the newly registered (£3) members - of whom 88,449 out of 105,598 who turned out voted for him (83.8% on a 92% turnout). This included a significant number of former Labour Party members who rejoined the party precisely in order to take part in the ballot.
But it was a surprise to many that 49.6% of the 303,110 full members (on an 81% turn out), also voted for Corbyn - which together with 57.6% of the 158,991 affiliated union members already gave him a clear 51.4% majority. Adding registered members, he thus had just under 60% of first preference votes. This was a record-breaking win.
The lesser enthusiasm of some workers?
There was a significantly lower turnout among affiliated trade union members of the Party, however. Only 48.5% actually used their vote (this includes a small number of Co-op members and "others"), although 57.6% among them did choose Corbyn.
It could be that this lower turnout was due in part to splits in the ranks of the unions and some confusion as to which candidate the union leaderships were supporting. Among the largest unions, the GMB, gave no recommendation and while Unison's and Unite's national executive committees chose Corbyn (with Burnham as second preference), some sections of the 1.42m-strong Unite did not want to play ball. For instance, the chair of Unite's aerospace and shipbuilding division e-mailed members saying its national industrial sector committee (NISC) preferred Burnham. Unite members were also sent conflicting e-mails and text messages from 2 dissenting members of the national executive who also favoured Burnham for his "economic credibility".
Although Corbyn's mildly trendy leftism may not have convinced the more conservative with a small "c" union members, his victory was certainly welcomed by many ordinary workers, if only due to his long-standing opposition to austerity measures, even if they do not feel they have much of a stake in it. For sure, the London-based Corbyn was relatively unknown as a Labour figure nationally. His "radical" rhetoric, especially on international issues, plus his middle class image, is unlikely to convince long-disillusioned working class Labour supporters that he could or would make a real change at the head of the Labour party.
All that said, officially Corbyn had the backing of the two biggest unions Unite and Unison, all three rail unions and the communications union CWU, and their leaderships remain loyal to him for the time being. However the country's third largest union, the GMB, under the leadership of (Sir!) Paul Kenny has opposed Corbyn from the start, precisely because of his stance on the renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine programme, an issue which, for most union leaders for that matter, is a sticking point. Never mind that this is a reflection of their narrow reformism which sees this issue merely as a question of "jobs" in an unchanging - and unchangeable - defence industry.
A counter-wave to UKIP?
Corbyn's election win - and indeed the campaign that preceded it - seemed to give hope to many who have quite rightly come to look on the whole political charade with a cynical and disillusioned eye. He attracted a significant layer of mainly younger people, expressing their exasperation with a political class of clones, espousing pro-business policies, whichever party they represented. Corbyn gave them the chance of voting for someone who promised to "build a new social movement to bring about real change in our country... and [which] places wealth and opportunity in the hands of the millions and not simply the millionaires" and spoke against the deepening inequality in a society which offers the next generation nothing.
And no matter that "Corbynomics", as it came to be called during his campaign, is really just the old Keynesianism - public spending instead of fiscal constraint, to get the deficit down ("people's quantitative easing"). The fact is, that nobody among Labour's politicians dares to voice even these mild reformist ideas any more. More importantly, up until this leadership election, a Labour politician who advocated such politics would never have got onto the leadership ballot, let alone be elected.
In some ways the wave of support which lifted Corbyn to the top of the Labour Party is a mirror image, on the left of the political spectrum, of the wave on which UKIP has risen out of obscurity on the right of this spectrum - or which the SNP is riding in Scottish politics. All three currents express, each in their own way, a disillusionment with established politics, rather than an increased degree of politicisation.
But since the majority of Corbyn's supporters are also opposed to the decades-old pro-business policies carried out by every past government, another kind of wave has been generated - of vitriol - against Corbyn, emanating from the capitalist media and from the political establishment in general. No wonder everything Corbyn does and does not do is under scrutiny, whether he has failed to be seen singing the national anthem, whether he has kneeled or not before the Queen, or whether he has worn the right colour poppy for Remembrance Day.
However, it is the opposition from within Labour's own ranks which is far more paralysing for him. In other words, opposition from Labour careerist MPs and the party's national executive, who in the main are on the right of the party, from "Brownite" to "Blairite" - that is, they embrace market capitalism and privatisation and today's austerity policies as a necessity, while pretending (uselessly) that if they were in office, they could alleviate their harshest aspects.
Indeed, despite the sudden popularity and huge boost to membership which Corbyn has brought to a Labour Party, which had just 4 months before, suffered one of its worst election defeats ever, Corbyn's ascent is still regarded as a disaster by the majority of Labour MPs. Many say he will be "gone by next summer".
Tony Blair stated that "If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won't be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation." And a number of Blairites (like Blair's former foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett) are kicking themselves for signing Corbyn's nomination as leadership candidate. In fact, if they did so, it was probably in the hope that this would split the vote for the then "favourite", the trade union-associated Andy Burnham - who was regarded as the "left" candidate - and keep him out of the running. This, despite the credit Burnham gainedunder Gordon Brown as a "responsible" minister, his association with the trade unions was a no-no for the Blairite wing of the party, for fear that it might lose Labour support from the middle class "centre" they aim at. Unfortunately for them, their convoluted strategy backfired...
So when Corbyn was trying to select his shadow cabinet, only Burnham among the leadership candidates was prepared to accept a position (as shadow home secretary). Miliband's former opposition front-benchers could not be seen for dust, leaving him with Tom Watson the Brownite, who was already elected as deputy, former darling of the far-left, John McDonnell, as shadow Chancellor, Diane Abbott for International Development, the austerity-lite right-wing Eagle twin sisters, Angela as Business secretary and the pro-Trident Maria as Defence secretary(!), the rightwing Blairite Hilary Benn as foreign secretary (but maybe not for long, given his on-going deep differences with Corbyn) and a motley mix of friend and foe for the other positions.
How far will the back-peddling go?
Corbyn's "radical" agenda was given credit by the fact that he had been a life-long "rebel" on Labour's backbenches. He had voted against the "whip" a record 500 times. But how "radical" was he really? Of course, his opposition to bombing Syria, or anywhere else, let alone to retaining the estimated £97bn Trident nuclear weapon system (a policy shared with the SNP) may have been alright for a maverick backbencher, but once he became leader of the opposition, it became "dangerously left-wing".
Just a week after his election, an "unnamed general" was quoted in the Sunday Times (20 September), saying that members of the armed forces would begin directly and publicly challenging the labour leader if he tried to scrap Trident, pull out of Nato or announce "any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces.... The Army just wouldn't stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can't put a maverick in charge of a country's security. There would be mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny."
So how did Corbyn and his shadow Chancellor, "left-winger" John McDonnell, respond to this reactionary barrage when they had the chance to stand on their "principles", at the Labour Party conference, held shortly afterwards (27-30 September)?
In fact they both stood down: the debate on Trident was dropped from the agenda in the name of "party unity". On the issue of the military, Corbyn agreed that "Britain does need strong, modern military and security forces to keep us safe". As if the British army was not time and again the aggressor with lethal conventional bombs - against Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, ..
Indeed, nothing was to be said to upset the Blairite wing of the party and certainly not a word to recall the catastrophe of Blair's invasion of Iraq in 2003, the precursor of today's horrific ISIS/Syria crisis. Actually McDonnell too, was quick to repudiate his erstwhile support for Irish liberation and in particular Bobby Sands, the first of 10 Irish Republican hunger strikers to die in the fight for political status, denied to them by Margaret Thatcher in 1981. It was at conference point that he argued that Labour MPs should have a free vote "on the basis of conscience" over Cameron's likely attempt to bomb Syria. Which means Cameron would most likely win the vote.
Corbyn and McDonnell may have advocated "doing things differently", with a "kinder politics and a caring society", but in the event, both have bent over backwards to avoid upsetting the apple-cart. As if "doing things differently" could be achieved by sweeping Labour's past failures under the carpet in the name of "unity", instead of subjecting them to ruthless scrutiny!
Having gotten through his party's conference, Corbyn's next "test" in the eyes of the establishment was his performance at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) - the chance the opposition leader gets every week to ask the government questions and expose its failings. This was "different", indeed. To the loud and mocking jeers of the Tory benches, Corbyn began by humbly repeating the same type of simple questions - e.g., "Tanya from Eastbourne asks how she is expected to manage if her tax credits are cut by £1,300?". And so on. The third time round he used the example of "a soldier" who also is receiving tax credits, hoping to show his patriotic support for the armed forces, no doubt. And he got the same put-down as before. These attempts to speak up for the poor against Cameron and Osborne's "Welfare Reform" came across as lame and weak - and were overshadowed by the House of Lords' opposition vote, which has effectively caused the government to drop its immediate cut in tax credits.
So despite his efforts not to take part in this childish parliamentary bullying match every Wednesday by turning the other cheek, he just got slapped on both - and has come out of it looking defenceless and, in fact, rather spineless. He did not even find a response to the politically illiterate gibe made by Cameron in order to avoid answering Corbyn's one good question - on the scandalous NHS deficit. Said Cameron, "Look at his appointments. His media adviser is a Stalinist. His new policy adviser is a Trotskyist. And his economic adviser is a communist. If he's trying to move the Labour Party to the left, I'd give him full Marx."
As for policy u-turns, it is worth noting that within a week of Labour Party Conference, Corbyn had already indicated in an interview with ITV news, that he was "prepared to live with Trident" if Labour voted for renewal.
More recently, following the Paris terrorist attacks there has been the issue of the police having the right to "shoot to kill". Corbyn let it be known that he was "not happy" with this on the Monday following but by the Friday, after having been attacked by an array of MPs and his own shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, he was saying that Labour would support "every necessary measure" to protect people in the UK... "Labour will always stand up to any threat to this country and the people of this country. ..We're not going to leave British people or this country unprotected, but we do need a different approach to foreign policy."
Strangely enough, Corbyn did not mention the two most notorious examples of "shoot to kill": the killing by special police of an innocent Brazilian worker, Jean-Charles de Menezes, in the aftermath of the 7/7 home-grown terror attacks in London, and the routine killings of Republican "suspects", which took place during the Irish Troubles, in the 1970s and 1980s.
As for the moot question of air strikes being extended by British planes from Iraq to Syria, McDonnell told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme on 22 November that he supported a free vote (once more!): "My view has always been that I think parliament should act as parliament not on a party political basis and we should arrive at the view that is the best interests of the country." Some good old nationalism and damn the interests of the population of the country which British planes are bombing! Because, as said before, if Labour MPs are not "whipped" into voting against bombing Syria the vote will go in Cameron's favour.
In fact, this "free vote" approach was eventually endorsed by Corbyn, but with the rather bizarre proviso that Labour's "official" position should remain opposed to the air strikes - although what difference this actually makes in the real world is anybody's guess, except maybe as a face-saver for Corbyn's anti-war record!
A return to "old Labour"?
So what about Team Corbyn's plans with respect to the future, and in particular the economy?
In most respects, Corbyn's economic agenda ("Corbynomics") represents, within the conditions created by the world crisis, a timid return to "old Labour".
But what did Labour do when it was in power? The most radical Labour government ever, is considered to be the one brought in by the post WW2 landslide in 1945. And yes, it may have launched a "massive programme of nationalisations", but each private capitalist, large and small, was generously compensated and anyway, this state investment (thanks largely to US Marshall Aid) was mandatory to rebuild the capitalist economy in order to make it possible for profit accumulation to recommence at a higher level - which it did. And this was maintained right up until the end of the 1960s. As for the "wondrous" welfare state, there was always a cross-party consensus on this - because it too, was necessary in order to rebuild the working class both in body and spirit, since what the capitalists and their loyal and patriotic Labour trustees in government wanted to avoid at all costs, was a revolt, like the wave of revolutions precipitated by the crisis post-WW1. And they did prevent it.
But "old Labour" governments, from Atlee to Gaitskell, to Wilson and Callaghan turned the screw on the working class when big business required it, and sent troops after WW2, to bloodily re-establish the imperialist world order, to places too many to mention, but including: Palestine, Greece, Indochina, Malaysia, Burma, Korea, Egypt, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq...
After Labour had lost the election to the Conservatives in 1979, there is a parallel worth mentioning: that the 1981 Labour leadership contest took place in comparable conditions to the contest following Labour's defeat this May. As a reaction to what were considered right-wing policies put forward by "old" Labour prime ministers, Wilson and Callaghan in the 1970s in response to the economic crisis (much like Brown and Miliband) left-winger Tony Benn stood for the party's deputy leadership on a left-wing platform. What differed at the time was that in 1981, the support for Benn's faction included a large section of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and a number of city councils, which is not the case for Corbyn today. Despite all this support, however, Benn lost that election. If Corbyn won this time round, despite the minimal support he had both within the PLP and Labour's NEC (which includes councillors, union representatives and Constituency representatives plus the PLP delegates), it was only thanks to a series of changes in election procedures which, paradoxically, worked in his favour.
It is worth mentioning too, that tensions during the 2015 leadership campaign caused some commentators to predict a split in the Labour party - as had happened in March 1981, (partly out of disgust at the leadership of Michael Foot, hardly a left-winger, but certainly considered as incompetent) when a "gang of four" senior right-wing Labour figures defected to form the short-lived Social Democratic Party before joining the Liberals which was subsequently renamed the Liberal Democrats...
Whether a split could still happen today remains to be seen. But there are certainly many aspects of Corbyn's campaign and his policies which hark back to the "old Labour" of 1983, the year he was elected to parliament.
At the time, left Labourites (including the young Jeremy Corbyn) demanded an "alternative economic strategy" based on reflation, the scrapping of nuclear weapons and renationalisation. This resulted in a manifesto - "The New Hope for Britain" - which seems to have been the main inspiration for the so-called "Corbynomics" (or McDonnell-onomics) today! Not that it helped Labour win at the time - it lost and in fact this defeat was the beginning of its rightward lurch under first Kinnock, then Smith and then Blair...
But yes, just like in 1983, Corbyn today wants to promote fiscal spending to inject money into the economy - neo-Keynesianism, as economists call this, with the exact same "National Investment Bank to invest in the new infrastructure we need and in the hi-tech and innovative industries of the future..." which already featured in Labour's 1983 manifesto, in fact!
Says Corbyn: "Growth and higher wages are key to bringing down the deficit. Increased tax receipts and lower benefit demand are a better way forward than shutting local libraries and attacking the working poor".
At least he did add that money could come from increased corporation taxes for wealthy companies - as well as a crackdown on tax avoidance, evasion and debts, which is estimated to come to some £120bn - money which could double the NHS budget, for instance. In addition, Corbyn advocates a statutory £10 an hour living wage for all workers, including for apprentices.
He says he wants to take back Royal Mail into public ownership, that the Big Six energy suppliers should be publicly owned by a mixture of local, community and national government bodies- and that the railways should be renationalised, but not quite immediately (this question is discussed in another article in this issue of our journal).
Piketty to the rescue?
Just before Tory Chancellor George Osborne's Autumn statement, Corbyn's shadow chancellor Mc Donnell announced that he now had his "alternative economic policy team", ready to help him prepare his response. This team includes: the "Nobel prize-winning, 4th most influential economist in the world", Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty, the bestselling author of "Capital in the 21st Century" who, incidently, has also been asked by Jacob Zuma's klepto-corrupt ANC government in South Africa to give it advice!
McDonnell is also inviting David Blanchflower, former member of the Bank of England monetary committee, and several other acedemic economists to give him a hand. So this should be good! But will the "people's quantitative easing" mean printing money to pay back to the working class, unemployed, disabled, pensioners and public services, the billions taken away from them in order to save the banking and financial system from collapse and to sustain it ever since?
If that were to happen, something would have to "give" - and literate economists must realise that this something would have to be the profit system itself.
In the meantime John McDonnell has had to admit that he "embarrassed himself" by saying he would ask Labour MPs to vote for the government "fiscal charter" which Osborne proposed - requiring the public finances to be in overall budget surplus by 2019-20. These imply stringent and restrictive rules on capital borrowing - the complete opposite of both "people's quantitative easing, having a National Investment Bank and spending to create growth! He apparently confessed: "I was trying to out-Osborne Osborne."
But at least this shadow chancellor questions all those opinion poll "findings" so fondly quoted by the likes of Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper, et al, all of whom literally want to out-Osborne-Osborne, which say Labour lost the election because it was not seen to be tough enough on the deficit. In other words that it should have advocated even more austerity!
Others have since confirmed what in fact Corbyn's resounding leadership victory showed - that if anything, Labour hadn't been left-wing and anti-austerity enough. But all will be revealed when (eventually) the internal review into the causes of the defeat, that was commissioned by the former interim leader Harriet Harman, chaired by Blairite Margaret Beckett, is published...
Can Corbyn change Labour's pro-business agenda?
If Corbyn wanted to implement a "re-nationalising" alternative economic policy, even as limited as it is - and stand firm on the policies which enthused his electorate, he would be paralysed by the machinery of a Labour party, in which he already appears more like a hostage than a leader. But, as said before, he is in a minority even in his own shadow cabinet, not to mention among his parliamentary party and keeps being lambasted by the media and castigated by Labour's own heavyweights.
For instance, one of Corbyn's advisors, Andrew Fisher, made "head of policy" for some unknown reason, caused a media storm because he supported a "Class War" candidate against Emily Benn in Croydon in May, and has had to resign for allegedly threatening another Labour official, etc., etc...
And Corbyn is already running into trouble with some of the union leaders (not just the GMB's Sir Kenny) who were supposedly supporting him (over Trident, but there may be other issues).
The fact is that, ultimately, rather than changing Labour's stripes, Corbyn is having to confine himself to making symbolic gestures - like accepting the post of deputy-president of CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) - which have no consequences whatsoever, except to cause yet more uproar among the usual suspects.
Take for instance the hysteria over the fact that he had been invited to a "Stop the War Coalition" Xmas fund raiser, in the light of an article which appeared on their website which said that Paris was reaping the whirlwind of western extremism: "Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq which by measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than a million innocent people dead, there would be no ISIS, no Al Qaeda in Iraq... What has been the result of these interventions? A hell on earth, one that grows wider and more virulent year after year". Which is surely something Corbyn would agree with - and indeed there is nothing wrong with it, except that it leaves out Britain's equal responsibility in this crime. The article was quickly removed.
Nevertheless, the Independent newspaper intimated that if Corbyn attended this fund raiser, Hilary Benn would resign! This same Hilary Benn who briefed against Corbyn's "unhappiness" over the "shoot-to-kill" policy of the police. In this case it would probably be a blessing in disguise.
Corbyn's respect for the Labour party's "legality" and his consistent choice to compromise in the name of retaining some sort of party unity (but when has Labour not been riven by all kinds of factional fights?) conspires even more to place him in a straitjacket. But of course, this hasn't prevented constant backstabbing on the part of his opponents, including those he has promoted to front-bench positions.
To break free of the straitjacket of the Labour and union machineries, Corbyn would need to take them on head-on by calling upon the active support of the hundreds of thousands who elected him to the leadership. But this is precisely what he does not do and does not want to do, either. First we have his version of what MPs are for - not to reflect the mass action of the working class, but to work on their behalf. And then the line-up in his shadow cabinet, the U-turns, a new one each day, which show how little courage he really has in his convictions.
Far from changing Labour's policy, Corbyn's respect for Labour's legality can only be used by the Labour party to revamp its credit among its traditional electoral - by which time Corbyn will be dumped and replaced with a more "electable" leader.
This is going to be yet another disillusioning experience for those who momentarily regained their enthusiasm for parliamentary politics. But for the first-timers who voted for Corbyn under the illusion that he would somehow "change" Labour and turn it into an anti-austerity party, this will be a blow. Let us hope that it does not turn all of them off politics and that their understanding instead becomes a little deeper, so that they can progress towards the real politics of change - revolutionary communism.
Because Labour remains today what it has been for a century, since it lent its support to sending workers to the killing fields of the first imperial World War. It is a party whose aim is primarily to manage the capitalist system on behalf and in the interests of the capitalist class. Fighting austerity would require something other than the mild radicalism of Corbyn's agenda. Because austerity is nothing but the policy of a capitalist class which, in a world gripped by an on-going crisis, seeks to maintain its profits at the expense of the working class, by parasitising the state at the cost of cutting public expenditure to the bare bone, while stepping up its exploitation of workers' labour.
Overcoming the parasitism of the capitalist class is not a matter of implementing a few reforms, assuming a Corbyn-led Labour party would do that, which is hardly likely. It can only be achieved by fighting the capitalists' domination over the economy and making it pay the bill for its crisis out of its accumulated profits. Actually McDonnell knows this. His manifesto says that the wealthy must be made to pay. But he thinks that it's a matter for parliamentary decree! When it can only be achieved by the working class mobilising its collective strength and using the weapons of the class struggle. History has shown by endless examples that it is impossible to beat the system by joining it.
But for all his alleged "socialism", words such as "working class" or "class struggle" are not part of Corbyn's "radical" vocabulary. So those who really do want to fight the brutal attacks of the past years and to start regaining the ground lost can expect nothing from Corbyn and even less from the Labour party. What they and the working class need is not a Corbyn, with his "old Labour" baggage, but a party which clearly sets itself the objective of fighting the capitalist system itself - in order to eventually overthrow it. That is why the independent working class party which needs to be built has to be a revolutionary party, which aims to construct a communist society.
30 November 2015