It was only one year ago that we were in the same situation.
Back when he was a seemingly marginal left-wing campaigning MP, Jeremy Corbyn once called for Labour Party leaders to be subjected to annual re-election contests. Now it seems like he is getting his wish, as previously-unheard of former pharmaceutical lobbyist Owen Smith challenges him for the leadership.
We’re in for another summer dominated by the Labour leadership election.
Last year it was high political drama. The summer is normally the “silly season” for the corporate media, when Parliament in its summer recess, and politicians and many others go off on the holidays. Since there was little else for the press to report on, they focused on the Labour contest: and what a show it was.
Corbyn was derided at first as a rank outsider. But as poll after poll suggested he may have a serious chance – may even win – the reality slowly began to dawn on the party’s establishment. When the result finally came, they did not accept it, and have never accepted it since: hence the failed coup attempt last month.
Those of us in the Palestine solidarity movement are well familiar with Corbyn and his selfless work, which is why so many have rallied to his cause. As a Palestinian friend of mine put it, on a hand made placard she brought to a Corbyn support demonstration to oppose Labour MPs’ attempted coup: “Jeremy Corbyn supports Palestine; I support Jeremy Corbyn.”
It is not only the Palestinian cause. While far too many politicians support (or make a show of supporting) their causes for narrow political gain, or photo opportunities, Corbyn does so out of genuine conviction. Two factors prove as much.
Firstly, his support is solid, even for unpopular causes. Corbyn can look back at decades of advocating the Palestinian cause. While there is now in the UK a wide consensus in favour of the Palestinians, and against Israeli occupation, this was not always the case. The same goes for his contact with Sinn Fein in the 1980s, back when they were widely reviled in the British press as terrorists. Now they are in government in Northern Ireland and their leaders meet the Queen.
There is a second crucial factor: Corbyn is genuinely humble. He does not seek out the lime light. In his support for human rights and justice around the world, he takes the unglamorous roles, and has more than paid his dues. While far too many MPs were busy using such events as opportunities to gain a vote, or to promote themselves, Corbyn was getting on with the work: chairing committees, advocating and turning up for meetings of unpopular causes even when poorly attended. It is due to decades of such dedication that so many different kinds of people have rallied to elect him as leader of the Labour Party.
A new book gives a great outline of how Jeremy Corbyn came to be leader. Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics by Richard Seymour is a brilliant and incisive analysis by a long-term watcher of the party. Seymour lends a critical eye to the Labour Party’s record, and not just of the now-widely-derided neoliberal Tony Blair years.
Seymour adds some much-needed historical perspective. He explains why the Labour Party was in long-term political decline, had been haemorrhaging support, and why all this led to the election of Corbyn. While no one predicted it at the time, in hindsight, something similar happening seems almost inevitable.
The book leads us through the record of the Labour Party in government. The criminal disaster of the Iraq war is now widely seen as Tony Blair’s greatest crime, but the rot set in long before that. It’s easy to forget just how right wing and reactionary New Labour governments got: rampant privatisation, racist scaremongering against immigrants and increasingly authoritarian measures to restrict civil liberties. Seymour adds a much needed look back on all that here.
After losing two elections, the membership of the party had had enough and were not going to take it any more. The New Labour experiment was over.
It still remains to be seen whether Corbyn can do enough to get elected into power. But contrary to the bland and useless slogans of the newly sprung-up astrotuf group “Saving Labour” and its Blairite cheerleaders, Corbyn may well be the last chance to really save the Labour Party. Down their path leads only ruin.
The world has changed. People are no longer standing for the status quo. That can go in one of two directions: the hatred of Trump and UKIP on one hand, or the mild and sensible reforms of Sanders and Corbyn. The time of “centrists” and “third ways” is over.