Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why I have no choice but to #KeepCorbyn

So we’ve had a dramatic few days, and a dramatic series of events, and we all must admit that Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is in a new context.

I’m a Corbynite, and I make no apology for it. I am remarkably proud of where we’ve been since September and the new base of support he’s built. For the first time in my adult life I felt a real sense of solidarity from new members of the Party and at points I have been incredibly confident that we can shift the political dichotomy to a radically different settlement.

Those on the right of the Party just simply don’t understand that the snide remarks, the trolling, and yes, the threats of physical violence, have been sustained by their comrades on the left throughout the New Labour hegemony. I was humiliated as a teenager by a right wing Labour MP with letters of complaint to my parents and school. I was abused for opposing tuition fees. I was thumped and called a Trot at university. I was called a vile supporter of dictators for opposing the War in Iraq. I’ve been called a neo-Nazi for supporting Britain leaving the EU.

But I’ve remained, and knocked on doors, and went to meetings and spoke up and contributed. I made great friends and comrades from people of numerous political traditions and backgrounds. While some new members who joined under Corbyn were out campaigning for TUSC or the Socialist Party, or out knocking for Nick Clegg over Iraq and tuition fees, I was campaigning for Labour MPs of whatever stripe. It is hard to take a lecture from convert – especially when I haven’t quit the fight to keep our Party on the left for a fantasist vanity project, especially when I remember Tony Blair being such a liability on the doorstep you daren’t mention his name.

Let’s be clear: anybody who is a convert to the Labour Party cause is alright by me, and I’m happy to welcome former Liberals, Tories, Greens or TUSC members to help fight for Labour majorities, and lend their voice to making party policy stronger and more representative.

MPs and activists from the left and the right of the Party can be pretty horrible – they are susceptible to all traits as human beings, after all. I am not prepared to condone anyone who doesn’t express themselves in a comradely spirit of respect and solidarity to members of our movement. But I am not prepared to be rounded up into a group of members on the left of the Party and automatically decried as an anti-semitic, racist, misogynistic bully – and I’m not prepared to have that happen to Corbyn or McDonnell either. I oppose Blairite ideology because it’s wrong, destructive and outdated not because of some of the odious personalities who were involved with it at various points – the majority of its proponents were good people.

I’m not prepared to constantly be told that the left of the Labour party is lazy. That my ward party has lots of(I naively assume) Blairite spads and lobbyists who are barely ever seen does not mean that everybody to the right of me is bone idle. They’re no different from the new members who (I assume) are Corbynistas. It also doesn’t mean that these people are bad either – they are welcome to contribute to this party, and have a voice in a way that they feel comfortable, through the campaigns they feel the greatest affinity to. How do I know whether somebody, never having knocked on a door with me, hasn’t been out with LGBT Labour, or Hope Not Hate, or works shifts, or has caring responsibilities or runs activities for young people over the weekend? Shaming people who one hasn’t met, or met once at a rally, is not on the cards. I’ve been asked to support a young activist in our borough who hasn’t got involved with the local party because she’s worried that it’s just full of people who will sneer at her politics. I’d hope that gives everyone pause for thought before they hammer stuff out on social media with such venom against their comrades.

And this attitude is at the heart of the crisis in the leadership of our party. The left must listen to the concerns of the right. We need to engage with them and respect them and use their talents. The right must understand that, when the entire Corbyn project has been undermined by them, mocked and scorned – even Jeremy’s nomination an exercise in the traditional humiliation of the Labour left – how can we back another candidate?

I feel, more than any other time in the Labour Party, that I’m being shoved in a box and into a corner. That if the Corbyn project fails then I, and people who share my ideological tradition within our party, will be shut out for good. Deselected, silenced and ridiculed. I can’t let that happen, I won’t betray the community which I serve or the experiences which I have had which lead me to believe that a genuine left alternative is electable, and in their own interests.

Let’s reflect on how far we’ve moved. We’ve come from a party tradition where every member believed in nuclear disarmament. Those who believed in unilateralism were regarded as idealists, but welcome drivers of principle. People on both sides of the debate switched sides as we worked toward a party who supported an ethical foreign policy and a nuclear free world. We now have party members proudly sporting t-shirts branded ‘Power Bottoms for Trident’ at LGBT liberation events, as if a costly weapon of indiscriminate warfare is a joke; identifying Labour values with not just renewing but maintaining a nuclear deterrent. For shame.

So where is the leadership candidate who will reach out to members like me? The statesperson who will protect my voice and my interests, and chart an electable course?

At the minute I, and the hundreds of thousands of Labour members, voters and supporters like me, are presented with some stark choices: To support or reject a divisive and poorly timed leadership campaign; To support or reject a block of parliamentarians who have no candidate, no plan, just deep seated, overly emotional vitriol; To side with an individual (against all collective impulses) or to resign myself to the fact that those people who I thought were respectful, thinking comrades will go to any length to silence my voice if he doesn’t win through.

I believe Jeremy Corbyn was electable, if the PLP had joined his movement in good faith. Every day they damage our chances of election, damage our opportunities to help the communities that need us most, not because an inevitable prophecy has been fulfilled, but because they have chosen to destroy him. The tension between electability and ideology is not my fault, and I feel like I’m being bullied into an ultimatum. As angry as I am about this, and will hold to account those who have caused it, I can't deny the electoral reality of their uncomradely manoeuvers.

The right has picked this fight, not with entryists or insurgents, but with loyal, longstanding members like me. They’ve alienated themselves from so many good people, by having no plans, alternatives and finding any opportunity to create scandal and division.

So here I am: being brave enough to admit that I believe we should #KeepCorbyn because there’s no alternative for my politics, or for the Party, not because the man himself fills me with the hope and expectation of September. I can’t see any credible figure who can lead to us to election victory from the ‘big names’. Is there an MP bold enough, conciliatory enough, to reach out to members like me and say that I’m welcome, I’ll be heard, and that by marching together we can win? Not at the minute.

Jeremy Corbyn has spent his entire political life saying that and doing it. It’s a shame the PLP are so driven by an echo chamber in Westminster that they were too proud to do it. I have no alternative but to #KeepCorbyn, who has tried to reach out to all, instead of looking into an abyss of my silencing.