Some of the Labour coup-makers say they have no disagreement with Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, and value his kindliness and his personal qualities. But, they say, with a sigh elaborately staged for the audience, somehow Corbyn doesn’t have what it takes to lead, to unite, to win an election. So they’ve resigned, and try to hold the Labour Party hostage in order to force Corbyn to quit.
It’s all a fake. If they really had a better leader to propose, then they’d choose a better time, nominate that better leader, and let the Labour Party and trade union membership vote on the candidates. Instead they have gone for a staged wrecking operation, just at the time when the Tories are at each others’ throats and politics is in flux, after 23 June.
They parade one Martin Waplington who says he met “a man who looked like Jeremy Corbyn” in a tapas bar in Waterloo on 10 June, and that man said he would vote to leave the EU. They claim Corbyn was not eloquent enough for Remain, when in fact most them said nothing in the referendum campaign or joined the Tories’ platforms (while Corbyn, rightly, campaigned separately), and none of them defended freedom of movement as Corbyn did. After the Chakrabarti inquiry reported on 1 July, they said nothing about the substance of the report, but went for what Shami Chakrabarti herself called “deliberate misrepresentation of the leader’s speech by people who are very quick to misunderstand and condemn”.
Much could be said in justified criticism of Corbyn. In fact, much has been said by us in justified criticism of Corbyn. But it is not along the lines that the coup-makers “have a point”, and we should seek some middle ground between him and then. On the contrary: it is along the lines that Corbyn has allowed himself too much to be pushed by them onto the defensive and into crisis-management mode. As we noted back in July 2015: Corbyn “has been a consistent rebel in Parliament against the Labour leadership. His local record of support for workers’ and community struggles, including against local Labour council adminstrations, is excellent.
“But Jeremy Corbyn’s broader politics have changed [from those he had when he worked with us on Socialist Organiser in 1979-80]. Today he writes regularly for the Morning Star, the paper linked to the Communist Party of Britain, which bills him as ‘a friend of the Star’...
“On some issues publicly (and possibly on many privately) Corbyn is better than the Morning Star. He supports Tibet’s national rights. He opposed Russia’s seizure of Crimea and ‘Russian militarism’ in Ukraine. In... June 2015 he wrote: ‘There are strong arguments for staying in the EU’...”
But, as we also noted, “Jeremy Corbyn is surely a socialist. But... he rarely or never says that.
“He calls for a ‘popular movement against cuts’. He advocates ‘raising taxes for the very richest, collecting tax from corporations’. But not social ownership of industry... “On international politics, mostly, he limits himself to deploring military moves by the US and its allies and appealing for peace...”
Corbyn’s official declarations to parliament show him receiving “up to £5000” each year from 2009 to 2012 for interviews on the Iranian-government-run Press TV. Unlike some other Labour MPs who have taken money from right-wing media, he has maintained independence, speaking out against “the arrest, torture and murder of protesters” in Iran; but his stress has usually been more, and too much more, on the desirability of diplomacy and negotiations. As Iranian socialist Maziar Razi told Solidarity, we should call on Corbyn to loudly “support Iranian workers... and give the £20,000 to the familes of of worker political prisoners”.
Some say Corbyn is “incompetent” as Labour leader. There is no single job of “Labour leader” in relation to which competence or incompetence can be judged. Harold Wilson was a “competent” fake-left leader between 1963 and 1976 - “competent” at fobbing off the left impulses of the 1960s and 70s. Tony Blair was a “competent” right-wing leader, at least up until his decision on Iraq - “competent” at swinging Labour to soft-Thatcherism and crushing labour-movement democracy. What the coup-makers want is a leader who will be “competent” (maybe through “soft-left” tactics, like Neil Kinnock after 1983) in taming and then crushing the Labour revival of recent times, blocking moves to reopen Labour Party democracy, and marginalising the trade unions.
The Labour Party certainly needs to do more than it is doing now to rouse its members, to inspire and convince supporters who see little hope and maybe voted Leave in protest, to win over wavering voters. That has to be done by working to change public opinion. Not in the Blair-Brown way, by seeking bland speech-writers’ phrases designed to placate public opinion while avoiding commitments.
Push back the coup-makers! Create the space for a new Labour mobilisation which can convince voters and become the base for a real Labour government serving working-class interests.
Build support for Corbyn in the unions!
By a Unite member
The general secretaries of ten trade unions (all affiliates of the Labour Party) have signed a joint statement giving their continued support to Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. It would seem to many that the trade unions are solidly behind Corbyn. However, trade union members should not presume this is so.
Even though the statement gave support to Corbyn against the coup, it didn’t say that if a leadership election was called they would back him in that election. The statement calls for unity. And the purpose of Unite leader, Len McCluskey’s offer (on 4 July) to broker a deal between Corbyn and the Labour right would have been to seek political compromise. As we go press talks look like being ongoing.
If there is a deal we should not expect it to be good. For many years it was the trade union bureaucracy that kept the Labour right in power. They backed right-wing candidates and supported the right as they removed the democratic structures in the Labour Party. They did this in the name of anti-Toryism. They failed to push Labour to campaign for even basic demands which were in the interests of trade union members, such as repeal of the anti-trade union laws. At party conferences they refused to push for basic democratic rule changes. They would only submit motions to party conferences on subjects that the right would agree with.
A year ago the leadership of the trade unions had no idea that we would soon be in a situation where it was possible to transform the Labour Party into a party that could provide a working-class alternative in British politics. I doubt many of them want the movement that makes this a possibility to continue. However, when trade union leaders make their decisions they are influenced by factors other than their own wishes.
They know that many trade union activists and members were among those who voted for Corbyn. They have seen the large protests in many cities backing Corbyn. They know that Corbyn’s politics are closer to the union policies than any other potential Labour leader. And they know that for them to stay in position or get re-elected they will need the support of those members. They are under pressure.
We need to continue to demand that the trade unions continue to back Corbyn and don’t shift to their support to a “soft left” figure in Labour who will reopen the road for the right wing to regain political dominance.
We need to demand that the unions go out and convince their members to join the Labour Party and that it is done quickly before the Labour Party machine stops new people joining.
We need to argue against any deal in the future which involves Corbyn standing down, that allows a curtailing of democracy or agreement to ditch commitment to policies such as those on trade union rights.
The union’s actions could be decisive in determining the outcome of this battle. We need to keep up the pressure in our unions.