Socialist Worker 383

From 200/1 at the beginning Jeremy Corbyn came through to achieve a stunning victory in the British Labour election contest. Not only did he win but he won absolutely decisively, polling 59% to his nearest rival’s 19% with the most right wing and Blairite candidate, Liz Kendall, finishing last with only 4.5%.

There is no mystery as to how this was done. Corbyn expressed the yearning of rank-and-file Labour party members and millions of others in British society for a progressive alternative to the consensus neo-liberal politics which has seen the establishment inflict brutal austerity on ordinary people for years.

They were simply fed up to the back teeth with politics of spin, deception and manipulation which characterised all the main parties while increasing inequality and hitting the poor to protect the rich.

Mood for change

In this they shared the mood that brought Alexis Tsipras and Syriza to power in Greece in January, which saw millions rally to the new Podemos Party and the left in Spain, that gave the radical sounding SNP a landslide in Scotland, and is fuelling the unprecedented success of the self-described socialist, Bernie Sanders, in the US primary elections.

And it is the same mood that produced the great demonstrations and mass non-payment of the water charges campaign in Ireland, and will hopefully see the irish left achieve its best ever result in the upcoming election.

What made Corbyn able to represent this demand for change was that unlike the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and his Blairite rivals he clearly had some genuine socialist principles. For forty years he had been an active campaigner for progressive causes, against imperialism and war, and for trade union and workers rights. He was different.

Corbyn’s problems

Unfortunately Corbyn’s real problems began after he had won the leadership. Just as Tsipras and Syriza came up against the ‘economic terrorism’ of the EU so Corbyn ran into the ‘media terrorism’ of the British press and TV.

His victory was greeted with a storm of media attacks on his family, his personal life, his dress, his choice or not of tie, his supposed anti-semitism (an utterly false allegation based entirely on his support for Palestine) his failure to sing the national anthem and whether or not he would kiss the hand of the queen.

There was a coordinated attempt to destroy or permanently damage him at birth as it were. And while much of the assault was just gutter journalism and drivel (did he have an affair twenty years ago) some of it had a sharp political edge, probing the issue of his ‘loyalty’ to the British State.

This creates a difficulty for Corbyn because he will be surrounded by advisors telling him to accommodate to all this stuff, because he will fear the affect on public opinion of challenging the traditions and rituals of the British monarchy and imperial State and because, at bottom he hopes to use that State to bring social change to Britain.

But the more he does accommodate, especially on issues such as membership of NATO and the retention of Trident nuclear missiles and support for the EU, the more his radicalism will be eroded. The fact that Corbyn promptly resigned from being Chair of the Stop the War Coalition is hardly a good sign.

Then there is the problem created by his own party. Very few –twenty at most – of the MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party actually support Corbyn or his policies. Many of them are implacably hostile. Most of them won’t say this openly at the moment but they will work to undermine him and have already started doing this.

The first thing Corbyn had to do was appoint his Shadow Cabinet but he did not have enough allies in the leadership of the Party to pick a Shadow Cabinet of his supporters. Instead he had to appoint a number of old Blairites to key positions. One of these was Hilary Benn as Foreign Secretary. Benn immediately gave an interview saying the Labour Party would not need Corbyn’s agreement to support US bombing of Syria. A leader with strong support would have sacked Benn for this disloyalty but Corbyn can hardly do this having just appointed him.

The Cameron #piggate scandal took the heat off Corbyn for a while but we can be sure it will return. The pressure on him to compromise his beliefs will be immense.

His difficulty in resisting this pressure is not personal weakness or corruptibility. It is very much his lack of organised and politically clear support in a Labour Party whose upper ranks have been deeply affected by Blairism and neo-liberalism, and his own ambiguity on whether or not he wants to ‘improve’ the system or overthrow it.

This is why revolutionary socialists in Britain will argue that the best way to sustain Corbyn and strengthen his hand is to build the mass movement on the streets and in the workplaces and developing socialist ideas within that movement.

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