Both Corbyn and Khan have the strength of resonating with ordinary people, writes RABBIL SIKDAR
In May the Labour Party lost the elections. The very next day, its leader walked. The deputy leader was resigning, acting as interim leader. In Scotland a wipeout included a 20-year-old SNP politician supplanting a Labour MP. It all seemed grim and grey then. The Labour Party seemed to be dead.
Just four months later, its heart is beating and beating fast. The mantra being hammered out to Labour Party activists and members by the Blairite politicians was that aspiration translated to low taxes, low welfare and low spending.
A sense of triumphalism soaked the right wing even as the Tories secured only a quarter of the country’s vote. They anticipated the end of the political left.
The initial line-up for the Labour leadership contest seemed a bleak confirmation — banks and corporations would have been rubbing their hands together, sitting back and relaxing while the pockets of the poor are emptied and shovelled into their bank accounts, stashed away in secret tax havens. Remember when Andy Burnham talked about aspiration and being business-friendly?
But it turns out aspiration can mean hope for a better society. With a message of hope delivered with a tone of humility, Jeremy Corbyn has stunned the Establishment.
It will retaliate. He has been met with a media firestorm. But Corbyn’s strength is rooted in a grassroots movement that has stood strong against the abuse showering him.
And even though politics is not about personality — certainly it shouldn’t have been like that for Ed Miliband — it’s unquestionable that it’s not just Corbyn’s policies which represent a departure from Establishment politics but also his personality.
His dress code, his humble, quiet nature and the simple way he includes everyone in his talk. He says “we,” rarely does he say “I.” It sums up what the left is about — collective strength, care and sacrifice for others.
A famous video of him defending his “scruffy” appearance and wearing a jumper knitted by his mother has gone viral.
There is something refreshingly warm and human about him. Politicians often seem like they are concealing themselves behind their suits. Corbyn offers sincerity. He uses the train, he uses the bus. It’s all mundane and yet so spectacular because every normal thing he does entrenches the view he is one of us. He feels like one of the people.
Then there is his policy track record — supporter of peace and gay rights, critic of apartheid, war and grotesque inequality. His history has marked him as a principled fighter guided by a strong social conscience.
Compare his roots and rise to those of David Cameron — an Eton-educated product of a privileged system that reduces opportunities for those at the bottom.
Cameron cannot connect emotionally to the people. That was always beyond him. His success depended on the failure of Miliband. With Corbyn, he is fighting a man admired not simply for his policies but as a person.
It’s something Corbyn should not refrain from tapping into. Social justice against capitalism regularly pits the disadvantaged and vulnerable against the super-rich and those who can embrace that portrayal effectively stand a good chance of winning.
Whereas Miliband struggled to legitimately project himself as representative of ordinary people, Corbyn does not have to. His passionate defence of welfare, NHS and the living wage tells its own story.
But it’s not just Corbyn but also Sadiq Khan who will be fighting an election, his actually a lot earlier. He is the Labour candidate for London mayor.
A Muslim soft-left politician who believes strongly in social justice, environmental reform and civil rights, or so it goes. He has a strong appeal among the young, especially ethnic minorities.
Although Diane Abbott is closer in tone and beliefs to Corbyn than Khan, the latter fed successfully off Corbyn’s campaign.
Khan will have to deliver a similar message of social justice in London, albeit modified perhaps to focus on equal opportunities in education, jobs and housing. But that does not mean he should shy away from talking about inequality for a city that has become the symbol of it.
Take Canary Wharf. It has the famous financial skyscrapers. Yet in the surrounding area is huge poverty and homelessness. It’s a symbol of inequality, a yawning gap between people, some so high up in the sky and others rooted to the bottom.
Khan used to be one of those people at the bottom looking up. He is the son of a bus driver and grew up on a council estate. He’s a working-class Muslim.
His rival Zac Goldsmith is a millionaire Eton-educated Tory who backed the bedroom tax among other policies which have created destitution.
His is a triumph of upward mobility still existing awkwardly in a time when opportunities are increasingly limited. He speaks about using the Northern Line to pass City Hall but feeling a million miles away. He’s personalised his message with a story that will undoubtedly be met with agreement by many and his background will be hugely appealing to those who want Labour to help the underdog.
Many people say in a climate of Islamophobia, London will not elect a mayor like him. But this is a city that has a strong tradition of diversity.
The Labour Party wins when it positively champions a society in which care, compassion and generosity are institutionalised instead of greed and selfishness.
It’s summed up by Nye Bevan’s quote of Labour’s goal being a society “where the doctor, grocer, the butcher and farm labourer all live on the same street — the living tapestry of a mixed community.”
Labour has got to embody itself as the party of teachers, cleaners, nurses, soldiers, supermarket workers, plumbers and the self-employed. It’s got to position itself as the party that fights for social protection.