If Tony Blair is the epitome of everything that went wrong with Labour, Corbyn is the symbol of everything that drew people originally to the party, argues RABBIL SIKDAR
“HOPE is the fuel of progress and fear is the prison in which you put yourself,” said Tony Benn. He, like many on the left, believed that social change came from social movements, the organisation of ordinary people, collectivising their energies and interests to fight for a society that provides a fairer representation of their needs and dreams.
Today it is the quote that comes to define the ideological splinters forming in Labour. Are they so afraid of failure that they are imprisoning themselves in neoliberal politics, rather than fighting it?
The crisis within Labour isn’t so much one about ideological dogma but, stripped to its bone, a collective psychological fear of trying to become more assertive in the fight against the Tories. The Labour Party has been battered by the media relentlessly, and as such, politicians now fear trying to challenge the status quo set by the Tories.
Instead, Labour is agreeing to become a part of it. In doing that, it betrays its origins all those decades ago when a coalition of workers and trade unionists were frustrated by the entrenched lone voice of capitalism within Parliament and founded Labour to serve as the political wing of the interests of ordinary people.
But now there is an unwillingness to engage in that fight anymore. There is a fear that they will never reclaim the public’s confidence and instead of trying to do so, will accept the reality of neoliberal politics dominating Britain and instead conform to a neoliberal agenda with a more compassionate tone.
It means accepting welfare cuts, tuition fees, low taxes and Trident; of course this will all be to a moderate extent compared to the Conservatives but ideologically, it’s obvious where New Labourites have aligned themselves. Their decision to shift to the right is devoid of any factual logic given that majority of the country opted against the Tories in the elections.
Labour lost six million voters to SNP and Green Party and four million to Ukip, yet there is increasingly a dogged refusal to accept that Ed Miliband was simply too uninspiring for millions who were frustrated with austerity. False reasoning about Labour’s failure isn’t simply coming from Blairites but also from the liberal left that has staunchly backed Andy Burnham. Their justification is that he can end factionalism within Labour and unite the country.
Yet the hundreds of thousands who have joined Labour have joined to hear Jeremy Corbyn. When he speaks, it is to overflowing rooms, in crowded streets and generally to an audience inspired and excited with a kind of hope that British politics had not produced in too long. People wait to hear him speak. There is huge admiration for everything he is and represents.
Those who say Corbyn is unelectable but insist Burnham is defy reason and evidence. Burnham simply seems like a bluer shade of Ed Miliband and represents the basic problem — another uninspiring centrist whose words don’t resonate with ordinary people.
And that is why many Blairites within Labour’s ranks cannot bear the sight of Corbyn. He is a reminder of their past, one that they are tied to irrevocably. He is reviving it and where they once dismissed him, now they cannot do so anymore.
Corbyn will be derided as a political dinosaur, reanimating the kind of politics that was supposed to be buried along with every other challenge to free-market dogma. For the likes of Burnham and Kendall, if Corbyn wins it is a strategic disaster because the media will come for Labour like wolves.
Labour is hurt, damaged by successive defeats, unable to calibrate an identity that appeals to people, too scared to turn left, too uncomfortable to shift too right, but thinking it’s the safer option. Corbyn represents the kind of hope they find too dangerous to entertain. They gave up and they’re irritated Corbyn didn’t.
Given some of the public currently demands fiscal credibility, low welfare and low taxes, imagining Corbyn as leader of Labour seems too toxic to the Blairites.
And so they resort to warnings, ominous apocalyptic messages of being doomed to the shadows of politics, forever watching on because of a dogmatic allegiance to a political identity that seems to be something of the past.
And when that fails, they’ll try to incorporate parts of his message. Burnham tried to showcase his “radical manifesto” that simply seemed like an attempt to take parts of what Corbyn offered and other things that basically came from Miliband.
So much for needing a fresh start. Corbyn provides a message that is inspiring in its sense of inclusiveness; he doesn’t alienate people and understands the need to speak to the young, minorities and the middle-class as well as workers on the minimum wage and zero-hours contracts.
Mostly he understands that the British public simply wants a fairer system, whether that comes about through welfare cuts or higher taxes on the rich. It depends on the execution of the message and right now he is providing one.
The New Labour adherents who despise Corbyn are afraid of fighting the Tories. They prefer to react and follow what the Tory media say. But they risk permanently alienating Scotland and liberal voters in England.
If this continues it is because Labour no longer understands why it exists when it scraps with the Tories instead of against them. This is not a party fighting for the people but fighting, confusedly, for an identity.
Corbyn will fight. His humbleness, modesty, courage and commitment to principles have infused people with hope of a fairer world. He does not make compromises that harm people for the sake of popularity with the media. When ordinary people disenfranchised with the political system bemoan the corruptness of it, Corbyn offers a fresh break from it.
If Tony Blair is the epitome of everything that went wrong with Labour, Corbyn is the symbol of everything that drew people originally to the party.