While sneering journalists have confined themselves to Westminster’s walls, Corbyn has built a profile within global movements against injustices like war and apartheid, remembers SOLOMON HUGHES
PRESS coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign has an undercurrent of: “How did this nobody do so well?”
This shows that Britain’s political reporters are really Westminster reporters. The politics which transformed our country came from below, but our reporters spend most of their time looking for small changes at the top. And when the rank and file intrude, they seem a bit cross.
So Toby Helm, political editor of the Observer, wrote about Corbyn’s “transformation in six weeks from uncelebrated left-wing rebel whom no-one outside Islington was very interested in, into the hottest ticket in UK politics”.
Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, was sneerier. He wrote: “Three months ago, when Corbyn was deemed to be little more than a stubborn, if principled, relic of Benn-era Labour politics, he would have been an unlikely candidate for a New Statesman interview, so predictable seemed his oppositionism and so complete his irrelevance.”
Now I’m not sure who “deemed” Corbyn irrelevant, or even who says “deemed” in real life. Maybe some kind of national “deeming” committee meets at the New Statesman. But saying he has no impact outside Islington, or was a complete irrelevance, reflects badly on the New Statesman and the Observer, not Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn didn’t have a top position in the Blair government, like some of the giants the New Statesman does interview — men of incredible stature like Chris Leslie and Tristram Hunt — but he does have a national profile reaching way beyond Islington.
We have all been surprised by the degree to which Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign has taken off. It’s hard to predict which left-wing campaigns get legs and which don’t. But anyone who has been around a few years knows grassroots left-wing movements can get very big. And the ones that do often involve Corbyn.
When Thatcher was inviting apartheid’s leaders into Downing Street and calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist, Corbyn was deeply involved in the anti-apartheid protest, getting arrested in Traflagar Square for his efforts. Britain’s Anti-Apartheid Movement was big and made a small but important contribution to the victory over South Africa’s racist state.
Corbyn was deeply involved in the anti-poll tax campaign. He refused to pay the tax, facing the possibility of jail. He helped organise the protests which both ended the poll tax and Thatcher’s rule. So when Neil Kinnock was uselessly flailing against Thatcher, Corbyn was helping lead the campaign that did her and her law in.
Corbyn campaigned — both inside and outside Parliament — to keep “fringe” causes alive that then became the mainstream, from supporting gay rights to opposing ID cards. Most recently he helped lead the Stop the War Coalition, which was huge. It couldn’t stop the Iraq war, but it hastened the exit of Tony Blair.
So the press want to say that Corbyn was until recently a nobody. But he was actually a national politician involved in campaigns that were often big and successful, along with others that were defeated.
“Political” reporters stick to Westminster for mixed reasons — it’s easier, it’s familiar. Sometimes it fits their snobbishness. Unfortunately a lot of Labour’s politicians have come to think the same way. They think elections happen in the media and politics in Westminster. But the whole story of the labour movement and the Labour Party has been a transformation from the outside. Trade unions grew massively in the 20th century. The Labour Party’s election followed their growth. These essentially grassroots movements have transformed society, changing both the workplace and bringing in the welfare state. What we think of as “normal” now was made by vast transformations by movements from below.
Occasionally mainstream media gets a sense of its narrowness, worrying about the “Westminster bubble.” Except they seem to think that the only life outside this bubble is a middle-aged angry white man eating a Fray Bentos pie and toying with voting Ukip, who needs to be placated.
Corbyn’s Labour leadership is bringing the grassroots activity that has been going on for years outside the Labour mainstream back to the centre of the party in a way we haven’t seen for decades. A lot of journalists, and a lot of Labour politicians, not only don’t like it, they seem genuinely confused to see it happen.
NEWLY elected Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said he wanted the party to oppose Tory plans that mean “people who are in work — these hardworking families politicians talk about — are poorer”
But a small timed device left by one of his fellow Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, just went off, taking away £400 million of workers’ holiday pay. The device, a “Statutory Instrument” passed last year, came into force on July 1 2015, shortly before Farron’s election.
The “deduction from wages (limitation) regulations” were, according to the “explanatory memorandum,” okayed by “Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment Relations,” Jo Swinson. Swinson was one of the Lib Dem ministers supposedly blunting the sharp edge of Toryism in the coalition.
Swinson’s rule follows an employment tribunal case where Scottish road workers won back holiday pay they were owed.
Their employer, a firm called Bear Scotland, tried and failed to get the decision overturned on appeal.
Two other big engineering firms — Amec and Dutch multinational Hertel — fought similar cases and lost. Because the workers won their unpaid holiday pay, Swinson backed rules stopping any more workers reclaiming more than two years’ back pay. The rule accepts this is “holiday pay to which they are entitled,” but limits claims to just two years because Swinson thought “reducing the costs on business” more important.
Most legal commentators think the rule goes further and stops all claims for “unauthorised deductions of wages” going back beyond two years. Previously a limit of six years was the norm. The government expects to reduce “costs” on business “by an estimated £400 million”.
Put another way, Swinson’s rule will stop workers getting £400m of holiday pay they are rightly owed.
By using a sneaky “statutory instrument,” Swinson avoided proper consultation. The government said that while it “would usually consult before making changes to employment legislation, in this instance, the government considers it is essential to act swiftly to limit potential costs to business, and so a formal consultation has not been conducted.” Instead of a proper consultation “a business taskforce was established and has met several times.” So before taking millions of holiday pay from workers, the government didn’t consult, but did have loads of meetings with businessmen.
Farron denounced the government for “redistributing he damage caused by the financial crash towards the poor and away from the rich,” but he needs to direct some of that anger at his own party.