After 20 years outside the party, LIZ DAVIES explains how Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid has brought her back into the fold
I LEFT the Labour Party in 2001, after over 20 years of active membership. By 2001 the party’s direction was firmly neoliberal as the Blair government attacked single parents and asylum-seekers and privatised public services.
It wasn’t just the politics of the government. Blair had changed the party’s structures so that it was no longer even theoretically possible for a party member or constituency Labour Party to take a proposed policy change to conference.
I decided that the party’s embrace of neoliberal politics and top-down control meant that it was no longer the Labour Party I had joined, or wished to support. I’ve stuck to that view ever since, not least when Blair took Britain into an illegal and immoral war, ignoring the millions who marched in protest.
If the Labour leadership contest was solely between Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham, I would stay resolutely outside and a member of Left Unity.
Jeremy Corbyn running for leader has upset the mainstream consensus. I’ve known Jeremy for over 30 years, but it’s his politics that have got me back supporting the party. Since 1983, when he first entered Parliament, Jeremy has been a steadfast and fearless advocate for peace, international solidarity, human rights and what we now call anti-austerity.
Back in the ’80s he was pilloried for supporting causes that are now utterly mainstream: discussions with Sinn Fein, anti-apartheid protests. As the world celebrates the US Supreme Court’s decision that gay marriage is lawful across the US, it’s hard to believe that just 30 years ago, the mainstream derided lesbian and gay rights as “loony left.”
Jeremy was always principled in his support for lesbian and gay rights, at a time when other politicians ran a mile.
Whenever I’ve been on a CND march or anti-Trident protest, Jeremy has been there. Unilateral nuclear disarmament, again attacked vehemently in the 1980s as surrendering to the Russians, seems blindingly obvious these days, not least for the public money it would save.
Jeremy was a founding member of Stop the War; I remember his speech at the very first meeting, in late September 2001, at Friends’ Meeting House.
In 2013, he was awarded the Gandhi International Peace Award, a recognition of his stance against neocolonial wars, weapons of mass destruction and violence.
Jeremy’s internationalism has taken him to meetings of Dalit activists in India, to campaign in solidarity with Chavez’s government in Venezuela. He is supporting our comrades in Syriza as they justly resist the austerity and misery threatened by Europe’s political elites.
He campaigned for Pinochet to be held accountable for his crimes and has been working with Mexican activists for justice for the relatives of the “disappeared.”
He is pressing the government to bring forward proposals to outlaw caste discrimination in Britain. Above all, his support for Palestinian rights has been tireless. And throughout, he makes it clear that he believes in non-violence and human rights.
No other Labour leadership candidate addressed the End Austerity Now March two weeks ago. Unlike the Labour leadership, and the three other candidates for leader, Jeremy has consistently voted against the Tories’ punitive public spending cuts, including the benefit cap for individuals and the fixed cap on overall benefits.
Jeremy understands poverty, not least because his constituency of Islington North contains genuine deprivation, and it makes him angry. Calling for the right to buy for private rented tenants is a stroke of genius. New Labour and the Tories will scream “nationalisation.” But if housing associations can be forced to sell their stock, why not other private landlords? If nothing else, it would put an end to house prices being driven by speculative buy-to-let landlords.
Jeremy’s principles have carried him through the darkest days. In November 2001, Blair’s response to the September 11 atrocity was to rush indefinite detention without charge of so-called “suspected international terrorists” through Parliament. Only four Labour MPs (and three Tories) voted against. It was not an easy or populist stance.
Jeremy not only got the politics right, he got the law right. In 2005, the House of Lords struck down the measure as unlawful. While the record of New Labour and the Tories has been shameful on civil liberties, neither has tried indefinite detention without charge or trial again. And on other civil liberties measures, Jeremy has been consistent in his support for individual freedom, voting against ID cards and 40-day detention.
I’ve worked with Jeremy most recently while campaigning to save legal aid. And I’ve seen how Jeremy doesn’t just put his name to a cause, he really works at it. He supported lobbies, conferences, rallies and other events in defence of legal aid. He makes sure he understands the details. He got himself onto the justice committee, where he and John McDonnell interrogated government ministers and exposed the flaws in their arguments. All this, plus cycling, climate change and animal rights too.
The right responds scornfully, “Well, of course, he can’t win.” Why “of course”? Millions of people were disenfranchised in the general election because there was no mainstream anti-austerity party to vote for. Some voted Labour “holding their nose” as Polly Toynbee would put it.
Jeremy reaches out to those who could not bear to hold their nose. He’s a pretty successful politician electorally, having been re-elected with at least a 50 per cent share of the vote seven times in Islington North. The rush of support on social media testifies to his ability to reach out to constituencies who no longer support the Labour Party, but would do if he were leader.
The two largest groups of potential voters who do not vote are the young and the poor. Jeremy stands up for their rights and he can get them turning out to vote Labour. Will that put off other voters? Voters respond to politicians who are principled and don’t seem part of the “Westminster bubble.” Jeremy is just that. Sure, people who believe in low taxes or scapegoating migrants won’t vote Labour. Labour is never going to win an election competing for that vote.
A Corbyn-led Labour Party would not only engage with the millions of voters who are disenfranchised by the neoliberal consensus of what Tariq Ali calls the extreme centre of British politics. He will also help to create a mass movement for social justice to ensure that, once elected, the Labour Party is capable of challenging the hostile political forces and economic interests in the City, among large corporations and in Whitehall, which have in the past sought to undermine Labour governments.
So, I found myself clicking on supporters.labour.org.uk and I registered as a Labour supporter. Alternatively, you can text SUPPORT to 78555. The deadline is noon on August 12 2015. Do it. Help make British politics a better place and support Jeremy reaching out to voters that politicians traditionally ignore.
Liz Davies is a housing rights barrister. She writes this column in a personal capacity.