#Jezwecan – but only if we fight! Know-it-all lefty Seb Cooke checks out Corbynmania and looks to the battle ahead.
Off I went, 10 minutes to spare, to see the Corbyn circus roll into Cardiff. Get there early, everyone said, there‘ll be a queue outside! Will there, really? Haven’t you ever been to a left wing meeting in Cardiff before? There’ll be a half-filled room of familiar faces, a few ceremonial pats on the back and then we’ll all go home to bed, happy we can look at our smartphones without feeling guilty. This is what it’ll be like. Even though thousands have been packing out town halls in the last couple of weeks, Cardiff will be reliably dull. Don’t get your hopes up comrades, you’ll only be disappointed.
So there I was at 7 o’clock and barely able get in, let alone sit down. The 800-capacity hall in the very large hotel was bursting. Somebody, somewhere, was worrying about fire regulations, just not enough to order us out. I knew some people, but the familiar faces were in a significant minority. I asked a Socialist Worker-seller if they ever thought, after the election, they’d find themselves hanging around outside Labour party meetings again. ‘Ha ha, No!’ was the response.
In the foyer, the merchandise stall looked like it was doing a roaring trade. Red Labour balloons bobbed up and down. Some people already had their ‘Vote Jeremy’ T-Shirts on (they must have ordered them from the internet, I reckoned). Wait a minute, who the fuck is Jeremy Corbyn? I thought he was a politician, not an ageing rockstar!
Some of the old Labour left stalwarts hurrying about in their (slightly OTT / Crufts) red sashes looked overcome with excitement, like a 5-year-old watching the prezzies rack up at their B-day party. Who could blame them? I spoke to lots of these very people during the election campaign and most had come to accept that Ed Milliband was as good as it got in the Labour Party. Some vague chat about capping fuel-bill increases was the best that could be hoped for in what felt like a dying organisation. They hoped of an Ed Milliband government propped up by an insurgent SNP. He might not end austerity they said, but at least he’ll listen to us.
Even these pathetically timid hopes were destroyed on an election night of high drama and even higher trauma. Not only did the scummy Tories get their majority, but the Blairites suddenly appeared on the scene barely a minute after Ed Milliband had said his goodbyes and fucked off to Ibiza. There they were, the Demon Headmasters of the Noughties, ready to tell everyone to piss off and grow up and shut up and get back to singing Ewan McColl in their left wing desert because the swing voter in Nuneaton was now a Union-Jack-waving, aspirational, Bake-Off loving, Top-Gear-throbbing Tory who thinks poor people should have their head smashed in with a gavel if they’ve got more than a packet of Smash in their cupboard.
‘THIS. IS. THE. NEW. REALITY.’ they shouted as they got ready to take their throne (insert appropriate Game Of Thrones comparison here). The LRB published an article by Richard Seymour titled ‘Bye Bye Labour’, the intellectual equivalent of Nelson from the Simpson’s pointing ‘Ha ha’ at some kid who’s just fallen on their arse. In Scotland, they were wiped out from the left, with only Jim Murphy left hanging around still telling everyone who could be bothered to listen that he liked Irn Bru. Things were bleak. Three months later, standing in this packed-out hall, they aren’t any more. The Labour left is winning and doing so against their long-term enemy, who are very powerful and very rich and who have kicked them for a very long time. They know this and are smiling about it. Good on them, it’s about time.
But the movement building around Jeremy Corbyn is about more than a resurgent Labour left building its base back up. For those of us who have been outside Labour, and those suddenly signing up as supporters, this is our moment in the sun as well. The things that got huge cheers and applause last night weren’t the preserve of the Labour left or even the British left. They were issues that affect millions worldwide: unaffordable housing, insecure low-paid jobs, endless war, migrant deaths, the demonization of people in poverty, the erosion of the welfare state and climate change. There was a great moment when he spoke about developing everyone’s potential in society and how ‘there is an artist in every one of us’. For a moment we all started to dream. Hundreds of thousands have registered to vote in the leadership contest in recent weeks and days. The Labour website crashed under the pressure. Most of those signing up are desperate for an alternative, which Jeremy Corbyn is providing.
Anti-austerity movements have been growing and in some cases exploding across Europe for the last five years or so. It’s a general trend with local features, not the same in every country but similar elements. “Corbynmania” is part of this, and it’s happened from a place no one predicted. The rallies haven’t come out of nowhere: feeding into them is our recent history from the Independence Referendum to the mini “Green Surge” to the bedroom tax to the Focus E15 mothers to Russell Brand to the TUC marches to the Tube strikes to the People’s Assembly and so on.
It’s all here, and everyone who’s been part of these movements has a stake in what’s happening now with Jeremy Corbyn. Even the most anti-Labour sectarians (there were a few at the rally who looked like away supporters stuck with in the home end, not really able to cheer every goal but not really able to not cheer either) can’t help but gun for Corbyn. The scale of counter-attack shows how seriously a potential victory is being taken, and this has definitely galvanised support behind him. The sight of Tony Blair taking a break from his full time job of charging Satan for PR advice to abuse and insult Corbyn supporters and remind everyone of how much of a vote-winning Don he is is reason enough for most people to park their hang-ups with Labour and go all #Jezwecan.
A victory would be a huge deal, it would open up great opportunities and be the one of the biggest blows to the post-Thatcherite consensus we’ve seen. In or outside Labour, we must all fight for this to happen. It’s incredibly important.
But here comes the miserable know-it-all lefty cliché (apologies in advance folks): it can’t end there. It’s pointless going over every possible outcome, but we know that whatever happens, a Corbyn leadership would face a huge assault not just from the Labour right but the whole establishment. Every tool at our rulers‘ disposal will be used to crush him, possibly even before he’s won. We don’t need to get all theoretical to explain this: just look at Greece. What happened? What happened was people gave the clearest possible rejection of austerity on one of the biggest mandates in western society. The ordinary people of Greece told the Troika to Fuck Off in spectacular style. Then the EU elite went full Old Testament God on the people of Greece and the once-radical-left Syriza government was humiliated.
In the same way that we all celebrated the OXI result, we would all celebrate a Corbyn win (i.e in the pub, getting drunk and ahead of ourselves). But in the same way that the EU Troika didn’t just go ‘Yeah, fair play they won the vote, let’s ease off’ in Greece, the British establishment wouldn’t suddenly say of a Corbyn victory ‘Oh, he’s won, we’ll respect the vote and just grumble a bit’. It would be full on war; democracy doesn’t mean shit to these people when it starts fucking around with the important stuff like money. We’d be kidding ourselves if we think Corbyn will be allowed to stand at a general election, let alone win one. It will be all our responsibilty to defend him from this, not because of our obsession with the individual, but in defence of the kind of politics he represents.
But it’s also important that all the various movements that have flowed into Corbynmania don’t end there. They have to get stronger as a result, become more powerful, not less. Quite crucially, we have to fight for a Corbyn win to help break the deadlock on major strike action. There is a danger that people can get sucked into a fairly dead end of seeing a Jeremy victory as the end goal, or get dragged into defending the worst parts of the Labour party (as started to happen at the rally I attended). The point is that we’re here to stop the assault on our people, to stop the rich taking ever more at the expense of our kids and our services, to stop the endless bile of racism that spews from national news organisations, to stop our planet getting destroyed by billionaires heating their fucking pool in Mayfair, to stop rich tossers moving into our streets and opening up a pop-up where a women’s refuge centre used to be (and having the cheek to keep the name!).
We want to change the world, don’t we? That’s what we’re here for, that’s what it felt like the people I stood next to on Tuesday night were there for. Getting Jeremy elected is a step towards doing that. A step that should make us stronger, that has to make us stronger.