DIANE ABBOTT MP says there is more than principle and respect for party rules at stake — the progressive politics Corbyn represents must be defended as well as the man himself
FIGHTING Jeremy Corbyn is a complete distraction from the fight against the Tories and Tory policies. Yet this is the path the current Labour leadership has chosen.
It may be no surprise that I think Corbyn and basic Labour Party democracy should be defended. Yet it is something of a surprise — to me at least — that there is not a mass chorus in his defence. Perhaps that will form in time.
The context for this latest attack is an important factor in understanding it, and in understanding how damaging it is. This country is facing the longest crisis of living standards since records began — and the government’s answer to the failure of austerity is to double down on it. This is after their catastrophic response to the pandemic which has left well over a quarter of a million people dead and many more living with serious long-term conditions.
We are also now at war, engaged in a lethal conflict where both sides have nuclear weapons. There are multiple social crises in this country, increasing poverty, rising crime, a massive strike wave consciously provoked by government ministers as well as collapsing public services. We also face a climate catastrophe which is only deepening.
Yet the current Labour leader has made headlines not by attacking the Tories and their policies on any of these, but by attacking his predecessor, who remains a Labour member.
It is undoubtedly true that the headlines were favourable from the anti-Labour press; commentators who have never supported Labour and never will, strongly welcomed Keir Starmer’s intervention. But the oligarch-owned press’s appetite for Labour’s internal divisions only grows with feeding. It can never be satisfied.
And even within that praise, there was some sober assessment. On the same day that the Times carried an article by Starmer, its main editorial, entitled Gloves off, said, “The Labour leader has been admirably clear in condemning anti-semitism in his party but he will need to be equally detailed in his election promises.”
So, even according to his supporters in the Murdoch press, it is clear that Starmer is fighting the left, and has detailed policies to do so, but equally clear that he has neither the fight nor the policies to take on the Tories. As a result, all the impositions on ordinary people, all the draconian legislation being enacted and all the disastrous outcomes for our public services go unchallenged.
Instead, we are on a never-ending rollercoaster of attacks on Corbyn in particular and the left in general. This cannot go unanswered.
Starmer told reporters multiple times that Corbyn would not be allowed back as a Labour MP. The BBC reports him saying, “What I said about the party changing, I meant, and we are not going back, and that is why Corbyn will not stand as a Labour candidate at the next general election.”
The first point worth emphasising to rebut this position is that is not in the Labour leader’s gift to determine who is selected to be Labour’s candidate at the next election, or in any election. In this case, as a Labour Party member, Corbyn is entitled to be selected by his constituency as the party’s candidate in the election. But that is for the members of Islington North Constituency Labour Party to decide, no-one else.
Any other approach is outside of the party rule book. Because if the apparatus can override the rules, they are not really rules at all, but guidelines at best, which can be rejected at whim. It would trample on the democracy of our party.
It would also contravene any form of natural justice, by denying an individual the right to the proper procedures in disciplinary matters and due process. It also denies the collective rights of the members. A human rights lawyer like Starmer should know this.
This is the single most important point in defence of Corbyn — that all attempts to block or bar him in this way are anti-democratic and do not conform to Labour’s rules.
Even so, recent practice does not suggest that this will be a water-tight defence. The party apparatus has taken control of the process of both creating the long list and shortlist for potential candidates. No rules have been changed, it has just been a takeover which has excluded leading left activists and local favourites.
At the same time, there is also the suggestion that Corbyn could be barred by being declared someone who is unfit to be a Labour candidate. This could be done by a body of the party which supports the current leadership. It should be clear that there is a great determination to exclude Corbyn.
Partly as a result, there is also a political defence of Corbyn and Corbynism which should be made. This is not simply the argument that this attack on the left and its key leader is a gift to our opponents and a complete distraction from taking the political fight to them. Both of these arguments are valid.
There is a more fundamental argument in Corbyn’s favour, which is crucial in the current period.
The depth of current crises means that steady-as-she-goes politics is not going to work. 2023 and 2024 are not the same as 1997. The parallel with a rotten, corrupt Tory government that had spent far too long in office is of course correct. But the economic and political context is completely different.
In 1997 GDP growth touched 4.4 per cent, which seems extravagantly large by current standards, where perma-stagnation has set in. At the same time, consumer price inflation was 1.8 per cent. This combination spelt rising prosperity which was essentially uninterrupted until the Global Financial Crisis ten years later.
Official forecasts point to a completely different economic outcome over the next several years. This will only deepen the fall in living standards and all the social crises already mentioned. In response muddling through simply will not work.
Radical solutions will be required which defend the interests of ordinary people and offer a way out of the crisis. This can be called Corbynism; the label is immaterial. But there is an absolute need for these solutions and all their leading advocates.
Diane Abbott is MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.