Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge to lead the UK Labour Party has electrified and inspired tens of thousands of people seeking an alternative to austerity. As we report in this issue of the Socialist, the size of Jeremy’s public meetings and the numbers of young people and trade unionists registering to vote in the leadership election all underline the huge support for left, socialist and anti-austerity ideas. Indeed despite the attempts by the Blairites – including Blair himself – and the capitalist media to portray Corbyn as “unelectable” and a “disaster for Labour” the polls show the opposite.
A YouGov poll for the London Evening Standard newspaper found that Corbyn was by far the most popular of all the candidates standing for the Labour leadership. 46% of Londoners thought he would make the best Labour leader, more than his right wing rivals Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper combined. The Survation poll for the TSSA rail trade union underlined this further. Among Ukip voters – many of whom are ex-Labour supporters – 39% preferred Jeremy as leader and 38% of Labour voters thought the same – the biggest share for any of the candidates. In all, a net 32% of voters said they were more likely to vote Labour if Corbyn was leader, way ahead of the others.
It is possible, perhaps even probable, that Jeremy Corbyn can win the Labour leadership election, given the numbers who have registered as Labour supporters in order to vote for him. If he is elected, or gets a big vote – which seems certain – the potential to build a new party of the left can be posed.
These seismic events are a reflection of the colossal vacuum to the left of the main capitalist parties in Britain. The long-delayed emergence of a new mass working class party, which the Socialist Party has been campaigning for many years, has created the “over-ripe” conditions for such a political development.
The response to Corbyn’s campaign has parallels with the outpouring of class anger that was seen during the independence referendum. The indyref was a revolt by big sections of the working class seeking an escape route from savage cuts and the economic crisis. Many of the issues that were present during the referendum have been reflected in Jeremy’s campaign. Indeed his public meetings in Scotland have been well attended: 300 in Aberdeen, 400 in Dundee, 500 in Edinburgh and 1,000 in Glasgow. Many of those attending were previously Labour Party members in the past when the party had a working class base and had a powerful left wing – before the expulsion of the Militant and the Blairite counter-revolution. Trade unionists were present, as were a good number of younger people. The Corbyn rallies in Scotland also attracted a layer of people who backed independence in the referendum.
There was also clearly a large mobilisation of those who voted No in the indyref, many as a result of a class-based instinctive opposition to nationalism. What was missing from the public meetings was the layers of the working class who had been radicalised through the independence referendum. To a large extent this is a consequence of the toxic brand that, for many, Labour has become in Scotland.
Labour’s hoped for recovery in Scotland will not be helped by the election of Kezia Dugdale as Labour’s new leader in Scotland. During her election campaign she came out in opposition to Corbyn, claiming his victory would leave Labour “carping on the sidelines. Mistakingly, there was no left candidate in the contest for the Scottish leader. The “no-choice” contest was reflected in the fact that fewer than 8,000 people voted in the election. Given the surge towards Corbyn, if there had been a left candidate they would very likely have won.
Jeremy puts forward many positive proposals that the Socialist Party Scotland supports. These include public ownership of the railways and the energy companies – which the SNP do not support – opposition to austerity and Trident, a house-building programme and rent control, no to privatisation and a programme of public investment.
His 10-point programme was unveiled in Scotland because “Scotland is one of several examples of how Labour has become disconnected.”
Overall, his platform stands to the left of the SNP. However, in his speeches in Scotland not once did Jeremy mention either the referendum or Labour’s disastrous decision to spearhead Project Fear alongside the toxic Tories. Indeed when questioned Jeremy made clear he supported the No position in the referendum because “unemployment and poverty affects all our communities from Dundee to Glasgow to London and Liverpool.”
Since then, and in an interview with the Herald newspaper, Jeremy has developed his opposition to the scandalous role played by Labour in the indyref. This is important, as Labour’s annihilation in Scotland was not only a product of its pro-big business, “austerity-lite” polices, but also its position on the national question. Jeremy should also reconsider his position on whether it was correct to have supported a No position in the referendum. Given that there is very likely to be growing demands for a second indyref in the years ahead, this could create a barrier to a layer of the working class in Scotland from participating in a left alternative that could emerge from this process.
In addition, Jeremy Corbyn has been largely silent on the role of Labour councillors and SNP MSPs and councillors and their implementation of Tory austerity. It’s vital that he comes out in support of councils and the Scottish Government in refusing to make a penny more of cuts as part of the building of a mass movement against austerity.
We would enthusiastically welcome a victory for Jeremy Corbyn as the new Labour leader. It is possible that such a development can lead to, effectively, a new party of the left emerging.
Even if he does not win we would urge him to use the support he has built around him to call a conference of his supporters, trade unions and socialist organisations to prepare the launching of a new party. Socialist Party Scotland and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition would participate in such a conference.
As long as such a formation takes a clear position on elected representatives refusing to make the cuts, develops towards adopting a socialist programme and, alongside this, a principled position on the national question in Scotland, it can mark a big step forward in the process of building a genuine political alternative for the working class majority.