I read this story with some incredulity: Labour Leadership Race ‘Should Be Halted’ – rather than welcoming new members, establishment Labour figures appear to be wanting to keep them out:
[Backbencher John] Mann told The Sunday Times that acting party leader Harriet Harman should step in, as speculation grows that 140,000 people may have joined the party since the General Election – just so they can vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
After last year’s Scottish independence referendum, which decided that Scotland should remain part of the UK (at least for the time being), the tremendous upsurge in political energy sparked by the referendum resulted in several of the key political parties in the former YesScotland campaign becoming much bigger. My own party, the Scottish Green Party, went from about 1,700 members to now well over 9,000, perhaps more – a five-to-six-fold increase. The other two key parties involved, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish National Party, also saw remarkable increases in their membership.
All three parties have welcomed their new members, and delighted in the increased popularity and influence this affords them, and they have been willing to change as a result of their new members. And increased membership brings obvious electoral success: without so many members and volunteers, it is unlikely that the SNP would have won 56 of the 59 Westminster seats in May, for example.
The Independent had an interesting article a few days ago showing that Jeremy Corbyn is not only the most popular leadership candidate amongst Labour members, but also amongst the population overall. He represents something that the other candidates, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham, do not: a clear understanding that the present neo-liberal agenda is not working, which is something that most people know, even if neo-liberal Labour do not. Corbyn offers Labour a chance at electoral success that the other right-wing candidates quite simply don’t: he could offer voters a Labour Party worth voting for. It’s not that there are not enough Labour voters in the UK, it’s that there’s not been enough Labour for most people to vote for.
The defeat of Labour in May and the resultant rise in membership as a decent leadership candidate emerges certainly has some parallels to the defeat of the Yes campaign in last year’s referendum and the subsequent rise of the defeated parties. If 140,000 people really have joined Labour recently (though how John Mann knows they’ve all joined in order to vote for Corbyn is not clear to me), that should be cause for the party leadership to be rejoicing.
Instead, what responses like Mann’s clearly show is that the establishment Labour Party is not interested in winning against the Tories, but would rather preserve its own self-interested and cosy position as part of the Tory-Labour duopoly at Westminister – which, incidentally, also explains why it struggles so much with the SNP. If the establishment Labour Party is allowed to get away with such anti-democratic measures as fixing the leadership election, or ousting Corbyn as soon as he’s elected, then they really are doomed in the rest of the UK (and not just in Scotland, where they won’t manage to defeat the SNP any time soon anyway, even if they elect Corbyn). What the inclusion of Corbyn in the leadership election has shown above all is that this leadership contest is really about the core identity of the Labour Party, and perhaps that explains why it is such a heated debate – the neoliberal right is aware that it faces a real threat to its dominance of not just the Conservative Party, but also that traditional party of the broad left, the Labour Party. The parallels to the Scottish independence referendum, the rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain all show that resistance to the neoliberal consensus is growing, and that is tremendously encouraging.
The Labour Party is not my party, but… you know… go, Jeremy, go, go, GO!!
PS Rather than exclude Corbyn supporters, perhaps what should be happening is that people like Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall should be excluded from the party for infiltrating an ostensibly left-wing party from the neoliberal right, thereby killing off the old hunger for winning elections in order to bring about change that benefits the people they supposedly represent…