The Corbyn revolution: What does it mean and where is it going? – Part One
For a very long time British politics has resembled a stagnant pond. With the election of Jeremy Corbyn in a landslide victory it felt as if a huge stone had been thrown into it, making gigantic waves that have transformed the entire political landscape. But not everyone is pleased. Even before he was elected, Jeremy Corbyn faced an orchestrated campaign of vilification that in sheer viciousness and intensity has no precedent in recent British politics. Day in, day out, the public is subjected to a deafening cacophony in which the howling of the wolves is accompanied by the snarling of the dogs and the hissing of the snakes.
In this campaign of defamation no insult is too gross, no smear too impudent, stupid or ridiculous to be repeated, amplified and elaborated a thousand times. From the hack journalists crawling in the Murdoch sewer to the sleeker reptiles of the “quality” press whose insults and lies are like arsenic dipped in a solution of saccharine, from the jeering toffs of the Tory Front Benches to the spiteful, hate-filled bile of the Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Unflattering photos of the “Bearded One” appeared in the press together with such reassuring headlines as: “Corbyn’s bid to turn Britain into Zimbabwe” and “The terrorists’ friend” or even “How Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the prospect of an asteroid ‘wiping out’ humanity…” All that is missing is to accuse him of being responsible for the Bubonic plague – and that will no doubt follow in the fullness of time.
Corbyn’s victory was entirely unexpected to the self-styled “political experts”. The commentators, editorial writers and spin doctors were left with their mouths open. And it shook the Establishment to the core. It is unthinkable that the Establishment would dedicate such an inordinate amount of time, money and effort to destroy the reputation of a man it considered as a political irrelevance. Behind all this barrage of bile and bluster one detects a note of fear, of panic even.
Crisis of capitalism
How could such a thing happen? Theory as Trotsky explained is the superiority of foresight over astonishment. The astonishment of the bourgeois politicians and their shadows in the Labour leadership showed just how far out of touch they are. Sitting in the comfort of their Westminster hot-house they are as far removed from the reality of the lives of ordinary people as Pluto is from planet Earth.
The real reason must be found not in this or that person, but in the crisis of the capitalist system itself. The financial meltdown of 2008 triggered the deepest crisis in the history of capitalism. And seven years later, despite all the empty talk of “green shoots”, they are nowhere nearer to finding a way out. Larry Summers speaks of “secular stagnation.” Alan Greenspan has admitted “we don’t know what to do about the crisis as we’ve never seen anything like it”.
The bourgeois economists are now predicting a new phase of capitalism - a “new normality,” a new mode of existence of capitalism characterised by a long period of stagnant economic growth, massive unemployment and falling living standards. Every government is carrying out austerity policies that signify brutal attacks on the working class, the middle class and the poorest and most defenseless people. These attacks are not “ideologically motivated” as the left reformists claim. They are the inevitable result of the fact that the capitalist system has reached its limits.
It is not just that the capitalist system cannot afford any new reforms. It cannot tolerate the existence of those reforms that were conquered by the working class over the past fifty years. The crisis of capitalism therefore signifies the crisis of reformism. In the past, when the capitalist system was growing, the reformist parties were able to give concessions that served to ameliorate the class struggle and give capitalism a certain degree of stability. Now all that is finished. Instead of reforms we have counter reforms. This is a finished recipe for turbulence and instability.
We have explained many times that every attempt of the bourgeoisie to restore the economic equilibrium will destroy the social and political equilibrium. And that is precisely what is happening on a world scale. A very prolonged economic recession creates economic hardship and disturbs the old equilibriums. The old certainties vanish and there is a universal questioning of the status quo, its values and ideologies.
All across Europe people are waking up to the fact that that the policies of austerity are not merely a temporary adjustment but a permanent attack on living standards. In countries such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland these policies have already resulted in deep cuts in nominal wages and pensions without having solved the problem of the deficit. Thus, all the sufferings and privations of the people have been in vain. Everywhere the poor are poorer and the rich are richer.
But here we are faced with what seems at first sight to be an inexplicable paradox. Until recently the bankers and capitalists were congratulating themselves on having passed through the deepest crisis in history without provoking a revolution. This surprising outcome led them into a sense of smug complacency that was as misplaced as it was stupid.
The main problem for these people is that they lack even the most elementary understanding of dialectics, which explains that everything sooner or later changes into its opposite. Beneath the surface of apparent calm, there is a growing anger against political elites: against the rich, the powerful and the privileged. This reaction against the status quo contains the embryonic seeds of revolutionary developments.
It is an elementary proposition of dialectical materialism that human consciousness always lags behind events. But sooner or later it catches up with a bang. That is precisely what a revolution is. And what we are witnessing in Britain is the beginning of a political revolution. Overnight the entire equation has been transformed. That itself is a symptom of profound changes that are taking place in society. Sharp turns and sudden changes are implicit in the present situation.
Looking for a way out of the crisis, the masses put one party after another to the test. The old leaders and programmes are judged and discarded. Those parties that are elected and betray the hopes of the people, carrying out cuts in violation of election promises, find themselves rapidly discredited. The pendulum swings sharply to the Left. That is the real explanation of what has become known as the Corbyn revolution.
Sharp and sudden changes
This is an international phenomenon. In France, where the Socialist Party swept the board in the last election, Francois Hollande now has the lowest approval rate of any President since 1958. In Greece we saw the collapse of Pasok and the rise of Syriza. In Spain we have the rise of Podemos. All this is an expression of the deep discontent that exists in society and is seeking a political expression.
In Spain, in 2011, we had the apparent paradox of a right-wing government being elected at a time of mass unemployment. The explanation for this lies in the fact that the previous “left” government of the Socialist Party (PSOE) carried out a policy of cuts that disappointed the masses and led inevitably to the victory of the Popular Party. But now we see the opposite process with the rise of Podemos, which grew from nothing to a movement of hundreds of thousands in the space of 18 months. There is ferment and a process of radicalisation in Spain that is still developing.
It is true that the ideas of the leaders of Podemos are confused and unclear. But that corresponds to the existing state of consciousness of the masses, who are only just awakening to political life, and therefore did not prevent Podemos from growing, at least in the initial period. However, if it is not corrected this lack of clarity can ultimately destroy Podemos. Very soon it will have to decide where it stands and in which direction it intends to go.
We see the same process taking place in Ireland in the recent referendum. For centuries, Ireland was one of the most Catholic countries in Europe. Not long ago, the Church held absolute dominion over every aspect of life. The result of the referendum on gay marriage, where 62% voted Yes, was a stunning blow to the Roman Catholic Church. It was a massive protest against its power and interference in politics and in people’s lives. This represented a fundamental change in Irish society.
Even in the USA the emergence of Bernie Sanders as a challenger for the Democratic nomination for presidential is a symptom of profound discontent and ferment in society. His attacks against the billionaire class and his call for a “political revolution” resonate with millions of people, as tens of thousands attend his rallies. The word “socialism” is now used more frequently in the mainstream media. A 2011 poll found that 49% of those aged 18 to 29 had a positive view of socialism, versus only 47% with a positive view of capitalism. A more recent poll, from June 2014, found that 47% of Americans would vote for a socialist, with 69% of those under 30 in favour. This is a clear sign that something is changing in America.
All these events are a reflection of a profound change that is taking place in the depths of society. It was very well described by Trotsky as the molecular process of socialist revolution: a process in which a series of small changes gradually accumulate until it reaches that critical point when quantity changes into quality.
Necessity and accident
It cannot be said that the Corbyn phenomenon was completely without precedent in this country. There is a general and deep seated sense of economic malaise in British society. But it lacked a vehicle that is capable of giving it an organised expression. We already had a warning of what was about to happen in Scotland thanks to the September 2014 referendum. That was yet another sharp and sudden change that no one expected.
The Scottish result in the subsequent general election in May was a political earthquake. This was not a movement to the right but to the left. It was not the expression of nationalism but of a burning hatred of the effete elite that rules in Westminster. The SNP stood on an anti-Tory, anti-austerity programme, not the programme of independence. The Labour Party, as a result of the cowardly class collaborationist policies of its leaders, was seen as just part of that Establishment. As a result, Labour, which had dominated Scottish politics for decades, was wiped out, with just one MP left in the whole of Scotland.
However, while in Scotland there was a revival of political life in the referendum campaign and then the general election, south of the border everything seemed to be calm. Here the general election was a case of “business as usual”, with the Tories, Liberals and Labour leaders vying to show everyone what little difference there was between them (this is known in the trade as “fighting for the Middle Ground”). Consequently, the general mood was one of resigned apathy.
By all the laws Labour should have won the May general election. The Tories and Liberals had been carrying out an unpopular programme of cuts and austerity. Yet the right-wing Labour leadership succeeded in losing the election. Many Labour supporters saw no real difference between the parties and therefore no compelling need to vote.
The blame for the Labour Party’s electoral catastrophe must be laid squarely at the door of Labour’s Blairite right-wing leaders – the very men and women who now have the brazen audacity to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of being “unelectable”! This electoral disaster led to the immediate resignation of the pathetic Labour leader Ed Miliband and a leadership election in which each one of the candidates who declared was more right wing than the last.
The Blairites were euphoric. They made no secret of their wish to drag the Labour Party even further down the road that had recently lost the election. They argued that Labour had lost because it was not sufficiently friendly to Business and “not aspirational enough.” That could not be said of any of these proposed new candidates, who were extremely friendly to business and moreover highly aspirational – for themselves.
Where did the Labour Left feature in all of this? It did not feature at all. Initially, they could not even agree on a candidate to put forward. Only at the eleventh hour did they finally decide to put forward Jeremy Corbyn, and even then they had no hope that he could ever win. It was extremely doubtful if he could get enough votes in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to get on the ballot. With great effort they managed to scrape together 17 votes, but 35 were needed. In the end they secured the remaining votes which were “borrowed” from right-wing MPs on the grounds that this would broaden the debate. It certainly did, and the result was not at all to their liking.
The reason why a number of right-wing MPs agreed to give their backing to Jeremy Corbyn’s candidature was that they were fully convinced that he did not stand a cat’s chance in hell of succeeding. Like all the rest of the right-wing clique that dominates the PLP they had completely misjudged the real mood in society. By the time they found out their mistake, it was too late. They were left tearing their hair with rage. Tony Blair’s advisor John McTernan described those Labour MPs who supported Corbyn as “morons”, a description with which at least one of them (Margaret Beckett) publicly agreed.
Hegel explained that necessity expresses itself through accident. The fact that Corbyn managed to get his name on the leadership ballot falls under the philosophical category of accident – that is, something that might or might not have occurred. But once this had happened, it transformed the whole situation. From his very first appearance in a television debate Jeremy stood out clearly in comparison with the other candidates. He stood for something different, fresher, more honest, more radical and more in tune with the real aspirations of millions of people, who were fed up with the stale old message of the Merchants of the “Middle Ground”.
The real mood in society was shown by the immediate reaction to the result of the general election in May. Within 48 hours, thousands of young people came out onto the streets in spontaneous demonstrations. In June, this culminated in a 250,000-strong anti-austerity demonstration of workers and youth at which Corbyn spoke. The youth has been the layer of society hardest hit by the crisis. They fervently desire a change in the whole system. Corbyn’s campaign rapidly gained momentum among these radicalised layers.
It was this ferment of discontent outside the ranks of the Party that fuelled the Corbyn campaign. Here again, accident played a role. So out of touch were the Labour Barons with the real mood of society that they decided to change the rules and throw open the leadership election to anybody who paid the princely sum of three pounds to become a Labour Supporter. This change was part of a long-term Blairite strategy that aimed to dissolve the Labour Party into the amorphous mass of Labour voters. In this way they hoped to drown the minority of Labour activists (who were believed to be more to the left) in a sea of unorganised people (who were assumed to be more “moderate”).
That was yet another serious miscalculation. It soon became evident that the masses were far more radical than many Labour Party activists. Thousands of people signed up to vote for Corbyn. Before the general election there was little or no life in the Labour Party. But the Corbyn campaign transformed the situation. It was precisely the catalyst that was needed to act as a rallying point for all the accumulated discontent in society that had until then not found any point of reference, and least of all in the right-wing dominated Labour Party.
Like the zombies that rise from the grave in bad Horror B-movies, the so-called Labour grandees dutifully crawled out from under their stones to heap imprecations on the head of Jeremy Corbyn. Blair himself intervened, calling Corbyn a “reactionary” (that was one of the kinder epithets) and stating his supporters needed a “head transplant”. But the interventions by the man who took Britain into the disastrous Iraq war despite massive popular opposition did more to help than hinder Corbyn.
The Labour Party machine, which remains firmly in the grip of the right wing, was and remains bitterly hostile to Corbyn. It fears the new influx of radical young members as the devil fears holy water. Mark Steel expressed this very wittily when he wrote in The Guardian:
“It is easy to see why those in charge of the Labour Party are so depressed. They must sit in their office crying: ‘Hundreds of thousands of people want to join us. It’s a disaster. And loads of them are young and full of energy, and they’re really enthusiastic. Oh my God, why has it all gone so miserably wrong?’”
The surge in interest in the Labour Party continued to grow, despite the frantic efforts of the Party machine to prevent left wingers from joining through arbitrary selection, amounting to a wholesale purge. But all these manoeuvres came to nothing. Jeremy Corbyn was elected in a landslide victory that astonished all the political pundits and stunned the Blairites. This radically altered the balance of forces in the Labour party and opens up an entirely different perspective.
The conspiracy against Corbyn
Even before Corbyn was elected the Blairites made no secret of their plans to oust him by one means or another. The only question was how long that operation would take: days, weeks or months? These elements really have nothing in common with the Labour Party or the working class. They are middle class interlopers, careerists and carpetbaggers who, under the pretext of “occupying the centre ground”, have kidnapped the Party and pushed it far to the right.
To every Tory attack on welfare, living standards and workers’ rights alleging the need to cut the deficit, the Blairites immediately shout “Me too!” Therefore people saw little or no difference between right-wing Labour and the Tories and Liberals. It is this and not any “drift to the Left”, that explains the collapse of Labour’s support and its drubbing at the last general election and its humiliating collapse in Scotland – a region where Labour for decades had enjoyed what looked like an impregnable position.
No sooner had the cheering died down after Corbyn’s extraordinary triumph when the daggers were out. Plots were hatched to get rid of the newly elected Leader. The only snag was that the size of Corbyn’s majority meant that an immediate coup was now out of the question. The Blairites decided to bide their time, hoping that the new Leader would be discredited and doing their best to make this happen.
In a naïve attempt to pacify the Blairites, Corbyn gave them positions on Labour’s shadow cabinet, from which they make outrageous demands on the elected leadership, while systematically undermining Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell at every step. The right-wing elements in the shadow cabinet are waiting for an opportunity to betray the Leader and remove him. But by tolerating the presence of such treacherous elements, you will not make a split any less likely, but quite the opposite.
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn publicly contradicted his Leader when he insisted the Party would not “endanger national security” by pulling out of NATO or voting to scrap Britain’s nuclear deterrent, Trident. Every serious person knows that “Britain’s nuclear deterrent” is a joke. Trident is just a piece of useless scrap metal that deters nobody and adds a huge amount to the very same deficit that the Tories and their Blairite stooges say they are keen to reduce. It is another expensive toy for the generals to play with at the taxpayers’ expense.
The economic costs of keeping Trident add up to over £100 billion over the next 15 years, or £6.6 billion every year. For the same amount, the government could invest in 30,000 more health visitors; 30,000 more teachers; 600 Sure Start centres; 25,000 new council houses per year; solar energy for 700,000 council houses. And this would still leave an additional billion pounds available for military expenditure, if that were desired.
Britain’s so-called nuclear deterrent was already useless in the days of the Cold War. It is a hundred times more useless under modern conditions when the nature of warfare has changed radically. Let us remind ourselves that the terrorists who blew up the World Trade Centre did so with weapons no more expensive and sophisticated than knives and box cutters. And in what way Trident can act as a deterrent to ISIS is a mystery known only to Mr. Benn and his pals in the General Staff.
The actions of Hilary Benn and the other right-wing members of the shadow cabinet and PLP constitute blatant sabotage. How can such people be allowed to remain in the shadow cabinet when their views are diametrically opposed to that of the democratically elected leadership? The prior condition for a Labour victory is the complete removal of the Fifth Column from every position it holds in the Party – beginning with the shadow cabinet.
The “Fiscal Charter”
The sabotage of the right wing was revealed in a blatant way over the so-called fiscal charter. This Tory measure would force the government to run a budget surplus within three years during “normal times” (whatever that might mean). Osborne obviously intended this as a trap for Labour. The Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party [PLP] fell over themselves in their eagerness to jump into it.
How could such a decision be squared with Jeremy Corbyn’s oft-repeated (and correct) pledge to oppose austerity and defend the welfare state? Yet when Corbyn instructed Labour MPs to vote against the proposal, the Blairites organised a revolt. A rowdy ambush of the Leader in a meeting of the PLP was carefully coordinated with a series of public attacks on the leadership in the media. 21 Labour MPs then abstained in the Commons vote, giving support to the Tories. There was, of course, nothing spontaneous about all this. It was all stage managed to produce maximum effect and inflict the maximum damage on the Labour Party and its Leader.
Right and left reformism
The whole history of the Labour Party shows that the right wing always acts in an implacable and determined manner in its fight against the left. The reason for this is that they feel the support of the ruling class, whose interests they defend, and the mass media which is nothing more than the mouthpiece of that class. These people have no interest in principles, theories or ideology. They are motivated purely and simply by their privileges, incomes and careers. When these are threatened they react with predictable ferocity and will fight to the bitter end.
By contrast, the Labour Lefts, or left reformists, often show weakness and indecision. They attempt to placate the right wing with constant appeals for unity – appeals which are always met with hostility and derision by the other side. At bottom, the reason for this lack of firmness of the left reformists is their lack of political clarity and a strong, revolutionary ideology. In the same way that left reformists believe that it is possible to act in the interests of the working class without abolishing the rule of the bankers and capitalists, so they have the illusion that it is possible to arrive at peaceful coexistence with the right-wing agents of the bankers and capitalists inside the Labour Party. They are profoundly mistaken in both cases.
The “Moderates” (that is the Right) are terrified that that the pro-Corbyn Momentum group will be a vehicle for carrying out the deselection of MPs. That is something that is absolutely correct and necessary. Yet the leaders of Momentum deny that this is their intention. Why? The right makes no secret of their intention to remove Jeremy Corbyn. Yet the Left continues to protest its eagerness to collaborate with the people who wish to destroy it. This makes no sense whatsoever.
Deselected Labour MPs will not hesitate to stand against Labour candidates, as Frank Field advocated, which will split the Labour vote and allow the Tories to win. In this way they will show their true colours as enemies of Labour and conscious agents of the ruling class. This can happen in a series of by-elections even before the next general election, as the next stage in the campaign to discredit and remove Jeremy Corbyn before he has the chance to become Prime Minister. That, at least in theory, would be their intention. In practice, however, it will not be so easy.
Labour’s right is straining every muscle to bring about a Labour defeat. They constantly harp on the idea that Jeremy Corbyn is “unelectable”, conveniently overlooking the fact that they themselves have led Labour to one defeat after another. Above all, they hope that Labour will suffer a setback in the devolved and local elections next May. That would be the signal for an all-out assault on the leadership. Simon Danczuk, one of Corbyn’s most vitriolic internal critics in the PLP, said he would then seek to force a new leadership contest standing as a “stalking horse” in order to pave the way for other Blairites such as Chuka Umunna, Dan Jarvis or Emma Reynolds to mount a challenge and “give us some chance of winning the next general election”.
What was the Left’s response to this blatant provocation? When he was asked to comment on Danczuk’s threat, the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, merely dismissed it as “Simon being Simon”. Appearing on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: “We are opposing any threat to individual MPs. We are not in favour of reselection. The democratic processes in the Labour position will take place in the normal way. There is no way we will allow MPs to be deselected in that way. We will work together on this.”
No doubt when Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell appeal to the Blairites for unity and solidarity they are acting with the best of intentions. But the attempts to conciliate the right wing have the opposite effect to what is intend. Right-wingers like Chuka Umunna and Emma Reynolds have made vicious attacks on the leadership. John Mann openly attacked McDonnell’s handling of the fiscal charter, calling it “clumsily and stupidly” done, adding: “I do hope he’s learnt his lesson.”
We also hope the same thing. We fervently hope that Jeremy and John will learn the most important lesson of all: that it is impossible to achieve genuine unity with right-wing Blairites who are constantly plotting to overthrow you. Far from placating the right and persuading the Blairites to cease their aggressive campaign, the impression is given of weakness. The Labour Right has declared war on the Left and in warfare weakness always invites aggression.
A right-wing faction, with the comical misnomer “Labour Together”, has been set up by Jon Cruddas, Ed Miliband’s former chief policy adviser, who believes that the Party’s general election defeat was caused by the fact that it was “too anti-austerity”. Cruddas is one of those right-wing MPs who, out of the goodness of their hearts, “to broaden the debate” (and because they believed he had no chance of ever winning) lent his signature to allow Corbyn’s name to appear on the ballot paper for Party Leader.
Like so many other kind souls in the PLP, he now repents of his generosity and wishes to form a grouping that will ensure the party builds “a broad coalition of support”, which will naturally be necessary to enable a future Labour government to inflict further deep cuts on the people who voted for it.
This new anti-Corbyn faction, which includes Shadow Energy Secretary Lisa Nandy, MP Steve Reed and the leaders of Leeds and Newcastle councils, claims it will “work with members who supported any of the four leadership candidates and with organisations across the spectrum of Labour”.
This is a thinly-veiled right-wing gang pledged to overthrow the democratically elected Leader and drag Labour to the right. But when Jeremy Corbyn was asked his opinion of the new group he was quoted as saying: “I welcome Labour Together as a good initiative that explores a new kind of way to do politics. I am looking forward to working with them.”
In the latest of a series of articles denigrating Corbyn in the arch-Tory Mail on Sunday, Danczuk, a regular columnist, said Corbyn was guilty of “a profound lack of judgment and naivety” and was “on such a short ideological tether he’s never going to reach out beyond activists”. Jeremy called his recalcitrant critic in for talks to discuss their differences. Danczuk recalls with tears in his eyes that the meeting was “warm, well-meaning and sincere” with a “refreshing openness”.
But immediately after these reassuring platitudes, Danczuk stuck in the poisoned dagger: “unfortunately, politics is about much more than that. And as someone who desperately wants a Labour government, we need a leader who can win a general election, not Parliamentary Beard of the Year. He is unsuited to leading a major political party and the sooner we get a Labour leader who is the better.” Clearer than that it is impossible to be.
How many times since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader has he made appeals to these elements to collaborate with him and work together in the interests of Party unity? How many times have both he and John McDonnell invited them to serve in the shadow cabinet? We believe the honest answer is: too many times. And what has the answer been? Jeremy Corbyn offers them his hand and they spit in his face. With people like that there can be no question of collaboration.
No compromise is possible in the battle with the Blairite Fifth Column. It is impossible for Labour’s Right and Left to coexist for any length of time for the simple reason that they represent antagonistic and incompatible class interests. Sooner or later one side must win and the other side must lose. But whereas the Lefts are sincerely concerned about the future of the Labour Party, its unity and its wellbeing, the right-wing carpetbaggers have no such scruples.
The leaders of the Corbyn campaign have begun to take tentative steps in that direction through the establishment of Momentum. This is to be wholeheartedly supported by all those who are fighting for a genuinely democratic and socialist Labour Party. However, if the fight is to be successful, it must be carried out to the end. We must understand that the moment the right-wing MPs see that they can lose their cherished seats in Parliament, they will not hesitate to organise a split with the full support of the capitalist media.
The role of Tom Watson
Tom Watson was elected Deputy Leader on the back of the Corbyn campaign. He was presented as a “Left”, despite the fact that his past record provides little or no evidence for such a claim. Rather, he is a man of the Labour machine, a bureaucrat, a professional apparatchik, well versed in the black arts of intrigue and manoeuvring. He is also very close to the trade union bureaucracy that sees him, and not Jeremy Corbyn, as their man.
Ever since he was elected, Watson has frequently been shown on television walking either side by side with Corbyn or just one step behind, peering owl-like over his shoulder. His desire to appear constantly in the closest proximity with the Labour leader gives one the impression that this Deputy is not entirely without ambition and would, in an ideal world, prefer to have Jeremy Corbyn looking over his shoulder, or even better vanishing from the scene altogether.
In public, however, our Tom takes great care to express his loyalty to Jeremy (in general he gives the impression of being a careful man, not to say a sly one). But one is aware that in the slippery field of political careerism, words are cheap and professional politicians do not on every occasion say what they mean or mean what they say. Therefore, when Tom pats Jeremy on the back (which happens quite frequently) one involuntary wonders whether he is searching for the right spot to stick the knife in.
The Evening Standard on the 19th October published an article with the title: “Union Chiefs are Backing Watson to Take Over from Corbyn if Leadership Fails.” To be sure, the aforementioned article was very short on hard facts. But then, in the murky world of political conspiracies and backstabbing, we generally only get access to hard facts when it is too late – that is, when the conspiracy has already been consummated.
The starting point of the article was a private conversation in a pub called The Ship in Kensington involving Watson and Len McCluskey, the leader of the Unite union, together with a woman assumed to be Watkin’s secretary. The Standard’s unnamed observer reported: “They were deep in conversation and are obviously close and long-standing friends.” Of course, there is no law against long-standing friends having deep conversations in pubs or anywhere else. And they may have been discussing the weather or the exorbitant price of a pint of bitter in Kensington. But the nameless observer said that “The timing of it was interesting.”
What did this mean? The night before the Blairites in the PLP had organised a rebellion against Corbyn in the House of Commons in which 21 Labour MPs defied the Leader and abstained on Osbourne’s fiscal charter Bill. There can be absolutely no doubt that this was a planned operation and that it is indeed part of a well-publicised plan to get rid of Corbyn. This is not conspiracy theory but an established fact.
These “Labour” traitors have no hesitation about revealing their intentions to the press. One of them told the Evening Standard: “Most of us (sic!) believe that Tom is thinking about what will happen if Jeremy’s leadership fails or if people are looking for an alternative in a year or two. Everybody knows that he and McCluskey are on close terms. People suspect that there are other things going on as well.” Another MP “with a union background” was quoted as saying: “Union leaders are not daft. They know they will get nothing unless Labour wins the next election and if Jeremy is seen to be incapable of winning they won’t hesitate to tell him his time’s up.”
The close link between McCluskey and Watson is no accident. The fact is that the main union leaders did not willingly support Corbyn as Labour leader. Their preferred candidate was Andy Burnham. They were only compelled reluctantly to support Corbyn by pressure from below. It was they who pushed Watson forward. They wanted a “safe pair of hands” to control the new Leader, who is a bit too left wing for their liking. By placing Watson at his elbow they hope to control his every move, while applying a bit of not-too-gentle pressure on him in private.
One cannot imagine that the union leaders are too happy about what Corbyn is proposing. They are even less happy about the sight of thousands of left-wing activists flooding into the Labour Party and pushing it to the left. Though they occasionally make militant-sounding speeches for the benefit of their members, they have no confidence in the working class and pin all their hopes on reaching a gentleman’s agreement with the government. The sudden arrival of Jeremy Corbyn has upset their calculations and they are not amused.
One of Corbyn’s first acts as Labour Leader was to rally opposition to the Tories’ vicious anti-trade union bill, which would severely restrict the right to strike. In addition to imposing a 50% turnout threshold for strikes, the bill states that in key services such as fire, education, health and transport, 40% of eligible voters would have to vote in favour of a strike for it to be legal. As Corbyn correctly pointed out, the Tories advocate deregulation for everything except the democratic right of workers to withdraw their labour.
The TUC has called the trade union bill Dickensian but has done nothing to mobilise mass resistance to it. Initially McCluskey, who heads Unite, Britain’s biggest union, hinted that the unions might have to break the law. As a matter of fact, if unions such as Unite were to refuse to accept these monstrous impositions, the law would be a dead letter. But these words have turned out to be completely empty. McCluskey recently made a surprise offer to David Cameron to drop his union’s opposition to the anti-trade union bill if ministers allow “modern and secure online voting” over public service strikes.
This move by the man painted by the media as the most hard line union leader provoked surprise and shock in the rank and file that was looking to him to defend their interests on such a fundamental issue. But the union leaders have no perspective of any serious struggle against the government. They are anxious to appear as “responsible” and “moderate” and are horrified of being portrayed as “militant” and “unconstitutional”.
The union leaders distrust people like Corbyn because they show them up. They dislike the idea of masses of people joining the Labour Party and demanding the re-selection of Labour MPs because it might set a precedent for the automatic re-election of trade union officials as well. Sources close to Corbyn expressed surprise at McCluskey’s intervention, stressing that Labour remained opposed to all the main measures in the bill. All this leads one to suspect that the subject of the deep conversation in a pub in Kensington was something other than the weather or the price of beer.