As the Labour party attempts to recover from its worst election defeat since 1983, the ideological gulf existing between the party and its supporters has never been more evident, nor more toxic. Yet even in the face of a torrent of Blairite scaremongering, Corbyn’s campaign seems to only grow stronger.
In the space of just a few months Corbyn has built a popular movement founded on socialist principles, and run a positive and policy-centered campaign in the face of a revoltingly reactionary and skewed press coverage (check it). For Labour old-timers the momentum behind Corbyn’s campaign is the culmination of decades of frustration with a party establishment that fails to reflect its supporters. For students like me, it’s refreshing to have an uncompromisingly left-wing candidate pledging to abolish tuition fees and unpaid internships. There is also an overriding sense that Corbyn has set his own terms for the debate. He has packed out town halls across the country, interested those who had long since abandoned the game of politics, because he represents something totally different to the polished, media-prepped politicians of our generation that we’ve become so disillusioned by. Supporters are flocking to him because he authentically embodies the grassroots activism that still lies at the heart of the party. The famed Nigel Farage Factor, though authentic this time (more on Farage’s hypocrisy here).
I first saw Corbyn speak in June and brought my mum, a shy Lib Dem, along with me: she echoed the surprise of most people who experience Corbyn first hand, “he’s not actually that radical!”. It is ridiculous that opposing austerity and aggressive US foreign policy is considered too ‘left wing’ from even within Labour. And perhaps this is why several YouGov polls indicate Corbyn to be the potential leader most likely to win back support from Green and UKIP voters whom, under Blair and his cronies, strayed, confused, far and wide across the political spectrum. Voters who, though no longer Labour affiliates (and often understandably so), hold the very views upon which the party was founded.
Whilst volunteering at the JC campaign phone bank I spoke to voters who had left during the New Labour era, and had returned to vote for Corbyn because for them he represented the ‘soul’ of the party. Over the course of a few months’ phone banking, responses of Labour supporters to Corbyn’s campaign have shifted from initially tentative to largely enthusiastic – sometimes overwhelmingly so. One man told me he thought Corbyn’s initials were proof that he was the second coming of Christ, whilst another repeatedly requested “a men’s’ #JEZWECAN tshirt (red, size medium) – plus stickers and posters!” to be posted to GERMANY. Volunteers bonded over the stranger voicemail messages we were met by – highlights including ‘Heaven on Earth Funeral Parlours’.
Perhaps most illuminating was the fact that the majority of those opposed to Corbyn did so based purely on concerns of future electability, rather than the policies themselves. More surprisingly, there were people who refused to engage in any kind of discussion and a handful who said they wouldn’t be voting at all (!!!), presumably fed up with the email and propaganda bombardment -I flagged Kendall’s campaign as spam after I was invited to four different picnics in one week. (More disturbingly Lucy K received an e-vite to a Kendall campaign PUB meet-up with ‘P.S -We won’t be drinking!’’).
Even among JC supporters there is debate over policies vs pragmatism, but those who see Corbyn’s campaign as an #80s throwback# blind-sightedly ignore the fact that he has committed to just two schemes of nationalisation, as well as to deficit reduction. He does recognise the need to adapt socialist principles to fit a capitalist framework, which distances him from the idealism of the Michael Foot era whilst obviously (crucially) maintaining Labour’s ideological roots. Although concerns about electability are sometimes easily dismissed by those Corbynites who can afford another decade of Tory austerity, for others sacrificing Labour’s founding principles in order to be elected defeats the purpose of an opposition party. For me, the fact that nobody knows what the future would be like with Corbyn as leader is part of the attraction – Labour is on the brink of its biggest turning point in nearly 20 years, whatever the outcome of the leadership contest. And that’s something I can’t fail to be excited by.
Lucy M and S00ophie #jezwecan