Sean Matgamna writes in Solidarity 367 that Corbyn’s victory was the second time since 2010 that the unions have asserted themselves inside the Labour Party. Sean says the first time was when the unions got Ed Miliband elected to Party leader after the 2010 election defeat.
If this is asserting themselves, it is assertion-lite. The striking parallel between the election of Miliband and Corbyn is that the unions waited until the candidates appeared and then declared a preference from the list of candidates they were presented with. They weren’t scurrying around to find a union candidate to front up and fight for their interests inside the Party.
Some of the unions don’t seem to be stable Corbyn allies. It is worth noting that fact because the implication is that a fight in the unions should flank a fight in the Party.
In fact the creation of a rather peculiar leadership election mechanism seems to have allowed a rather disparate movement of various radical strands, which exited outside the Party as well as inside, to fuel Corbyn’s campaign. The movement went round the Party structures, as well as through them. Good for all that.
In the same paper Martin Thomas apologises for getting something wrong. He claims to have underestimated an insurgent movement inside the Labour Party whose existence he dates from 2010. Martin’s evidence for the existence of a burgeoning left inside Labour is that Party conferences became more lively. There is an alternative explanation for a “more lively conference” (accepting for a moment that they actually did perk up): that the Labour leadership didn’t care too much what happened on conference floor; the need to carve them up eased somewhat.I put to you that a striking thing about Labour over the past five years is not that a dissenting wing began to emerge – but exactly the opposite, that there have been very few signs of a dissenting wing emerging. And that is surprising because the impetus behind Corbyn is in good part the disillusionment with capitalism amongst a significant minority created in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. Radicals have been looking for a vehicle that will express their views. We saw that trend, for example, in the Green vote.But there was very little to see – at least clearly and overtly – inside the Labour Party before the recent explosion and an amazing Corbyn victory. Party membership, for example, picked up after the 2010 election defeat but then remained around 190, 000 for the next four or five years. In the last couple of years - especially - we’ve seen people drawing leftist conclusions across Europe and beyond. Syriza and Podemos, and even Bernie Sanders in the US, are visible signs of this turn in popular opinion. But people weren’t joining Labour here.
Good that they have now, but no need to re-write the past.