According to the YouGov polling company, Jeremy Corbyn has a negative rating of minus 29%. It is hardly surprising, given the media-boosted torrent of bad-mouthing of him by people who are supposed to be Labour politicians.
When people are asked what’s bad about Corbyn, the negative most mentioned is “unelectable”. There are, of course, people who dislike Corbyn because they are right-wing and he is left-wing. But lots of those who “dislike” him, do so because the media and Labour politicians have told them that he is “unelectable” (i.e. other people dislike him). They may like his attitudes “Stands up for ordinary people”, “principled”, “honest”, and “in touch with ordinary people” — all get more mentions than the negative “unelectable”. But they are persuaded by the barrage around them that they must prefer a blander figure to oust the Tories.
Compare another public figure: Tony Blair. He has a much worse negative rating than Corbyn: minus 62%. People say he is “a liar”, “self-serving”, “money-grabbing”, “dishonest”, and a “war criminal”.
There are still people around who call themselves Thatcherites or Stalinists or Maoists. Even the most right-wing Labour people today shy away from the name Blairite. Yet the anti-Corbyn crew among the Labour MPs and in the wonkosphere are Blairites. Or at best Blairites with the difference that is really no difference, i.e. Brownites, adherents of Gordon Brown in the barely-political infighting that dominated the top ranks of New Labour.
Owen Smith, who now claims to be a sort of left-winger, came into politics not as a rank and file labour movement activist but as a “special adviser” to Blairite minister Paul Murphy. Smith then worked as a PR person for the drug multinational Pfizer before becoming an MP. Tom Watson, who presents himself as an honest broker, has a quirk in his past: Stalinism. Like many ex or not-quite-ex-Stalinists, he deserved the description given to him by the Guardian back in 2005, when he was a parliamentary whip for Blair: “Tom — bumptious in demeanour but actually one of the most biddable protocol units around — is the latest card to join the deck of excruciatingly loyal Blairites”.
Watson, by design or mistake, pushed Blair to quit in favour of Brown earlier than Blair wanted, and so fell out of favour for a while. He never made a political break with Blairism. Blairism, however dressed up, renamed, redecorated, cannot beat the Tories. If by quirk a recycled-Blairite Labour Party should defeat the Tories in a general election — and the recycled Blairites would first have to quell, demoralise, and disperse the body of activists who would campaign for Labour in the election — even that would be a hollow victory.
Thatcher, in 2002, cited “Tony Blair and New Labour” as her “greatest achievement”. Not only had she smashed many of the labour movement’s reform achievements over decades, she had pushed “New” Labour into continuing on the same lines. Glossed-up Blair continued privatising and marketising. He kept the Tories’ anti-union laws. He scrapped student grants and brought in tuition fees. He sent troops to Iraq. Glossed-up Blairism, even if improbably it won an election, would continue Tory policies with little change. Socialist policies can win elections and change the world.
If you’re scared of the prospect of Donald Trump winning the US presidency, remember that the polls showed that Bernie Sanders as Democratic candidate would beat Trump more easily than Clinton would. The same disgust at “more of the same, with trimmings” which distances US voters from Clinton would also distance voters from glossed-up New Labour. Before Sanders’ challenge, no-one thought that millions would back an openly socialist candidate. They did.
Winning with socialist policies will take a battle to convince people — including current Tory voters — that ideas which they now dismiss as “nice, but impractical” can be made reality. It is the same battle to convince those who like Corbyn but think him “unelectable”.
The new mass membership of the Labour Party can win that battle... if it organises itself, if it wins a democratic regime inside the Labour Party, if it turns outwards to educate and convince the electorate rather than devising policy by second-guessing polls and “focus groups”. Comprehensive, clear socialist policies will work better for that purpose than the blanded-down “clever” compromises which many people are urging Corbyn towards.
They cannot come just by decree from the Labour leadership, but only by democratic discussion and debate from the rank and file. Restoring the NHS as a publicly-operated public service, reversing the cuts, and lifting the burden of PFI is already Labour Party policy. Bringing the banks and high finance under democratic public ownership, and repealing anti-union laws, are already TUC policy. And, most to the point, such socialist policies offer the way out from the grinding, never-ending economic depression, the relentless cuts, and the escalating inequality which capitalism now offers us.
Workers’ Liberty and the AWL (Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) have had some media coverage recently (e.g. on Channel Four’s Dispatches). Most of this attention has been hostile and therefore unwelcome.
Nonetheless, many people will have heard about “Workers’ Liberty” for the first time. They may not however be aware that we produce and sell this newspaper, Solidarity, most weeks of the year. To make it clear that Solidarity is produced by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty we’ve added our name to the masthead.
In Solidarity you can read about what we think about the political storm within Labour, get a sense of our Marxist politics, find out who Trotsky was and much more.