Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has something of Jeremy Corbyn 2015 about it (and then some). Unfortunately for Rebecca Long-Bailey, the same cannot be said of her Labour leadership campaign.
She has had some large-ish (stress ish) rallies, but many have been flops. In general her campaign is lacklustre. Politically poor videos seem to be taking the place of public mobilisations.
We have gone from the situation of 2015, where a scattering of left-wingers quickly cohered into a dynamic, enthusiastic, organised campaign, to one where the left is transformed back into a (now bigger) scattering of sometimes demoralised individuals. That is perhaps to do with the way things were shaped and reshaped by an increasingly top-down, conservative Corbyn leadership and a top-down, conservative left (in particular, Momentum).
This is reflected in the political murkiness of the leadership contest.
Keir Starmer has reversed his position and said that if elected he’ll offer Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey “top jobs” in his shadow cabinet. It should be remembered that when he originally refused to commit, prominent Starmer supporters briefed the press they wanted a cabinet dominated by right-wingers, including Rachel Reeves as Shadow Chancellor.
Both Starmer and Nandy have key organisers around them who see their campaigns as mechanisms to undermine and neutralise the left. They have pitched to that right-wing constituency, and will empower it. That, plus Long-Bailey’s distancing from the Milne-Murphy “Leader’s Office” axis and her better support for workers’ struggles like the UCU strike, makes the case for voting for her, very critically.
Beyond that, however, things are not at all clear.
All three candidates have advocated left-wing policies in a general sense.
All have backed an “anti-austerity” stance and more public ownership, RLB most strongly. Even Nandy, who criticised Labour’s manifesto positions on tuition fees and broadband, then backed those policies.
Despite voting for Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal on its second reading, she has also continued to defend free movement at least on paper. So has Starmer, but not RLB. All have provided low-key pro-migrant “mood music”, but Long-Bailey’s concrete policies and commitments are the least solid.
Asked about the monarchy, Nandy was the most critical, followed by Starmer, and RLB the least. Asked about pressing the button to use nuclear weapons as Prime Minister, it was about the same!
The Fire Brigades Union, which is backing Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon, has publicly attacked Starmer for committing only to repealing the 2016 Trade Union Act – not all anti-union laws, as Labour and TUC policy demands. But none of the candidates, not RLB, not Burgon, none has committed on this. None, so far, has even responded to the Free Our Unions pledge on these issues.
We must keep pushing on that and many other issues.
Discussions among Workers’ Liberty activists have produced a majority for voting for Long-Bailey, though we didn’t support nominating her.
For deputy leader, some advocate a critical vote for Dawn Butler. She has pretty straightforwardly endorsed the Labour Campaign for Free Movement’s policies; she has offered warmer words on trade union rights than most; she is not identified with the Milne “Leader’s Office”; and, as between candidates with not much to choose politically, better vote for a black woman.
Others argue that her record as an obedient junior minister under New Labour, and her blurred campaign, rule out that recommendation.