15 times when Jeremy Corbyn was on the right side of history

jezza aparted1. Apartheid: Jeremy was a staunch opponent of the Apartheid regime and a supporter of Nelson Mandela and the ANC. He was even arrested for protesting outside the South African embassy in 1984.
2. Chile: Jeremy was an opponent of the brutal dictator Pinochet (an ally of the British government under Thatcher) and was a leading campaigner in the quest to bring him to justice. In 1998 Pinochet was arrested in London.
3. LGBT rights: As noted in Pink News, Jeremy was an early champion of LGBT rights. At a time when the Tories decried supporting LGBT rights as ‘loony left’, Jeremy voted against section 28 which sought to demonise same-sex relationships.
4. The Miners’ Strike: Jeremy went against the Labour leadership and fully supported the miners in their effort to prevent the total destruction of their industry and communities. Cabinet papers released last year prove that the NUM were correct to claim that there was a secret hit list of 75 pits which the government were determined to close within 3 years. Ex-mining areas still suffer from the devastating effects of de-industrialisation, particularly high unemployment.
5. Iraq: In the 1970s and 1980s, while the UK and other Western government were selling weapons to their ally Saddam Hussein, Jeremy campaigned and demonstrated against it, as well as protesting against the mass killings of Iraqi Kurds by Saddam’s regime.
6. Birmingham Six and Guildford Four: Jeremy was involved in the campaigns in support of the victims of these appalling miscarriages of justice. The wrongful convictions were eventually quashed.
7. Talking to Sinn Fein: In the 1980s, along with Tony Benn and other Labour MPs, Jeremy drew intense criticism for engaging in dialogue with Sinn Fein and inviting its representatives to the House of Commons. The government claimed it ‘would not talk to terrorists’ but we now know that by 1989, it was secretly engaged in talks. Sinn Fein has been a major party of the Northern Ireland government since 1998 and even the Queen and Prince Charles have now met with its leading figures.
8. Tuition fees: Jeremy opposed New Labour’s introduction of university tuition fees, which explicitly broke Labour’s 1997 election manifesto pledge, as well as all of the subsequent increases. Fees were then trebled under New Labour before being trebled again by the coalition government, leaving the average student in £53k of debt.
9. Private Finance Initiative (PFI): Jeremy argued against this method of funding the building of new schools and hospitals, which was used partly because New Labour had committed itself to Tory spending plans. Instead of financing projects through government borrowing, private finance would build the infrastructure and then lease to the government. PFI deals cost the taxpayer £10bn a year and we will end up paying more than £300bn for assets worth just £54.7bn.
10. Afghanistan: Going against the tide of political and public opinion in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Jeremy opposed the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001. By 2009, most polls showed a majority of British people were against the war and Britain eventually withdrew its troops in October 2014.
11. Iraq, again: Jeremy saw through the ‘dodgy dossier’, the claims of weapons of mass destruction and campaigned and voted against the Iraq war in 2003. In doing so, he helped to organise the biggest demonstration in British history and remains a leading figure in the Stop the War Coalition.
12. Palestine: Jeremy has been a long-standing campaigner for the rights of the Palestinian people, beginning his advocacy at a time when Western public opinion was largely hostile to the Palestinian cause. Last year parliament overwhelmingly voted to recognise Palestine.
13. Public ownership of the railways: Jeremy has always advocated public ownership of our railways. The argument that privatisation would result in competition and thus lower fares has been proved to be entirely incorrect. Instead not only have fares rocketed year on year but the British taxpayer now subsidies the railways to the tune of £4bn a year, around four times the cost of  the previous, publicly owned system.
14. Trident: Jeremy has been a long-term campaigner in CND, and has always opposed Britain having nuclear weapons – a difficult argument to make at the height of the Cold War. But now virtually all the polling evidence shows that a majority of people are against spending £100bn on a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons.
15. Austerity: Right from the beginning Jeremy argued and campaigned against austerity. Despite inheriting a situation where the economy was growing, Osborne’s austerity budgets plunged the UK into a double dip recession in April 2012 and by February 2013 Britain lost its AAA credit rating for the first time since the late 1970s. Five years of austerity later and the UK’s debt has actually risen from £1trn in 2010 to around £1.5trn today. The social cost has been shocking, leading to a rise in child poverty, an unprecedented fall in real wages and nearly 1 million people now reliant on food banks to name but a few of the dire consequences.

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The Solution

(With apologies to Bertolt Brecht)

After the uprising of the 15th June
The chair of the Progress
Had articles distributed in the Murdoch press
Stating that the membership
Had forfeited the confidence of the leadership
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the leadership
To dissolve the membership
And elect another?

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There’s no mystery about Corbyn’s popularity

When Jeremy Corbyn announced his candidacy for leader of the Labour Party, it was met with a huge amount of grassroots pressure to get him on the ballot. Labour MPs were inundated with emails and calls requesting that they nominate Corbyn. The only MP to take to social media to ask who her CLP and constituents wanted her to nominate had to then rephrase the question as: ‘Is there actually anyone who doesn’t want me to nominate Jeremy?’ Within days of setting up the ‘Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader’ Facebook page and simply highlighting Jeremy’s track record and his views on issues like austerity, housing, Trident, immigration, education, disability rights with a few memes, videos and articles – thousands of people had joined. That figure now stands at over 39,000. Jeremy then topped numerous polls, most notably in Labourlist and the Mirror. Moreover, the depth of support has been reflected by him securing the supporting nomination of 74 Constituency Labour Parties and receiving the backing of hundreds of Labour councillors.

Of course much of the PLP and most of the media find the levels of support for Corbyn to be ‘astonishing’ and the recent YouGov poll putting Jeremy in the lead has generated a reaction bordering on hysteria. But for many of us ordinary members in the Labour party it is no surprise at all. For all the mainstream media and New Labour grandees might gush over the ‘modernisers’ you would be actually very hard pressed to find many ordinary members of the Labour party who have any enthusiasm for pursuing austerity in the name of ‘economic credibility’, PFI, accepting the necessity of academies, or free schools, the welfare cap, taking a ‘tough line’ on immigration or whatever now passes for the so-called ‘centre ground’. But there are plenty of people in Labour who believe in opposing austerity outright, investing in a decent social security system, tax justice, building social housing, job creation, the public ownership of our railway network, schools run by local authorities and the idea that cuts and privatisation rather than immigrants are the real threat to our public services. In fact, a belief in these things is what motivates lots of people to join Labour in the first place. In other words, basic social democratic values and policies remain popular in a democratic socialist party.

For quite some time now, there has been a growing disconnect between much of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the wider party membership. This estrangement began under Blair who forced through policies which were never put to conference and had almost no support with the party membership, from PFI and academies right through to Iraq. But even in the last parliament there were occasions where many of us felt let down by the PLP. For example, while Labour activists were busy organising demonstrations against the Bedroom Tax, the leadership took more than 6 months to finally come out and say they would abolish it. And while Labour activists condemned and campaigned against the government’s illegal use of workfare, the PLP refused to take the government to task and abstained.

It’s not always easy being a socialist in the Labour party. At best you are often seen to be somewhat naïve and lacking in pragmatism. At worst you’re regarded as a ‘Trot’ and a ‘wrecker’. But as Tony Benn once said, ‘It’s very often the boat rockers who turn out to be the people who are building the craft.’

I believe that with Jeremy as leader, Labour will rediscover its timeless task: to stand up for social justice, equality and peace, provide principled, effective opposition to the Tories, offer a politics of hope and give Labour the best chance of winning in 2020.

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Palestine and ‘British Values in Action’

According to Andy Burnham, speaking at a hustings event organised by Labour Friends of Israel, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 represented “an example of British values in action.” He wants to see the declaration’s centenary anniversary celebrated with events in “every school” to demonstrate how the UK “played a role in the establishment of a democracy in the region”. All other leadership candidates with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn echoed these sentiments.

But this is a bizarre and entirely ahistorical statement. Balfour’s letter certainly was an example of British values in action, but not in the way Burnham meant it. This was British imperialism at its most duplicitous. The British promised Palestine (which Britain did not even control at the time) first to the Arabs in 1915 by way of the McMahon Correspondence and then to the Zionists in the Balfour Declaration, in order to secure war-time support from both groups.

So the unfortunate reality is that the Balfour Declaration was motivated far more by a combination of anti-Semitism and imperial ambition than any kind of altruism. The anti-Semitic belief in ‘Jewish power’ was widespread and thus, many in the British government thought that supporting the Zionist project would secure the apparently ‘powerful’ backing of Jews for the war effort. (Arthur Balfour himself was an anti-Semite who had championed the Aliens Act of 1905, which aimed to keep Jewish immigrants out of Britain). Furthermore, British statesmen calculated that promising to facilitate the Zionist project in Palestine would enhance Britain’s claim on Palestine in the post-war carve up of the Ottoman Empire.

It should also be remembered that throughout the British Mandate years, there was no kind of democracy in Palestine. No legislative assembly was created and on numerous occasions the British army was sent in to crush Palestinian Arab revolts against British rule.

A better lesson would be to understand Britain’s historic role in creating conflicts all over the world and recognise our responsibility to lead the way in securing peaceful solutions today.

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Come on, answer in one word, ‘Yes or No’. “Terrorists – friends or not?”.

corbyn-arrest-rob-scottEver since the Twin Towers came down, mainstream (and therefore right-wing) media opinion has shoved this “choice” down our throats. It screams at us “Terrorists – yes or no?”, “Terrorists – friends or not?”. That’s all that’s needed. There’s no sense in which there might be any grey in what is posited as an utterly black and white question (“Condemn, you bastard and then shut up” is what they’re really saying of course). It started with Bush’s “you’re either with or against us” pledge to hunt down the terrorists and it led us directly to the illegal war in Iraq, and the loss of millions of innocent lives across multiple war zones. Yet still the answer is yes/no, apologise/condemn.

The word terrorist has become non-negotiable, a catch all for a huge variety of political causes and traditions. Like Thatcher’s condemnation of Mandela and the ANC, they can all be spoken about in the same breath – Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA, Sinn Fein. Who cares about whether they are elected? Who cares about their ideology? Who cares about the causes of terrorism? History, pah! Just condemn, you bastard – sit down and shut up. The ironic and tragic thing, of course, is that this political discourse has done nothing but aid and abet more violence, more injustice and more terrorism. Even so, we are not allowed to challenge it, for fear of being labelled “apologists”.

What is also tragic is the way that the left has been so cowed by this narrative that it has responded by obediently shutting up, or even worse, joining in the crusade against a monolithic terrorist ‘monster’. So on one side, we have absolute silence and subservience from the Labour front bench and much of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), and on the other side we have ad hominem attacks against anyone who might not leave their analysis at outright condemnation of Hamas, for instance. Or anyone who might want to explain that while some attitudes are repugnant and parts of these complex organisations are immoral, there are other parts and other forces within those organisations that seek negotiation and can be moved towards peace through dialogue. So screwed up have we become by the dominant, right-wing narrative, however, that many people, who describe themselves as socialists, keep shouting “Yes or No?”, “Friends or Not?”. On the so called ‘libertarian left’, some bizarrely don’t want to know about human rights, or the right to a fair trial (Why would you, when this one fits 140 characters: “You called them “friends”. We saw it on YouTube”). Yes or No? Friends or Not? After almost 15 years of a failed and disastrous  “War on Terror”, and a much more insecure and dangerous world, it’s the wrong question.

So, while it might seem odd to have someone who asks more difficult questions – about how we move towards genuine, peaceful solutions to the crises we are in – thrust on to our television screens, we should support and trust Jeremy Corbyn. As someone who has spent over 30 years as Parliament’s biggest advocate for peace, he hasn’t – believe it or not – got a blind spot when it comes to terrorism, Islamic, Palestinian or otherwise. He’s just one of the few representatives in our party who has the bravery and insight to see that the solutions to terrorism don’t come from the barrel of a loaded gun that George Bush left for us. In that, he is firmly within the longer traditions of the left of the party, from Hardie to Benn, for all it may jar with New Labour and Blair. For that, and his refusal to be cowed, he should be applauded. Whether that makes him a better candidate to be leader of our party, and potentially a better Prime Minister of this country, I’ll let you decide. But I’d certainly feel a lot safer in a Corbyn-led country.

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