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.