7 Ways Jeremy Corbyn’s Leadership has Changed Labour for the Better

Britain Refugee March

Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at a Solidarity with Refugees demonstration September 12, 2015. (AP Photo)

A curious notion that is seemingly gaining traction is that under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour still essentially stands for the same polices as we did under Ed Miliband. So here’s my attempt to set out some clear differences, which I believe represent substantial improvements in several key policy areas

  1. Austerity: For the previous leadership, committing to an anti-austerity economic approach would jeopardise our “economic credibility”. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls announced that a Labour government would stick to Tory spending plans, which would involve making severe cuts. Labour now unambiguously rejects austerity as a means of economic recovery and new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s “fiscal rule” does not commit Labour to any cuts.
  2. Welfare: On numerous occasions under Miliband, Labour failed to oppose government attacks on welfare. On the Bedroom Tax, the Labour leadership prevaricated, as Shadow DWP Minister Liam Byrne refused to commit to abolishing the Bedroom Tax, and it wasn’t until September 2013 that Miliband actually pledged to scrap it. Worse was the abstention on the government’s illegal use of workfare in March 2013. A year later, Labour MPs were whipped to vote for the welfare cap. Under Corbyn’s leadership, every single attack on social security from the Welfare Bill (in October 2015), Tax Credits cuts and cuts to PIP and ESA has been opposed outright.
  3. Trade unions: When public sector workers took strike action in June 2011, Miliband gave an interview in which he repeatedly said “these strikes are wrong”, and later went along with the fabrications about Unite’s role in the Falkirk selection. Contrast this to Corbyn and John McDonnell, who have stood in solidarity on picket lines and rallies with the junior doctors. Furthermore, Corbyn has committed Labour to significantly strengthening trade union rights in Britain, such as a return to collective bargaining.
  4. Railways: Previous Labour policy was to legislate to allow a public sector operator to be able to bid for franchises alongside private operators. Corbyn by contrast has pledged to return railways back into public ownership as the franchises expire.
  5. Education: Miliband backed the idea of tuition fees, arguing that fees should be reduced from £9k to £6k a year. Corbyn has repeatedly argued for the total abolition of tuition fees.
  6. Foreign policy: To his credit, during his tenure Miliband did whip the PLP against bombing Syria and for recognising the state of Palestine. And on the Iraq war, Miliband stated that Labour was “wrong”, although Corbyn went considerably further by making a full apology. But Corbyn represents a very clear break, given that Miliband backed the bombing of Libya in 2011 and Iraq in 2014 and supported Trident renewal.
  7. Immigration: Ahead of last year’s general election Miliband indulged in a crass attempt to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment with a ‘controls on immigration’ pledge, which was infamously carved into stone and printed on mugs. There was also a pledge to ban new EU migrants from receiving any kind of social security for at least two years. Contrast this to Corbyn, who has repeatedly praised the contribution of migrants to society and the economy; pointed out during the EU referendum campaign that Britain could not have access to the single market but reject freedom of movement and whose first act as Labour leader was to address a demonstration in solidarity with refugees.
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Davey Hopper: A working class hero

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Hearing of the death of Davey Hopper on Saturday evening was incredibly sad and came as a terrible shock. Just a few days earlier I’d shared a lovely lunch with Dave and his wife Maritza. Dave was in great spirits after the Gala, which had seen a record number of people on the racecourse and was particularly enthused that so many young people had been there. Already, he had his sights set on the campaign to get Jeremy Corbyn re-elected and was looking forward to playing his part.

I have heard many accounts of Davey’s activities in the NUM, including his heroics during the 1984/5 strike and his activism in the Labour Party over many decades, which I hope other tributes do full justice to. But I can only really speak of what I’ve seen first-hand in the past couple of years.

On a personal level he was a very generous man, who always had time for people. He had his firmly held views and was never afraid to express them, but he was not a remotely egotistical person. In fact, he was very self-effacing and was constantly talking up and encouraging others. He also had a great, often mischievous sense of humour and was a brilliant raconteur.

Davey’s commitment to the class and community that he came from was absolute. Were it not for the endeavours of Davey and his colleagues at the DMA, thousands of people in County Durham and beyond would not have received a penny of compensation for terrible, debilitating industrial diseases such as vibration white finger, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Not only that, but many people would have gone without representation and support in employment tribunals and social security claims.

In addition, along with his friend and comrade the late Dave Guy, he made sure that the Durham Miners’ Gala not only survived after the closure of the pits, but continued to thrive.

He was a proud socialist and a critic of wars and nuclear weapons, believing that instead, those funds should be invested into jobs, housing, health and education for the benefit of ordinary people. He was also a passionate internationalist, who had a real knowledge of workers’ struggles in other countries and always ensured that the Gala’s great internationalist tradition was upheld by inviting international speakers.

Over the past year Davey was as active as ever. He attended countless trade union conferences, urging delegates to stay strong and never give in. He backed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid from day one, and memorably delivered a blistering speech at the North East rally in support of Jeremy which earned him a standing ovation. He was a strong supporter of the local anti-racist and anti-fascist movement, the local Socialist Clothing Bank and was at the forefront of forging links between the DMA and LGBT rights activists. Furthermore, just in the past few months, in the face of a lot of pressure, he stood in total solidarity with local teaching assistants facing a pay cut and of course, continued to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jeremy Corbyn. And just a few days prior to this year’s Gala, he addressed an NUT strike rally in Durham. For Davey, solidarity was not just a word; it was a way of life.

Since Davey’s untimely death, I have frequently cast my mind to the Gala earlier this month. What a moment of triumph and vindication. Davey was one of those who kept the flame alive in some very dark times for our movement: when Thatcherism ripped the heart out of the mining communities and when New Labour shunned working-class communities and the trade union movement. And yet, last Saturday, there he was, side by side with his old friends Jeremy Corbyn and Dennis Skinner, being cheered on by a massive and youthful crowd, the like of which has not been seen in recent times. After many years of condescension and derision about being “stuck in the past”, here was irrefutable proof that in fact, it is Davey’s vision for society which represents the future.

A fighter, an organiser, an intellect, an orator – Davey had it all and I miss him greatly already.

“He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”

Rest in peace Davey and thank you for everything marra.

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The myth of Jeremy Corbyn’s social media ‘echo chamber’

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One of the big misconceptions about doing politics on social media is that it invariably amounts to nothing more than an inward-looking ‘echo chamber’ or ‘bubble’ in which the converted merely preach to the converted in a sealed off parallel universe.

This claim has repeatedly been made in relation to Jeremy Corbyn’s use of social media during his leadership campaign, with MPs such as Tristram Hunt and Caroline Flint as well as publications from the New Statesman to the Spectator all making this assertion. 

But as the following Facebook messages show, far from being an insular ‘echo chamber’, through social media, Jeremy Corbyn was able to reach out well beyond his existing supporters in the Labour Party and successfully engage with lots of people, many of whom felt completely disengaged from politics.

‘Hello I’m a non-voter (or been on the voting register) because I’ve never agreed with any parties!! I’ve been long awaiting a hero like Jeremy … I want him as our nation’s leader!!’ – Gareth

‘Never had I trust of politics before. You are the first politician I have made a donation to. You are the hope of millions.’ – Sohail

‘I have not voted for years due to all the parties standing to the right of middle. But if you are elected Labour leader I will join your party for standing up for the poor/working class and not the corporations who run our country today.’ – Paul

‘Good luck Jeremy!! have everything crossed!! You have given a desperate single mum hope for a better future for myself and my children. Bless you.’ – Rachael

”What an amazing and inspiring few weeks this has been… I joined the Labour Party two weeks ago – aged 47 and the first time I have belonged to a political party. The campaign is incredible.”   – Amanda

‘Jeremy I am excited about politics again for the first time in a long time. I am waiting with bated breath for the announcement due at about 11.30am. I am nervous but pray that you will become the leader of our Labour party. A leader I can trust in to run Britain correctly and ethically.’ – Rosie

‘Congratulations Mr Corbyn. I felt compelled to message you to congratulate you on your successful leadership. I have never voted Labour nor Tory as to be honest I have never really come across anyone in any party that has made me want to vote for them or trust them but having followed you and listened to your views and outlook you are the first person who has really caught my attention as a man who is true to himself and true to his values, I think politics and governments have lacked these qualities for a long time and I have faith that a man like you can really make the difference and be the voice that we are all needing. Keep up the good work and you have my vote I guarantee. Congratulations again.’ – Stuart.

‘Congratulations on winning Labour leadership you are a flash of hope for millions of people like myself who thru Tory policies are struggling to survive you are the bringer of hope.’  – Bernadette

‘Congratulations Jeremy Corbyn very pleased you have spoken up for so many of us who felt no one was listening, keep up the brilliant work. A very happy supporter.’ – Sean

‘Staying true to my word I have left UKIP and come back to the Labour Party, well done Corbyn!!!’ – Sam

‘I’ve never been a member of any political party but I would join and vote if Jeremy was a candidate. I’m sure plenty of others would do the same.’ – Jo

‘Well, I’m in! A politician that seems to have integrity, that’s a bit of an oxymoron these days. I like what you’re saying Jeremy Corbyn, you can count on my vote. Thanks for giving us a voice.’ – Rex

So, social media should not be caricatured. It is by no means a silver bullet, but it does have the potential to engage, to challenge, to convince, to inspire and to empower people. Which may well explain why some are so keen to dismiss it.

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Why Jeremy Corbyn showed just as much respect as anyone else

Jeremy Corbyn is a republican and a non-believer, so it would be totally insincere of him to sing the national anthem: ‘God Save the Queen.’

jez anthemInstead, he chose to stand in respectful silence: remembering those who died, as well as remembering his mum who served as an air raid warden and his dad who served in the Home Guard.

A generation of brave men and women fought fascism so that people could live in a society where they were free to choose to think and to act as their conscience dictates.

Those who want to force their beliefs onto others seem to have forgotten that.

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5 reasons why Jeremy Corbyn can win in 2020

  1. Increasing the electorate: The idea of engaging with people who have stopped voting is often dismissed with a remark along the lines of: ‘the trouble with non-voters is that they tend not to vote.’ But this is because many people feel that they haven’t got anything to vote for. Worryingly, between 1997 and 2010, Labour lost 5 million voters, the vast majority of whom didn’t vote for other parties but simply stayed at home. Under Jeremy, all that can change. Even his critics cannot deny that Jeremy is enthusing people who were previously disengaged by politics, as well as crucially, inspiring young people, a group of people who haven’t voted in large numbers in recent elections. 15 million people didn’t vote at the last election. Low turnouts always benefit the Tories and harms Labour’s chances.

    Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a rally in Glasgow, 14th August 2015

    Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a rally in Glasgow, 14th August 2015

  2. Winning back Scotland: Winning back Scotland in 5 years will be a mammoth, if not impossible task. But we can only begin this process if we recognise the SNP won a landslide in Scotland largely because it was able to position itself as anti-austerity and more committed to traditional Labour values, outflanking Labour to its left on issues like Trident, tuition fees and prescription charges. Jeremy’s stance on all these key issues chimes with the Scottish electorate and can win people back to Labour. (Similarly, only through this approach can we ensure that Plaid Cymru does not continue to erode the Labour vote in Wales for similar very reasons).
  3. Winning back Green voters: Although the Greens polled a just over million votes nationally, it had a devastating impact on Labour. For example, in Morley and Outwood, in which Ed Balls lost to the Tories by just over 400 votes, the Greens got over 1200 votes. In total, there were 10 seats which Labour would have won had they secured the bulk of the Green vote. Jeremy’s policies connect with many Green voters and members, some of whom have already been won back to the Labour fold.
  4. Winning back UKIP voters: It’s perfectly possible for Labour to simultaneously win back voters to the left and the right. That’s because although UKIP was founded by, is led by and funded by ex-Tories, many ex-Labour voters turned to UKIP not because of its Thatcherism but out of protest and frustration with Labour taking them for granted. Jeremy can reconnect with these voters and indeed it was no real surprise that a recent poll showed he was the most popular amongst UKIP voters. Furthermore, instead of pandering to UKIP’s solutions (remember that ‘controls on immigration’ mug?) which unsurprisingly didn’t work as it only reinforced UKIP’s credibility, Labour can win voters back by highlighting the real causes of low pay, the housing crisis and unemployment and putting forward serious solutions which address these concerns.
  5. Shifting the centre ground: A lot can change in 5 years. If we start to set out a clear and coherent alternative now, we can shift the so-called centre ground of British politics away from Thatcherism and back to where it should be. As long as austerity is seen as ‘common sense’ and the only option the Tories will have the upper hand. Jeremy can win support by putting popular policies like taking the railways and utilities into public ownership back onto the agenda which will translate into electoral support in 2020. His proposals are perfectly workable and credible. In fact, there’s not one policy which Jeremy has put forward whether it be a living wage, public ownership of the railways or rent controls which isn’t already working in practice elsewhere in Europe.
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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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