By Sebastian Sanchez-Schilling
Jeremy Corbyn won his first leadership election on the 20th of July 2015, when he managed to be the only candidate to vote against a bill which would have scrapped child poverty targets. He defined the debate, whilst others bought into austerity and deficit reduction.
Before Corbyn Labour was defined by its contradiction; Miliband would talk left whilst policy moved right. Vague attempts at appeasing everyone ended up having the opposite effects, something probably best encapsulated in the “Controls on Immigration” mugs. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t win.
The cataclysmic year it has been has overshadowed many of the victories achieved. Defeating the government on tax credits prevented millions of people losing thousands of pounds a year – a tangible victory, the type of which wasn’t seen in 5 years of opposition under Miliband. The Conservative’s began to lose narrative: Ian Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, resigned in protest against disability cuts.
All of this Corbyn achieved with a shadow cabinet Frankie Boyle satirised as made up of “his billiards partner, an ex-girlfriend, mirrors, and some masking tape” — which makes me wonder, what could he have achieved with a united party?
After Brexit, those who allowed Neil Kinnock nine years and two general election defeats believed that nine months after winning party leader with the largest mandate in party history, Corbyn had to go. The coup was largely orchestrated by the die-hards in the right of the party strong-arming the rest of the party, something indicated by the fact 14 of the 20 shadow cabinet members who resigned have expressed a desire to return if Corbyn wins.
One unmentioned aspect throughout the coup and the ensuing leadership election is what it is about. It is not about Smith (no one cares about him) but neither is it about Corbyn. It is about us, the members, and what direction we want to take the party and whether we’ll be allowed to. One of the most disheartening aspects of this leadership election has been seeing those who were passionate about Corbyn, but have now been whittled down by all the intrigue and briefings into supporting Smith.
It is about power – those who have had it for are now seeing it slip away. Not only that, they are fading into irrelevance. The old-guard must answer this: if you cannot win general elections in the first place to avoid him, if you cannot outwit him through intrigue and you cannot be more popular than him, why should you lead instead of him? Although things may seem bleak at times, we cannot let these people be in control of our party again.
The plotters just expected Corbyn to stand down if enough of them resigned and didn’t really have a plan after he didn’t. Instead of capitulating, the plotters allowed one show of incompetence to segue into the next: choosing Owen Smith as the “anti-Corbyn” candidate. Implicit in believing Corbyn should be the next Labour leader is believing Smith should not be; my vote was as much for Corbyn as it was against Smith.
Smith has a long history of making misogynistic comments. These range from the chauvinistic, such as joking about his “29-inch penis” or how many lads he fought off to “pull” his wife, to the more odious, and perhaps revealing: saying he wanted to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels” or telling Leanne Wood she was invited onto Question Time because of her gender. His comment that sexism did not exist in Labour before Corbyn was elected is ludicrous – his own comments show that it did.
I would think being a lobbyist (for Pfizer no less), supporting the Iraq War (in 2006 no less), partial privatization of the NHS, and up until recently the “necessity” of austerity, would be enough to bar someone from being a socialist. Apparently, not only is Smith one, he’s the best candidate for leader of the Labour party, no less.
Smith calling for ISIS to be included in Syria peace talks was probably the only time Corbyn’s attacked someone from the right. Using words like “lunatic” to describe your political opponent isn’t the best look when you promise to have mental health at the forefront of your policy. With a background in PR you’d think Smith would be better at this, but he isn’t.
Electability is the silver bullet of those opposed to Corbyn. Some in the party can overlook all aforementioned because of the polls. However, one of Smith’s main campaign promises is to ignore the referendum result and fight to remain in the EU. Considering 70% of Labour constituencies voted to leave the EU, this would be political suicide. Add to that, removing Corbyn would end the enthusiasm surrounding the party – with over half a million members we are now the largest social democratic party in Europe – and you have a sure way of returning Labour to moribundity.
I believe Corbyn has actually done a pretty good job. I believe the party needs major reform and a change in direction if we are to win again, and that Corbyn is the best placed person to deliver that. I disagree with the coup in its attempts to nullify the members’ vote. At the moment, I believe the people gunning for Corbyn do not have the party’s interests at heart. Finally, Smith was a particularly repugnant candidate. That is why I voted for Jeremy Corbyn, and will continue to do so.
Image by Garry Knight via Flickr