Monday, 14 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Win Will Breathe New Life Into The Labour Party

I couldn't be happier at Jeremy Corbyn's win. He has already brought swathes of Labour voters back to the fold with his politics of principle & integrity. An edited version of the entry below was published in Thursday's Independent, ahead of the leadership results:

Cognitive dissonance is what the brain does to rationalise and justify dysfunctional behaviour.  As a therapist I’ve seen people dismiss even the most compelling evidence in order to pursue a path of self destruction. I believe this is the root cause of new labour’s demise.  In the same way that smokers continue to smoke even though they know it could kill them, “new Labour” resists any movement away from the right, despite the catastrophic consequences.

One of the strategies invoked to deal with cognitive dissonance is to minimise the evidence in support of behavioural change by seeking alternative research. Smokers might do this by latching onto studies that dismiss the dangers of smoking, however tenuous. New Labour produces meaningless reports which endorse business as usual.

Yesterday a report was published indicating that Labour’s woes are attributable to not being Tory enough. It was carried out by a lord and an ex aide to Tony Blair (I kid you not). Labour’s response to the shocking May election result is to commission reports that sanction the onward trajectory to the right, despite it leading Labour to electoral annihilation.

The report was right about one thing though. The party was rejected by an electorate who no longer trust or respect the party.  I lost respect for the party when Tony Blair’s true Thatcherite ideology became apparent (Margaret Thatcher apparently cited Tony Blair as one of her greatest legacies). It doesn’t help that he starts his sentences with “look” and thrusts his thumb out for emphasis.

The epic groundswell of support for Jeremy Corbyn is a far more credible barometer of the public mood. It demonstrates a hunger for the party to be realigned with Labour’s founding principles.  Corbyn gets that Labour lost the election, not because it was “anti-business” (as Blairites claim), but because it wasn’t anti-austerity.

Three weeks before the election, a guy in his 20’s sat opposite me on the train. I was reading Tony Benn’s Diaries, he was reading Margaret Thatcher’s biography. A polite if lively discussion ensued.  Turns out he was an intern for a prominent Labour MP and known Blairite. I asked if it was wise to admit to being a Labour intern while brandishing Thatcher’s biography. He extolled her virtues. As someone who, despite being ideologically aligned with labour, was forced into a political abyss as a result of the party’s lunge to the right, this rankled.

I asked if he’d read Tony Benn’s diaries. With a condescending snigger he dismissed Benn’s legacy out of hand. “He was a bit too left”. I asked what constituted “too left”. He couldn’t say because he hadn’t read his book but had been reliably informed that at labour HQ being “too left” was not good. I knew that already. I met a Labour party insider when I visited the Occupy London camp who told me the party was monitoring developments. It concluded that the movement didn’t generate enough numbers to justify a realignment to the left. It’s that fickle, corporatisation of politics that is so demoralising.

My conversation with the Labour intern drew to an abrupt close when I told him Labour’s support for the failed austerity experiment ruled out my vote. “Voting on principle is wasting your vote”, he lectured, “that’ll just let the Tories in”! It was expressed as a statement of fact rather than with rousing conviction. So that was labour’s election strategy in a nutshell. It came down to tactics and a business strategy involving scaremongering people into voting strategically. Principle, or policies, didn’t come into it.

Suffragettes died so that I could vote, I wasn’t going to be lectured by a man on how to cast it. “If the Tories get back in, it’s down to you guys for pushing supporters like me away. If Labour can’t stand on its’ own principles and be prepared to defend them, why the hell should the people whose principles you abandoned vote for you”?

It’s ironic that traditional labour voters, like myself, were forced to vote elsewhere because new labour reinvented the party on Thatcher’s principles. Yet, when a true labour contender for the leadership contest woos us back with an anti-austerity narrative for which we yearned at the election, we’re rejected on the grounds that we don’t share Labour’s values. What are Labour values? The website boasts, “… the establishment of the National Health Service… and the creation and maintenance of an empowering welfare state”

So why was Jeremy Corbyn the only leadership candidate who voted against the recent Tory welfare bill (which sought to abolish child poverty targets and cuts to child tax credits, Employment and housing benefit for young people) in its entirety? Labour’s crowning glory was the establishment of the NHS. Yet it was new labour, with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at the helm, that sowed the seeds of the NHS’ demise. The reckless implementation of private finance initiatives (PFI), not only paved the way for privatisation by stealth but saddled the NHS with crippling debt. Next year alone, trusts will make some £2bn in repayments. How is being responsible for polices that bankrupt the NHS espousing Labour values? How was the de-regulation that led to the financial crash, the brunt of which is borne by the most vulnerable, in step with Labour values?

Abandoning Labour’s founding principles has left new Labour with no meaning, no soul and therefore, no relevance. Jeremy Corbyn is the party’s only hope of survival.

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