Jeremy Corbyn speaking outside Parliament. Photo: YouTube/RevolutionBahrainMC Jeremy Corbyn speaking outside Parliament (Image: YouTube/RevolutionBahrainMC)

Brian Heron places Corbyn’s reorganisation of his shadow cabinet in the wider political context

Many stupid things have been said and written about Corbyn’s Parliamentary Labour Party opposition (or shadow) cabinet reshuffle (January 4 – 6.) The most absurd comments have come from commentators like the Blair-supporting Labour Lord Mandelson and the right wing Telegraph newspaper, claiming that Corbyn’s reshuffle has been a left purge: ‘For the hard-left Labour activists who brought Corbyn to power, this is a belated Christmas present: their man is delivering on their terrifying agenda, and in turn they are helping to recruit a steady flow of new, radical and often London-based members.’ (Allister Heath, Telegraph 6, January.) The Telegraph is very dubious of all things ‘metropolitan.’

Besides his coup in creating a ‘hard left’ junta, Corbyn is simultaneously accused of a savage attack on Labour’s traditional ‘broad church’, the overturn of his previous statements about ‘a new type of politics, and the most incompetent and half-hearted reorganisation of a shadow cabinet since .. whenever. Corbyn is plainly too bolshevik – and not bolshevik enough!

There are sensible and factual accounts of Corbyn’s reshuffle available (although not many in the mainstream British media.) But it is worthwhile stepping back to look at what happened in the reorganisation of Labours’ main spokespeople in Parliament in the wider context of Britain’s deepening political crisis. It demonstrates how new political realities force their way into what was private and hallowed ground. And the first thing to note is that explanations offered by some of Corbyn’s allies, that surely the new Labour leader is only doing the things that Blair and Brown did, without any of the accompanying pandemonium that has been visited on on Corbyn’s head, may be empirically true but almost entirely misses the point.

First; why has Corbyn’s reshuffle looked more like a prolonged negotiation than a ‘night of the long knives?’

Because it was a negotiation. Jeremy Corbyn is a nice man but his humanity was not what held up the changes he wished to make. The fundamental fact was – that he was in a negotiation – between at least two proto parties, whether he started from that assumption or not. The bulk of the parliamentary Labour Party oppose the Corbyn leadership – but that means little. By the end Blair was almost universally hated among his own MPs and Brown from the beginning. The Labour MPs who want, seek and are organising for the demise of Corbyn also hate his politics, also believe he has no chance of getting a right wing ‘aspirant’ country to vote them into office and thereby create the substantial political life that they have lusted after since university. They are not ‘in’ the Corbyn party. They believe that ‘their’ party (and their potential future) has been hi-jacked.

In a deeper sense it was a negotiation because negotiation will become the general and indispensable mechanism to deal with the new representations bursting through Britain’s decaying political system and even into its parliament, as the breaking down of Britain’s traditional political parties, which no longer coral even a half of two thirds of Britain’s potential voters, are increasingly unable to maintain the pretence that they represent the British people. Corbyn’s victory in the Labour Party leadership elections is a case in point.

A new left emerged in the country in the wake of Blair and Iraq, in the wake of austerity and of the changes in Scotland. Some of it was ‘old Labour’. Most of it was ‘new activists.’ Nothing represented them in Parliament and they were given the opportunity, because the Labour Party was collapsing in the country, to vote for Labour’s leader. They have created a new party. This new party, a genuinely left social democratic party, is now in (painful) negotiations with a different party, a party that has broken from its historic base in the working class and adopted managerial capitalism as its direction. Before the new party is finished it will need to open negotiations with the Greens, the left of the SNP, with Sinn Fein and Plaid Cymry too – if it survives; if it manages to build on and then stand on a growing mass movement in the country.

So it is not helpful for anybody’s political clarity to claim that this is all ‘business as usual’ for the Labour Party and to suggest that Labour will ride all these troubles out as it gradually returns to its traditional role in the two party seesaw.

Second; a great moment in Britain’s political history has been achieved from the perhaps unexpected source of Corbyn’s reshuffle.

A major party in Britain now has a leader and a defence minister who oppose Britain’s nuclear weapon, Trident, from being renewed. North Korea’s recent nuclear ‘test’ will naturally be the next reason given why Labour’s new leadership on this issue is ‘crazy’ (as though North Korea will take into account Britain’s ‘independent’ nuclear response before launching its missiles.) But the significant point is that Trident is almost the definition of Britain’s desired place in the world (at least in the City of London, in the ‘grand’ universities and public schools, down Whitehall, in the clubs along St James’s and the boardroom of the multinationals, especially of the arms and aviation industries. Not to mention the foundation of the Britain’s bridge across the Atlantic and its place in the UN.)

Trident is a cornerstone of the how Britain’s rulers rule, nationally and internationally. Britain would have to be a different sort of country without it.

Everything in Britain’s traditional and establishment politics will be mobilised to stop any party coming into a position to end Trident or its equivalent. Some of that gathering force will be Labour MPs. And a great alliance, inside and outside parliament, across all the countries and anti-nuclear parties of Britain, will need to be created to win that battle. That is another item that Corbyn’s reshuffle has put on the table. That is another new part of Britain’s political crisis.

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