Mark Perryman reflects on what the Corbyn landslide means for Labour supporters like him
Phew! Well I got away with it. I’ve not voted Labour since ’97. I voted for Ken when he was the indy candidate for London Mayor. Green or Respect for other elections. In 2010 I canvassed for the outstanding Salma Yaqoob. At the last election I had a ‘Vote SNP ‘ poster in my window, not that it did much good in the East Sussex constituency where I live but it’s the thought that counts. But I wasn’t purged , what more did I have to do to be denied my £3 vote as a Labour supporter?
Not that I actually wanted to be prevented from playing my part in this great movement of ours (sic). Unwittingly Labour had produced a supporters scheme not for a conspiracy of entryists to exploit but hopeful optimists to embrace. And we did, in our thousands, those of us who’d lost faith in Labour’s capacity to amount to enough to make a difference anymore. And in particular a generation who’ve never seen Labour make the kind of improvement to their lives that would give them sufficient faith that not all politicians are the same.
I agree with Labour values as much as the next decent left-minded voter, the problem I have like tens of thousands of others is that an indecent chunk of Labour MPs appear to have not an inkling what those values are, never mind agree with them. And as for supporting an organisation opposed to Labour its only our rotten election system that forces Greens, Scots and Welsh Nationalists and the occasional independent left candidate to compete with Labour for votes. Opposed to? Complement Labour more like.
So my conscience is clear if my ego as one of the unpurged a tad dented. What I’d give to stand on the same side of the barricades as Mark Steel, Ken Loach, Mark Serwotka, Francesca Martinez, Jeremy Hardy and others who were summarily disqualified.
Joking apart it’s the intellectual incoherence of these disqualifications that lies at the heart of the challenge now facing Labour. We didn’t leave Labour so much as Labour left us.
Labourism, like other party-minded schools of thought, has never been much cop at pluralism. Yet quite unwittingly it has initiated the beginnings of a twenty first century form of organisation in stark contrast to the early twentieth century era that framed the British party political system. If the party will have us tens of thousands like me enthused by the Corbyn campaign will now be joining up as Labour members. An opportunity like this is once-in-a-lifetime , the onslaught against Corbyn will be as much inside Labour as outside, if our enthusiasm over the summer is to mean anything we now have to be part of a process to transform Labour. But that cannot be on the basis of an old style dyed in the wool, my party right or wrong. Are we being asked to diss Caroline Lucas just because she’s a Green MP not Labour? Shun the two other outstanding party leaders of a social-democratic left on this Isle, Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood? And is Labour really going to continue the ridiculous contradiction of chasing voters who voted for another party but refusing the membership application from the same?
This process towards a plural Labour needs to become permanent, entrenched in the party’s culture. Jeremy Corbyn in large measure won because he came to represent a social movement. Can Labour now change to become such a movement too, not to assume leadership, or control but in coalition with those not just in and out of Parliament but in and out of Labour too. If it can then the process of transformation will rapidly become not about one individual but an entire party.
This will of course be about politics and policies. It was Corbyn’s break with the cosy Westminster consensus that was at the core of his appeal. But it was also about Labour’s political culture and this is just as important, the how we do politics as well as what politics we do. The Labour Left by and large hasn’t got a great track record on this score. Labour doesn’t want to become a protest vote, that’s no way to win elections, but that doesn’t mean it should not inspire and entertain via the ideals it should hold dear. The road to change does not, never has, run through winning elections to the Conference Arrangement Committee, however important that body and others might be. Resolutionary Socialism can create the odd storm in a party cup but is more than less than adequate when it comes to changing the world.
We shouldn’t be interested in laying down markers to judge whether Jeremy has passed or failed this test or the other, leave that to those machine politicians in their Westminster cabals now so woefully unrepresentative of their party. We need instead a mood swing across Labour. Not to mourn how the party has changed but to react to, be shaped by, fulfil the dreams, of all those who have ben part of that change. That means inspring, and yes entertaining, the membership. If politics is just about the routine, the humdrum, activism as the foot patrols for others it will only ever appeal to the activist core. That’s not nearly enough but there’s nothing remotely wrong with lifting the spirits and horizons of those we already agree with. That’s what the Corbyn campaign achieved, to spectacular effect and Labour will be pretty soon be crying out for more of the same.
But we have to recognise too that this is just the beginning. Jeremy has won the party vote by an absolute landslide. But winning the country, London, Scotland, Wales and local elections first up in 2016, is of an entirely different magnitude. Not impossible, we should refuse to accept the analysis of those on doomwatch duty. But a language and engagement to take the messages of a party leadership election to a far bigger, broader and more complex audience will demand another type of change too. A process of change that an enthused, transformed, idealistic party of the sort the Corbyn campaign has begun to shape will be far better equipped to begin than before. It will leave the Labour Party, most importantly at a local basis, as pretty much unrecognisable shaped by more than anything else through generational change. If it doesn’t this summer of discontent will have failed.
This is an historic moment in the variegated history of Labourism. It’s a moment that demands a party culture that is open, welcoming, engaging full of confidence but able to listen and learn too. The newly elected leader can symbolise that change with the advisers, ideas, movements he signals that he sees as part of his leadership team and vision. But on its own that will only be enough to fill more halls for more rallies. If Labour really is to both change and change the country what we need is party that has the self-confidence to become a social movement founded on a pluralism from below.
Mark Perryman is old enough to have danced at mid-1980s Red Wedge gigs Thirty years on he still believes the revolution is just a T-shirt away and is currently organising the Refugees Are Our Football Family Appeal details from Philosophy Football
Mark Perryman is a member of both the Labour Party and Momentum. Co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football, he has also edited numerous books on the politics of the Left. The latest is Corbynism from Below and is published by Lawrence & Wishart, available to order from here.