Lindsey German looks beyond the Westminster bubble and spies vital signs of political upturn
While we all wait on the outcome of Labour's NEC today, it is perhaps worth looking at what is going on outside mainstream politics. One of the remarkable things about this period since the referendum is how much is going on elsewhere. The Black Lives Matter demos taking place across the country are an expression of solidarity with the victims of police killings in the US but also of opposition to racism in this country. While institutional racism takes different forms from the US, it is central to British society.
The demonstrations follow substantial protests in recent weeks in support of Jeremy Corbyn, which have reached thousands strong in cities such as Liverpool. They also follow last week's teachers' strikes, which reported some of the largest demonstrations and rallies so far. University lecturers are also striking, and the Southern Trains dispute has taken on the nature of a campaign for public ownership, not nationalisation. There will be a demonstration on Saturday against austerity and racism.
The union conferences have all been addressed by Jeremy Corbyn, and he has seen overwhelming support from delegates. The huge Durham Miners' Gala gave him a hero's welcome.
Corbyn's apology for the Iraq war struck a chord with the millions who feel a sense of vindication from the Chilcot report and who want to bring Blair to account. In the next week there will be two important votes: one on the renewal of Trident, the other on whether Blair should be held in contempt of Parliament.
Politics is hotting up in this country, and not mainly in the halls of Westminster. This has its impact on the main parties. The Tories have rushed to instate May as prime minister but this has meant the knifing of every major Brexit leader (a fact totally missed by many in the left remain camp). There will be a show of unity over the summer but this cannot long hide the very deep divisions within the party and its weakness in the country as a whole.
The treacherous behaviour of many Labour MPs has allowed this coronation to take place, and the fight is now on for what Labour should be. This is not just about Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, central though that has to be. It is about the failure of Blairism, which has fuelled Corbyn's support as Labour members and voters want a left alternative, but which also has helped create the conditions where UKIP can pick up some Labour votes.
The MPs are the people who are out of touch and unrepresentative in this situation, most of them unable to win votes unless standing in strong Labour seats on some of which they can no longer rely (for example, Ed Balls in 2015). These people have a comfortable home in the Westminster world of pollsters, right wing media and PR experts, but one thing Corbyn's victory demonstrated is the sheer sense of alienation among Labour supporters this has now produced.
All the movement listed above (and there are many others) are movements of the left, not the right. They show a strength and determination which is growing again, which is why it makes so little sense to keep bleating about the weakness of the left. This is the chance for the left to put forward answers to the crisis not based on narrow exclusion or funding big business, but on policies which would create jobs, build houses, save the NHS and fight racism and war.
Central to moving in that direction is defending Jeremy Corbyn. Events of the next few weeks outside parliament will determine the direction of British society for a long time to come.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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