There is every opportunity for the class to move forward with this clarion call, writes Lindsey German
Whoever leaked that manifesto did Labour a big favour. Despite early shrieks of outcry from the usual suspects, it did two things: it meant that Labour and its policies became a central talking point; and it brought probably the most radical Labour manifesto into play, allowing a clear choice between more of the same from the Tories and a change which would make British society more equal and fair, re-establishing many of the tenets of the welfare state that have been destroyed by successive neoliberal governments.
Interestingly, as soon as these ideas got out there, Labour supporters were able to put forward the case for public ownership, taxing the rich and corporations, free and funded education in phone-ins, debates and workplace conversations across the country, and found that they got a positive response.
The debate is not only heartening and gives some concrete policies to fight for, it also - if not explicitly- challenged what is wrong with the existing system. As one of my Facebook friends pointed out, abolishing tuition fees would not cost a huge amount since they are paid for by government and then repaid by student loans, subject to all the costs imposed by finance companies. Get rid of the fees and you would get rid of that future debt.
You would also stop funding higher education according to the rules of the market, which would also benefit students and teachers. You can repeat this across the board. Private train companies are massively subsidised by government, and charge some of the highest fares in the world. The beneficiaries are their shareholders and directors. With this plan, money spent on the railways would benefit a public service.
One welcome effect is that even Polly Toynbee of the Guardian is heaping it with praise. Problem is, she says, Jeremy Corbyn can't get elected and so can't implement it. So a positive article turns into another 'Corbyn isn't up to it' chorus. She should perhaps reflect that without Corbyn this manifesto would not have been written, let alone become party policy.
Any of the other candidates in the two leadership elections would have given us Tory-lite. It might also be worth remarking here that, so far, the Tories have been unable to make this centrally about immigration. That can change, but it is in large part due to Corbyn's commendable refusals to go along with the racist narrative on this question. Remember the anti-immigration mug from last time round?
They don't want us going back to a time when the working class was winning
The outcry over Labour's manifesto leak has led to the usual headlines of 'Corbyn wants to take us back to the 70s'. For those of us who lived through it, the 70s really weren't bad - or at least not a lot of them. I first voted in 1970 at the age of 19 for Harold Wilson's government which, to my great shock, lost. That election ushered in Ted Heath's Tories, bringing in a new era of right wing economics, cut backs in welfare and determined to 'deal with' the unions. The four years of his government saw some big attacks on workers but also some huge strikes and protests, centrally, around his Industrial Relations Act, which was a frontal attack on working class organisation.
The jailing of the Pentonville dockers in the summer of 1972 brought London to the brink of a general strike (even more remarkable given it was in the factory holiday shutdown period) and they were speedily released, having destroyed this invidious law. Two miners' strikes in 1972 and 1974 rolled a log in front of his pay policy and led to the defeat of his government. Strikes by post office workers, building workers, nurses, teachers, clothing workers - including a growing number of women - became much more common.
Left wing ideas - socialism, women's liberation, sexual and racial liberation - all flourished. Squatting was a big movement and a huge campaign prevented the destruction of the whole of the old Covent Garden market.
That changed under the Labour government, especially of Callaghan, but also in the face of a ruling class offensive to take back many of the gains of working class people internationally. The coup in Chile against Allende in 73, the defeat of the Portuguese revolution in 75 and the unexpected smooth transition from Franco's fascism to monarchy in Spain, all helped to restabilise the situation, as did deals between workers and governments in the face of economic crisis from the mid-70s onwards.
The Historic Compromise in Italy, Social Contract in Britain and Pact of Moncloa in Spain all wedded workers parties to a 'national interest' which saw workers losing out. These paved the way for Thatcher and Reagan (it's often said Chilean dictator Pinochet was the first monetarist). Privatisation made millions for the few at much higher costs for the rest of us.
However, even then there were big struggles: the Grunwick strike which marked a watershed for Asian workers, the huge battles against the fascists, most famously at Lewisham, the establishment of the Anti-Nazi League, and the Winter of Discontent among public sector workers.
Since then, inequality has grown beyond any expectations, welfare states are under constant attack, working conditions and pay are pushed down in a race to the bottom, students now have to pay for education, union membership has halved since 1979, secure housing has become unattainable for millions, and large numbers of people in work rely on state benefits and food banks just to get by.
Not much comparison is there really?
Put up or shut up
I'm getting sick and tired of Labour MPs who won't back the manifesto. The Blairite MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw has said he doesn't agree with the leaked Labour manifesto, but will stand on his own Exeter manifesto. Lol. Carwyn Jones, head of the Welsh Assembly, says too he will have different priorities in his own manifesto.
But these people aren't standing in a local or regional election, and if they stood as independents almost certainly wouldn't get elected. It is monstrously arrogant and undemocratic for them to behave as they do. It also does not help convince people to vote Labour. But hang on a minute. They know that already. They know that putting out a different message from Jeremy Corbyn is making it more difficult for Labour to get a coherent message across.
Given that they are highly experienced politicians, there can only be one explanation: that they are deliberately making it harder for Labour to win because they know that there is only one alternative to the Tories and that is a Corbyn led Labour. Right wing Labour - having presided over rotten boroughs like those in South Wales - has a lot to answer for.
A clear red line
I hope that Jeremy Corbyn's speech today makes no concessions to the constant demands for more war that we hear from the Tories. These wars have failed and it is a scandal that this is the fourth election being fought while Britain is at war in several countries, but any questioning of this is deemed unacceptable. Any hesitation about nuclear annihilation is seen as weakness. Actually, Corbyn's policies on this are a sign of strength.
He is right to say he is not a pacifist, because he isn't. He is also right to demand a break with the special relationship and Trump. It may be too much to hope for, but a serious debate not dominated by retired generals, government sponsored think-tanks and venal politicians on this question would be a remarkable first.
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’.
More articles from this author
- Tory policy: eat, drink, be merry because tomorrow… well you know the rest – weekly briefing
- The battle is on: and the left can’t win in Labour - weekly briefing
- The movement that can dump Trump – weekly briefing
- The good, the bad and the ugly – weekly briefing
- The looming danger of a US-China military confrontation
- Boris Johnson, statues and staying in the streets
- Black Lives Matter, the sixties and socialist organisation - video