The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer isn’t a fact of life; it’s a set of politics that we can change, argues Lindsey German
It was announced last week that the average annual income for CEOs in Britain was over £5 million. Yes, that’s right - £5 million. Yes, that’s right - the average. The same day we found that average wages were falling or stagnating for most of the rest of us, with wage rises below inflation levels. Unsurprisingly, reports of children going hungry in the school holidays, of record homelessness and of continuing attacks on working conditions are reported by newscasters without further comment.
There are few who denounce this situation for what it as - an obscenity and a crime against humanity. There can be no justification for such inequality but the well-rehearsed canards that there is no alternative to the market. The fact that the boss of the state subsidised failed company Carillion can be rewarded with a job supervising the loathed HS2 project tells you the level of state and government support for these levels of inequality.
That there is not more outrage over this - or more debate - is now par for the course in this neoliberal age. The rich are rich because they are clever and risk taking and the rest of us have to both accept that and accept that we do not share in any of the rewards that fall to the fortunate minority.
The fear that discontent and anger at this situation will threaten the super-rich is ever present. They worry that those who work to provide their lives of luxury and leisure will at some point rise up against them. Last week New Zealand’s government banned the sale of property in parts of the country to foreign nationals, so concerned were they that the super-rich were buying up real estate as boltholes from civil unrest in other parts of the world.
This is surely the connection to the incredible onslaught on Jeremy Corbyn which has only ever temporarily subsided in his three years as Labour leader - and now has reached unprecedented levels in the claims of antisemitism and racism being levelled at him and his supporters on a daily basis.
Corbyn’s platform is far too radical for their liking, demanding a shift in wealth and power from the rich and corporations to the poor and working people. Even 1970s style nationalisation and public ownership, or the building of council houses, or the refusal to continue using public money to subsidise private corporations like Carillion and G4S, is too much for the rich and powerful.
His opponents now seize on the accusation of antisemitism in order to, they hope, discredit his leadership and to remove a leftwing leader with a lifelong record of opposing injustice, including racism. The Corbyn leadership has meant the end of the old two party consensus which has dominated British politics for 30 years, and the supporters of the status quo are desperate to restore it.
On their side are the press, the Tories and Lib Dems and it has to be said a fair chunk of Labour’s MPs, a minority of whom are now in open revolt against him. The Tory government is itself in a terrible crisis, but every time Labour looks like it is getting ahead, there is another scandal or furore designed to hold it back. Unfortunately for Corbyn’s enemies, Labour is still edging ahead in the polls, and this is leading to ever greater desperation.
The real target of the antisemitism row
The wave of accusations about Jeremy Corbyn and antisemitism reached its crescendo with the alleged wreath laying on the graves of alleged terrorists - which turned out to be false. Not before it had been parroted across every news outlet, dissected interminably on Newsnight, repeated by dozens of politicians. These charges are not primarily about antisemitism. Indeed the wreath laying incident was not claimed to be antisemitic. They are about politics here and in the Middle East. And their target is more and more obvious - removing Corbyn from the Labour leadership and his replacement with someone much more amenable to the needs of British capital, whether in the arena of foreign policy or in terms of domestic policies.
The row over antisemitism has been erupting periodically for many months but blew up again in July over Labour’s NEC decision to accept the IHRA definition of antisemitism but not all its accompanying examples - a perfectly reasonable point especially given concerns that the Israeli government and its supporters here will use the examples to prevent any criticism of Israel’s repression of the Palestinians. This led to rightwinger Margaret Hodge MP calling Corbyn a ‘fucking racist and antisemite’ for which she was initially subject to a disciplinary inquiry.
Since then Hodge has seen her charges dropped but has continued her abuse of the party leader, most ludicrously and offensively comparing Labour’s letter to her with the treatment of her father in Nazi Germany. Yet the right are in danger of winning this argument, with a growing concern that Labour’s NEC will reverse its stand and adopt the whole IHRA definition. This has now been argued by among others Len McCluskey of Unite, the argument being that the party has to agree and move on. But such a move would not mean moving on. It would open the door to further witch-hunting of Labour members and indeed would probably bring the argument over antisemitism into the unions which have strong pro-Palestinian policies.
We know from the behaviour of Hodge, the Jewish Labour Movement and their supporters that giving in to them just results in more demands. Labour’s left should stand firm. To do otherwise is to accept an agenda where building solidarity with Palestinians - and discussing the situation honestly - will become harder and harder in Labour.
A new centre party: just because it’s failed before doesn’t mean they won’t try again
Is there going to be a new centre party? There’s a lot of talk about it, and it seems to me that many on Labour’s left are expecting it to be declared in the next weeks before Labour conference. I see the logic in this. The accusations of antisemitism have reached crescendo levels, there is growing open hostility to Corbyn and the left, there have been secret awaydays involving Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Stephen Kinnock et al in luxurious Sussex retreats, and the fanatical Remainism of Labour’s right is driving it into the arms of Anna Soubry, Vince Cable and the Lib Dems.
The argument against it is that such a new centre party would be doomed to electoral failure under Britain’s first past the post electoral system. Maybe, although the SDP got massive support from the media and some electoral success especially in by elections back in the early 1980s. Anyway such success is only part of the project. The real aim is ensuring that Labour can never succeed in government with a left leader. The SDP kept Thatcher in power on a minority vote. The antisemitism issue gives the right an issue where they feel they are on the moral high ground to carry out such a split.
In reality they would be a new pro-capitalist party committed to the neoliberal model as epitomised by the EU. We can be certain that they would do nothing to challenge the inequality discussed above. That’s why this party will have a lot of wealthy backers. And why we shouldn’t make any concessions to these people.
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
- Testing times, but no trace of a government strategy - weekly briefing
- No country for old men? – weekly briefing
- Trump goes viral - weekly briefing
- When Towering Inferno meets Groundhog Day - weekly briefing
- Protecting war criminals and torturers: the Tory bill and Starmer's shame
- Second time farce, but it will lead to tragedy - weekly briefing
- Where next for the left? - Lindsey German