Lindsey German on trusting Tories and the Jeremy Corbyn she knows
There’s one thing Jonathan Ashworth said that was right yesterday – he is a plonker and looks very stupid. It does beggar belief that a Labour shadow minister, in charge of a key area of the party’s work and the issue which is its strongest suit, should have a lengthy conversation with a ‘Tory friend’ who is a political activist where he says that Labour is doing terribly in the election and won’t win because of Brexit and Corbyn.
Perhaps Ashworth is the only person surprised that this recorded conversation ended up on the right-wing Guido Fawkes website. Conveniently, the day after Johnson had his worse day so far over the NHS, the man who should be making political capital over this is exposed as someone prepared to discuss the party’s prospects with their political enemy and showing at the very least a stunning and cynical contempt for the party he is representing.
He also shows contempt for the tens of thousands of activists who have been out campaigning on the doorstep and in town and city centres up and down the country, people who are desperate for a Labour government to usher in radical change. They stand in contrast to much of the PLP and their hangers-on who don’t like or understand Corbynism and who are desperate for the day when politics returns to business as usual.
What they don’t understand is that it isn’t going back to a comfortable centre ground. If Johnson wins then he will usher in an attack on workers’ rights, on the environment, on the constitution and on electoral boundaries, on food standards, the health service and much else. His government will be lying, cavalier, authoritarian and unpleasant.
A Corbyn government would begin a fundamental change to British society with much higher levels of public spending and public ownership of key industries. It would seek to right some of the major iniquities which mark Britain in the 21st century.
That’s why Corbyn is feared and hated by those who want to maintain the status quo, and why they spend so much time attacking him. Unfortunately, some Labour MPs and peers (don’t forget the likes of Mandelson and Blunkett hang around in the Lords accountable to absolutely no one) would rather see Johnson in power than Corbyn and have spent the four years of his leadership sabotaging everything that he does.
I don’t know if Ashworth fits into this category, but I do know that there are far too many Labour MPs who work against Corbyn on a regular basis. They are very quiet now, but let’s not kid ourselves that they are quiet because they are out fighting for a Labour victory night after night. Rather it’s because they are biding their time until they judge that the time is right to pounce.
The better that Labour does on Thursday the harder it will be for them to advance. So at least some of them have an interest in Labour doing badly. The discussion Ashworth had is only what a number of them will be saying in private to journalists and other colleagues.
The left has three tasks therefore as the election draws to a close. The first is to ignore Ashworth and any others attacking Labour and to spread the positive message about how we can change the political agenda. That has to go until 10pm on Thursday night. The second is to defend the left within Labour which has always been under attack from the right. The third is to organise to fight, because the most important question is how the left fights back against the interests of capital and big business. I sense that Labour is moving ahead in the polls and that the canvassing is very positive in lots of areas. What this will all mean by Friday morning is too difficult to call at present – but as I’ve said repeatedly, whatever the outcome there will be a great deal to fight for.
A threat to the few
I haven’t said much about Jeremy Corbyn himself in these Briefings, but I think he has shown amazing strength in this election campaign. The barrage of criticism and lies about him is, as far as I can see, unprecedented. I have known of similar levels of attack on two socialists in my lifetime. One was Arthur Scargill during the 1984-5 miners’ strike when he endured lies, spies and abuse. The other was Tony Benn from the late 1970s through the 1980s. I know from what Tony said to me how hard it was for him and his family, and it was something that affected him throughout his life.
However, neither endured so much and so systematic abuse as Jeremy Corbyn. Particularly hurtful to him and to all anti-racists is the untrue charge of antisemitism. He became leader not out of personal ego or ambition but for political reasons – because he thought the left should stand a candidate. His politics were the reason that many people saw him as different from the run of the mill carbon copy centre politicians - and the same reason why the mainstream media, the military, the right, don’t like him.
This is mainly political not personal, which is why Foot, Kinnock and Miliband also got appalling treatment from these same quarters – and so would any other left leader. The exception who proves the rule in Tony Blair, who made his peace with Murdoch before getting elected and never threatened wealth and power one iota.
I have known and worked with Jeremy for many years and he is a man of exceptional honesty and principle, genuinely concerned about changing society and willing to engage with a wide range of people and ideas. If that makes you a threat, then there is something badly wrong with our political system.
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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