Lindsey German on post-Corbynism and the realities of Brexit
When Jess Phillips pulled out of the Labour leadership race after one humiliating hustings, the liberal press was distraught. In particular, the refrain from journalists like John Crace in the Guardian and John Rentoul in the Independent was that she was too honest and too bold in speaking up to be able to represent the Labour Party as its leader.
It’s a pretty amazing take on the failure of her campaign. Because Phillips has only won a reputation for speaking truth to power when criticising the left in her own party. She has criticised the Tories to be sure, but that should be kind of standard for a Labour MP. The reason she has been invited onto talk shows and comment programmes has been for one reason only – to criticise Jeremy Corbyn and his allies.
This made her a star for much of the media, who no doubt were among those encouraging her to stand for leader. The problem is that she just doesn’t have a lot of depth or knowledge when she’s asked more than ‘would you like to tell me again how much Jeremy Corbyn is a bad thing’ – and it showed. Instead of admitting that and bowing out with some dignity, it all became someone else’s fault, in this case the members who obviously don’t realise what they are missing.
So now there are four and it’s a pretty unedifying race. If I had a vote, I would give it to Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon as by far the two most left-wing candidates, but I have a number of criticisms of Long-Bailey and don’t see her as continuity Corbyn candidate on much, and especially not on foreign policy. The press is already going for her and they will be even worse if she wins, as they were with Corbyn. But he had a strong record of campaigning, especially on international issues, which allowed him to maintain decent positions in the face of attack.
Long-Bailey on the other hand has already conceded to the completely unacceptable demands of the Board of Deputies about antisemitism cases; has said she will press the nuclear button; and talks about ‘progressive patriotism’ – whatever that is meant to mean. None of this bodes well for the future, as the next Labour leader is going to come under immense pressure to move to the right.
Already, Long-Bailey is under attack from sections of her own party. Stories this weekend that some `Labour MPs will leave if she is elected leader shows the continuity anti-Corbynism that has refused to accept democracy for nearly 5 years and continues to do so. So for the left, it should be a no brainer to support her, whatever the reservations.
I’m guessing that Emily Thornberry will not get on to the ballot paper, given her lack of wide support so far. I’m not really sure why this is, given that she has similar politics and background to Sir Keir Starmer but is rather more outward going and a better speaker. In the case of Starmer and Lisa Nandy, while both have to acknowledge the support Corbyn has within Labour and so make gestures to the left in their election campaign, neither has a record of left politics. They will both be completely acceptable to Labour’s right and too much of the establishment who saw Corbyn as such a threat. They will both travel further to the right if elected, in the name of winning over the centre ground, winning back the northern towns and so on.
In doing so, they are likely to tack much more towards the policies of Ed Miliband – for example on immigration – and talk about the need to address the concerns of the ‘traditional working class’.
Which brings me to the question of class. The leadership candidates are all keen to stress their working-class credentials in appealing for votes. So Starmer’s dad was a toolmaker, Long-Bailey’s a docker, Phillips had a Birmingham accent, and so on. Much of the debate going on centres around what the working class is, will it vote Labour in future, is it declining? I welcome all these debates because they bring to the fore what is the most central feature of our society – and that it is divided by class. The system of exploitation is at its core and an understanding of this is central to seeing how we can change society.
I’m going to return to this question in coming weeks but there are a few basic points. By the time you’re 25 or so, your class should be judged not by the family into which you were born but by what you do. Class isn’t primarily cultural and certainly not denoted by accent (when I first went to university, I thought everyone with a Scottish accent was working class). It’s about your relationship to the system of exploitation. It makes no sense to regard the working class in a static way, simply as from particular geographical areas, or confined to certain ‘traditional’ occupations.
In terms of the Labour leadership, it’s not about your background or what school you went to (what normal person even asks which school you went to anyway?) but about whether the policies you put forward help advance working class interests and whether they challenge the priorities of the capitalist class. We’ll see how that shapes up in the coming weeks.
Not the dingdong Johnson had in mind
So this is the week when Britain leaves the EU. Without the bongs from Big Ben but with some flag waving and rhetorical flourish. The promise to get Brexit done won Johnson the election, but of course Brexit isn’t going to get done any time soon. There is a huge amount to negotiate and already there are signs that it isn’t all going to go smoothly. Despite a degree of bravado from Johnson and his gang, these deals are unlikely to be negotiated on Britain’s terms.
If we wanted early evidence of that, look at the spectacular row blowing up between the US and British governments over the latter’s plan to hand over part of the 5G network to Chinese technology company Huawei. The US regards this as a threat to its security and is trying to force Britain to abandon the plan. Despite this, tomorrow it is likely to get the go-ahead from Johnson. His Home Secretary, and devotee of Donald Trump, Priti Patel is fighting bitterly against this.
Rows over trade are only one part of the equation. A bigger question is how the British ruling class will deal with a policy which for the most part it did not want and which will affect areas like the motor industry badly, and to what extent it will pressure Johnson to stay as close to the EU as is possible? We don’t know the answer to that, but we do know from the exclusion of previous concessions from the Withdrawal Act, and from the refusal to countenance a slightly more humane policy on the question of child refugees, it will be working people who are expected to pay the price.
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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