As Jeremy Corbyn steps down as Labour leader, Shabbir Lakha reflects on what he achieved
When I first got involved in political activity just over a decade ago, I had not the slightest impetus to join the Labour Party. Why would I? It was the party of Tony Blair and the Iraq war, the party that had played a role in creating the financial crisis we were then witnessing, and the party whose response to the Tories coming to power was arguing for slightly less austerity.
In 2014, I joined the Stop the War Coalition and first met Jeremy Corbyn. I remember catching a glimpse of his diary when we were trying to plan a meeting and seeing it overloaded for months to come. And I thought this must be what the life of an MP is like. But I quickly realised that the vast majority of Jeremy’s diary entries were campaigning events. Whether it was rallies against austerity, meetings about Chagos or Palestine or conferences against war, I soon saw Jeremy Corbyn at almost every activist gathering, supporting every just cause I could find.
So it made complete sense when he ran to be leader of the Labour Party in 2015 that support for him erupted across the country. I helped out at one of the first rallies of his campaign at Camden Town Hall, organised by other Stop the War activists. The hall was filled up, two overflow rooms filled up, teenagers were scaling the wall to catch a glimpse through the window, and 500 people were still outside who he then came out to speak to from on top of a fire engine.
This was the hope that Jeremy Corbyn inspired. The hope that an alternative is possible.
The orthodoxy of neoliberalism has characterised the last several decades and shaped the lives of my generation. The global financial crisis marked a turning point and Labour was punished in 2010 and 2015 for remaining wedded to this failing system, even as its bid to rescue itself through austerity was being paid for by the working people that have traditionally made Labour’s base.
The decline of neoliberalism has left a gaping hole in the centre-ground of politics that has seen social-democratic and liberal parties across Europe collapse. Here, the resulting polarisation found its expression on the left in Jeremy Corbyn challenging that orthodoxy, and the Labour Party’s membership has since grown to the largest left of centre party in Europe.
Jeremy Corbyn represented an ideological break from New Labour and provided a real alternative to the Tories. His personal record – his centrality in the movements of resistance against austerity and war – made his leadership of Labour more than just a parliamentary initiative, but a leap in the struggle for socialism from below. It unleashed a radicalism on how society can and should look like – and importantly, what our role in bringing that about can be.
This radicalism can’t be put back in a box. The mainstream consensus on austerity has been shattered, and the ideas of societal transformation that have built since 2015 won’t disappear, and we have Jeremy Corbyn to thank for that.
We also have to thank Jeremy Corbyn for ceaselessly providing opposition to war and unwavering solidarity with the victims of imperialism. It was for this that he was attacked the most vehemently but it was on this that he refused to compromise. His first act as leader of the Labour Party was to speak at a Refugees Welcome Rally, in the following year he spoke at the national demonstration against Trident and at Stop the War’s conference, and even at the height of the smear campaign against him, he refused to throw the Palestinians under the bus.
His commitment to his principles and the people he represented in the face of constant denigration even when he was completely isolated is a level of strength and courage that is nothing short of heroic.
In the end, we have had to confront the reality that the road to socialism isn’t paved through Parliament, but it is certainly built further along now than it was five years ago. Huge swathes of people have been politicised, the anger and the hope are very much still alive, and the movement, which Jeremy Corbyn will remain a central part of, can reorganise and renew the struggle.
Thank you Jeremy Corbyn. See you on the streets.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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