Jeremy Corbyn is probably the first person to have won the leadership of the British Labour Party on a campaign that advanced a left agenda. He did so in fine style, with the support of 60 percent of the membership, to the dismay of the Labour Party establishment. Reports suggest that plotting immediately began among the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to remove Corbyn from the leadership. The majority support for the referendum to leave the EU, provided the occasion on the spurious ground that one-third of Labour supporters voted to leave. There was no evidence to show that any leader could have achieved better results.

The Labour Party establishment, traditionally to the right of the membership, does not believe that Corbyn’s leadership and his full-blooded opposition to neoliberalism, austerity, inequality and tax breaks for the rich, which are being offered by the Tories, are the correct policies or that they will win elections. It always believed that a core policy of the more efficient management of capitalism, not extracting a greater proportion of its profits for the working population, is the route to periodic electoral success. This strategy, adopted by right wing social democracy in the West, is designed to win over some undecided or pro-Tory voters, not to mobilize a left/progressive alliance.

The spectacular failure of this type of policy occurred in the 2000 US elections won by George W. Bush. Al Gore’s failure to mobilize all of the liberal/progressive strands in the US left the opening for Ralph Nader’s Greens who won 2.8 million votes, handing the elections to Bush and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to the world.

The left has always been under-represented in Labour’s PLP as MPs, in relation to its popular strength, while the PLP has been traditionally dominated by careerists on its right wing, rather than activists on its left wing. Consequently, contradictory outcomes emerge, reflected in Jeremy Corbin’s overwhelming popularity among the members who elected him but lack of support in the PLP in which only 40 MPs supported him as against 170 who did not in a no confidence motion held a month ago. With a dagger about to be plunged in his back, the right wing has praised Corbyn’s integrity and humanity. But his performance as leader has been criticized. True, he does not have the aggressive wit, articulatory polish and sartorial elegance of the ‘toffs, ’ which the right wing in the PLP probably believes he should aspire to, but this may well be part of his overwhelming appeal.

There has always been a struggle, open at times, by the left and right  wings of the Party for influence. The right has always won this struggle except for 1980, when Michael Foot was elected Leader. While Foot was much loved by the left, he was seen as coming from the liberal-progressive, rather than the working class, traditions of British politics, as Corbyn has. Foot’s moderate leftism, not fundamentally at odds with the basic interests of the ruling class, and so recognized, did not prevent the right wing under Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams from leading a split from the Labour Party and forming the Social Democratic Party in 1981. In the run-up to the 1983 elections Labour led the polls until the Social Democrat-Liberal alliance scuttled a potential Labour victory. With a new lease of life, Margaret Thatcher delivered one of the greatest defeats to the labour movement in the miners’ strike in 1984-5.

Ten years later, shortly after Tony Blair’s election as leader, the simmering war against the left was resumed by him. Even though clause 4 of the Labour Party Constitution, which mandated the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy, had survived more as a symbolic gesture than a serious intent, Blair contrived an unnecessary, but ultimately successful, campaign to remove it, merely to inflict a defeat on the left. After that, no one could argue with his consistent electoral success, despite a turn to the right in both economic and foreign policy. This periodic war against the left has resumed once again in the right wing’s attempt at a coup against Corbyn, elected just last September.

The left has argued that its policies have never had a chance to compete electorally with those of the Tories, so that it never had the opportunity to demonstrate the depth of its appeal. The resistance of Corbyn and the left to the coup plotters in the Labour Party might well be seen in the context of the left having been given for the first time in the history of the Labour Party, the opportunity to place its agenda directly to its members and to the electorate. In addition, for the first time, the possibility is opening up of an electoral alliance with Liberals, Greens and other progressive groups.

Already the British press is floating the idea of another split in the Labour Party if Corbyn wins new leadership elections, likely to be held in September. A split will, of course, once again take the Tories off the hook, as was done for Margaret Thatcher, by the same right wing which split the Labour Party in 1983.

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  1. Ralph
    Wonderful analyst well documented.
    Long on history short on ideological
    differences labour V Tory and where
    that takes us. Political dilemma.
    Far right or far left. ?
    Capitalism V Communism
    Both system failures latter more !

    My laypersons suggestion
    Karl Marks ..buried Muswell Hill
    north London …visited his grave
    years ago.
    Communism died with Gorbichov
    Capitalism with Bushes dynasty.

    Each produce according to ones means
    receive according to needs !

    Each produce according to ones ability
    receive according to needs.

    Maybe Corbyn is the right person to
    initiate change in labour s communistic
    roots. We shall see if this is at all possible.
    Difficult with TM (Teresa) preaching gospel
    of unity in the party/nation
    After two unnecessary Referandums
    by “deserter” C ex leader.
    Now we have a new captain who was
    appointed not elected.
    Not wishing to speculate further
    agree 100% that Corbyn is right
    elected leader but his position
    is untenable. He should have
    stepped down/resigned. Even
    live to fight another day !
    It will be full speed ahead now
    for TM (bitch) Thatcher mk2.
    Elections in 2020.
    Where she takes UKPLC
    mere speculation.
    However in all fairness
    think she deserves a chance.
    Only time will tell

    Loved reading your factual article
    on the British dilemma.
    Am optimistic for Britain future
    and its influence on EU/ROW

    Lord Kamtan ukplc

  2. A very well written piece. Exciting analysis! Needed to emphasize that labour majority voters have always been poor working and middle class and these were always sympathetic to right wing values; the majority voters (as different from members) were never working and middle class ‘radical lefties’. And this has always been the problem with the labour party and continues to be when a small but vocal left rises to the top of its leadership. I think class plays a more central role in labour politics…..which invariably positions its MPs to the center and as we see today, in direct conflict with the current left leaning party leader. My central point is that neo-liberalism has proven to be a world dominant ideology (the victor, so to speak) and as you pointed out, it’s about who manages capitalism better and distributes its fruits in a more equitable manner. There is no appetite to radically alter the mode of production based on ideological terms. Since Tony Blair’s intervention (most recent of modern times), labour has been populated by what has been coined: the Aspirational class….yes, all those professional politicians and other professionals who have risen from a family background of poverty or little means to adequate means for themselves. The UK labour party of today is a contradiction in and of itself.

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