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What does the Labour Leadership Election tell us?

25th August 2016

What does the Labour Leadership Election tell us?

By John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL – in between running for trains, jumping into cars, speaking on various platforms, TV and radio appearances and endless campaign organisation meetings – occasionally there is time for thought as the train speeds through Britain’s countryside.

I have been thinking about what the Labour leadership election has told us so far about the Party, its politics and our country. The most profound lesson is how far the Party’s political stance and even its language has been changed over the last year since Jeremy was elected leader. Labour’s politics have been transformed into an open declaration against austerity and the neoliberal economics that brought about the economic crisis of 2008. It is unimaginable that Labour could ever go back to supporting austerity, to endorsing attacks on benefit claimants, supporting aggressive wars or scapegoating migrants.
That is one of the immense changes brought about by the release of political energy that came from the campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. Last year’s leadership election was about securing that change in political direction for the Party and establishing the new politics that would secure that change in the long term, not just for the Party but also for the country.

The leadership election this time round is about democracy – whether the Labour Party leader elected by the biggest mandate of any political leader can be overthrown by an attempted coup at Westminster, just ten months on. And it is about whether the Party’s new political direction achieved by Jeremy’s election in 2015 can be secured or overthrown by the actions of a small minority, aided by the most aggressive media bias seen in recent political history.
As an aside, when the left claims media bias there is always the retort of left paranoia. This time the scale of media bias has been evidenced by independent studies from both the LSE and Greenwich University.

This election is about who the Party belongs to – is it 200 MPs in Westminster or is it over half a million activists across the country? It’s also about whether the Labour Party is a mass movement, open, inclusive and welcoming or is it a bureaucratic machine controlled from above and from the Westminster centre?
This election asks the question whether we are willing to develop the new kind of politics that we need to win future elections or whether we are going back to the old politics that lost Labour the last two elections.

The pre-existing formula was not working. Labour lost the 2010 and 2015 General Elections with paltry shares of the vote, 29% and 30%, and membership had plummeted to under 200,000 in the Brown and Miliband years. The share of the electorate that Labour won has been falling for decades. In 2010 and 2015 Labour won only one in five of all eligible voters.

Labour under Jeremy represents an opportunity to escape from Labour’s long running decline and build the sort of party that enables Labour to win elections. Part of that process is rebuilding trust in politics, honest straight talking politics, and banishing the era of spin, triangulation and sharp suited politicians saying whatever they think we want to hear.

Voting for Jeremy Corbyn is making a statement that Labour politics is about mobilising people, organising communities as a mass social movement to defeat the Tories – not just at the next General Election, but at every election we can. Voting for Jeremy is to offer a hopeful vision for the future – building council housing, giving health and social care the resources needed, investing in schools accountable to local communities, scrapping tuition fees and taking our railways back into public ownership.

The establishment is throwing its full weight behind this campaign to remove Jeremy from office. The establishment is saying to us, ‘How dare you elect a socialist as your leader.’ It wants a return to a politics where Labour leaders may make bold statements about changing society but are easily incorporated– a return to a politics where elections are simply a rotation of political elites.

My hope is that despite everything thrown against us by these influential and wealthy establishment forces within our society, we are all able to stand firm together in solidarity to return Jeremy as the leader of the Labour Party.

John writes every month in Labour Briefing, the magazine of the LRC

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