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Where we are

21st July 2016

Where we are

Part of a speech at the Labour Briefing Readers’ Meeting held in London on July 19th

By Mike Phipps

We are currently going through the most important political developments since the miners’ strike. Like the miners’ strike, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people are getting active, bringing their real world skills into the struggle. In some ways it’s more significant than the miners’ strike, which could have led to a compromise settlement, had Thatcher not been determined to spend huge sums of money to smash the miners. Today I see no compromise.

People say the PLP have declared war on the membership. But they can’t attack Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, which are popular, so smears are deployed. He lost Labour the EU referendum – even though a recent speech by Peter Mandelson no less lays the blame squarely at the door of New Labour.

See it here

He’s a vote loser, despite winning every by-election in this parliament and Labour doing well at the local elections in May. His supporters are anti-Semitic – a smear rejected by the Chakrabarti Report. His supporters are bullies because they marched on Stella Creasey’s house – they didn’t: a peaceful protest left post-it notes on an unstaffed constituency office door. They put a brick though Angela Eagle’s office window – not true. A window in a communal stairwell was found broken. Angela Eagle had to cancel a meeting in a Luton hotel because of security concerns - not so: the hotel cancelled because they didn’t want a political meeting.

Despite these myths, Jeremy Corbyn remains hugely popular. A poll in The Times estimates he would beat any rival by a clear 20 points. 55% of members think he’s doing a good job, up four points in two weeks, while 41% think he’s doing badly, down seven points.

Those challenging him know this – hence their panic. Our opponents know this. They call us “dogs”, and “scum”.  This is both a sign of political impotence and a provocation. They want us to respond with similar rhetoric. We must not. We must retain the moral high ground. One reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s continued popularity in the Party is members’ sense of fair play. Many support him simply because he is being unfairly treated and not being given a chance by the PLP. But they do worry about the lengths the bitterites are going to in order to destabilise a leader who was elected less than a year ago by a huge majority.
Why is the right wing being so destructive? For those who think the central battle is between Labour and the Tories, it’s not. It’s a class struggle, and unfortunately the ruling class is inside the Labour Party. The Blairite wing is closer to the Tories than to Jeremy Corbyn and indeed pioneered many of their current policies – austerity, academies, privatisation, etc. It’s doubly deceitful because they don’t come out in their true colours, they hide behind people like Angela Eagle and Owen Smith. But make no mistake – if they won, it would be just like the negative briefings and disloyalty Ed Miliband suffered.  The right wing would carry on undermining the leader behind the scenes, willing them to lose the next election so the real Blairites can step forward, just like 25 years ago. Well, not this time.

Three other important points: If you wish, you can see the current struggle as the left versus the right. But there are limitations to this approach. It’s internal. It doesn’t speak to the electorate. It doesn’t even speak to the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people now getting active. Anyway, why ghettoize ourselves? The left is now the mainstream.

We have to reframe the debate. It’s not the left versus the right, it’s the people against the elite, the 99% against the one percent, the citizens, democracy versus oligarchy. We’re not interested in being the left, we’re aiming to take power.

Secondly, the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people now getting active is reminiscent of the level of activism at the time of the miners’ strike or the invasion of Iraq. But it won’t last. It never does. So we, the long-term activists, have to work out not only how we engage with these people. In some ways, the two month closure of the Labour Party’s structures gives us an opportunity to break out of the old routines.

Bur also, how do we make gains now so that when the tide does go back out we have laid lasting foundations for a different party? We have to make some things irreversible. It’s about hegemony – making our opponents fight on our terms. Just as Thatcher said her greatest achievement was Tony Blair and New Labour, so all subsequent political argument took place in a neoliberal economic framework, we too have to exercise lasting hegemony.

If we look up from the week by week crisis, we’ve achieved a huge amount. Labour is an anti-austerity party. Never again will we abstain on welfare cuts. Labour has repudiated the Iraq War. These are big gains.

Lastly, what we are doing is much bigger than Jeremy Corbyn. If he loses, it doesn’t stop. If he wins, the right have promised more destabilisation. The Party could split.

But this is bigger than the Party. It includes the trade unions, community organisations, rising student activism and other campaigns. If we’re going to win back the ‘left behind’ and create the social majority that puts Jeremy Corbyn into Number Ten, we need to harness the resources of our entire movement and renew it with people set on this course.

The long crisis of representation is over. We are building a movement for power and it is irreversible.

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