A ‘Bearded’ Labour?

Many things are impossible; a great many people would say convincingly, that a Labour party committed to challenging austerity, redistributing wealth and empowering democracy, is merely a relic of the 1980s. Of course, progressive politics is ‘unelectable’ says both the liberal and Tory media, who are quick to ignore the 5 million voters who deserted New Labour between 1997-2010. But the narrative dictates that Blair dragged the party to ‘centrist electability’ and you would be forgiven for expecting the Labour Leadership contest to be a mere personality contest between the electables/reasonables/moderates.

Instead, youth and activists have poured into the Labour Party to announce their support for the left-winger Jeremy Corbyn. Up to 150,000 people have joined Labour since the election, with a third under the age of 30. Obviously, more party members doesn’t necessarily translate to more voters as the Greens learnt. But it means that in spite of Labour’s disappointing defeat, there’s bold new ideas and energy coming to rejuvenate the party. Yet, Labour’s hierarchy are uncomfortable with the sudden leftward growth of the party. It is one of many foolish contradictions of Labour that growth of the party membership is something derided as undemocratic; as though widening the internal debate to encompass environmentalism, anti-austerity and alternative narratives is a threat. Whether the same outrage would have occurred if Burnham or Kendall received a sudden influx in support is very unlikely.

Corbyn faces more-or-less unanimous negative media coverage, dubbed a ‘catastrophe’, ’emotional spasm’ and yes, even ‘worm-eating’; it is clear that whatever he is, he represents a break. The often mentioned ‘politics of hope’ has found its place in Corbyn; a leftist visionary untested and inexperienced and perhaps it would be madness to consider such a man. As we rally towards his defiant flame, we must have an honest discussion on the limitations of any progressive campaign trying to overturn the entire political arena.

First, on the vessel. There’s no question that many of Corbyn’s policies enjoy popular support: most people want public railways, the scrapping of Trident and a more progressive taxation policy. And from the young people flocking to his campaign, that his campaign is a brilliant example of youth engagement. And yet he represents a drastic step back in terms of diversity and modernity. While lefty populists like Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece, are led by young men of 36 and 41 respectively; Corbyn will be 71 for the 2020 election. He was elected in the backwards, unimaginable 1980s where Whatsapp and 9Gag were but dreams! The bothersome contradiction of a ‘New-er Labour’ under Corbyn is the sad implications for racial, gender and youth representation. Why is Labour lacking a Chuka Ummuna or Stella Creasy with radical politics? Why are we turning invariably to old, white men to lead a 21st progressive movement?

Secondly, even if Corbyn wins the Labour Party election and then miracles occur and he wins the 2020 election – what then? He barely became a contender due to a lack of progressive MPs within the party; only achieving the necessary nominations 20 mins before the deadline. Why? Well, Labour is a party fundamentally wedded to neoliberalism and austerity economics. The party has lost not only the past two elections, but also the concept of opposition as we saw with the cowardly decision to abstain on the welfare reform legislation. That courageous decision proved that Labour was not only unwilling to commit to a radical progressive campaign, but even the achievements of ‘New Labour’ regarding public spending and child tax credits are to be sacrificed in the name of electability. So Labour has lurched further right than Blair? In that case, what on Earth is the point of an ‘Opposition’ and do we even want Corbyn leading a Labour party so antagonistic to his politics? What’s to stop the Blairites launching a coup or refusing to back his policies en masse?

But lets remember that limitations aren’t harbingers of doom. As he’s demonstrated, Corbyn has a policy of actually putting deeds before talk. He has launched commitments ensuring gender parity within the Labour party and backed Diane Abbot in her bid for London Mayor with corresponding fairer racial representation within his team. From the sheer mass of young people pouring into his campaign, his university visits and the release of a ‘Youth Manifesto’ it’s clear Corbyn is enviably successful in achieving youth engagement.

My generation has never respected political loyalties, we vote polyamorously, flitting between party memberships and voting according to what is on offer with no faith in party promises. Political apathy is the result of our cynicism and with that, the inability to demarcate the petty self-proclaimed differences between parties. Have you ever read a party manifesto? On paper, the left, is all about solidarity, fairness, equality and liberty; but in reality, there is division and sectarianism with the Labour Party, Green Party, Liberal Democrat, SNP and regional parties all campaigning in the same seats and simultaenously ruining any chance of leftist victory. That’s why Corbyn holds the potential for progressive unity, reaching out to liberals, socialists and environmentalists to enact a ‘social movement’ finally capable of abolishing austerity.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention and these important challenges could simply prove to be the dawn of a ‘New-er’ Labour; a Labour Party forced to shake up diversity, a Labour Party forced to stop its tribalism and embrace a broad alliance and  a Labour Party ready to overturn years of poverty and inequality. Maybe our bearded Corbyn can lead that Labour. Let’s just wait and see.

 

 

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A European Question

Next June, whilst us Brits worry about whether to take an umbrella or some sun-screen; a more fundamental question has been asked, moreso than anything British weather can materialise. A simple question of ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the European Union, a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to Brussels and a step into two radically different futures for the United Kingdom. This is a vibrant opportunity with the potential to tear open British politics similar to the same political upheaval in Scotland. We can only imagine the new Britain just a year from now.

The idea of energy in British politics is still rather laughable, after-all, less than 70% of people cared enough to vote in the general election. ‘None of the Above’ has been the victorious party once again. There’s a variety of reasons that people feel disengaged with formal politics, the meaningless differences between the parties, the archaic and boring nature of the ideas presented and a ridiculous fanaticism with ‘austerity’ and ‘economic pragmatism’ is destroying the very society that it is trying to save. Okay, these are problems that won’t be solved by any referendum; Cameron’s indifference towards the Scottish ‘No’ victory despite promises of ‘Home Rule and Devo-Max’ proves this. But, assuming Cameron has the decency to offer 16-17 year olds the vote, as looks likely, the opportunity to invigorate the political discussion and lift my generation from disenfranchisement is too good to miss. In Scotland, the youngest voters made the most effort to educate themselves, politicised their communities and voted overwhelmingly for an independent Scotland ; this was in stark contrast to the fearful, reactionary politics espoused by the older voters. 85% of young people voted in Scottish referendum because the choice was profound and being entrusted with a civic responsibility is the best way of empowering young people. It is the future of the youth that is being determined by the referendum, a democratic public mandate, for which, another 40 years may pass before there’s another vote on the matter. We need young people to have a stake in this European debate, leaving effects our economy, our jobs and our education. And staying, threatens our democracy, our liberties and social harmony. Votes at 16 is a necessity now and permanently in British democracy.

The last time we voted on Europe, was in 1975. There was an almost entirely different political landscape, with the Labour Left of Tony Benn, spearheading the No campaign as the Thatcher led the Tories in embracing Europeanism. Absent was Ukip and the poisonous narrative about immigration, instead an ideological, vibrant debate on sovereignty and prosperity dominated.

That was 40 years ago, and an entirely different Europe exists now; a European Union of unelected technocracy, of ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ economics, of neoliberal austerity and of war. Of course, this is far from the dominant narrative we hear in the media. Being pro-EU is presented as common sense with the alternative of Brexit, a recluse of racists, the radical right and the economically inept. But to say that Europe is purely beneficial for the UK is a deluded position that doesn’t take into account, the strong progressive arguments against membership.

How aware are you of your elected European representatives? How knowledgeable are you on the TTIP corporate legislation? And most importantly, do you understand the true nature of European institutions. The answer to all these questions is that we don’t know unless we fight. The European union survives on secrecy and a social-democratic façade; our democratically elected MEPs are unable to even initiate policy at the European Parliament, they merely hold symbolic votes on policy created by the unelected european commission. The EU also bribes and undermines the strength of Eurosceptic parties by bribing them with large amounts of the tax-payers money if they form european political groupings. This serves to prevent their criticism of Europe and is undemocratic in its preferential treatment. Onto TTIP, the trade deal being negotiated secretly with America will ‘harmonise’ regulations between the EU and USA, as well as, empowering corporations and privatisations. With our European Membership, there is no ‘opt-out’ from TTIP, if this deal passes we should expect a situation where governments are sued for passing environmental protection legislation or raising the minimum wage and the commodification of our education and health service.

Of recent, the European Union has become a weapon which enforces neoliberal economics and the economic incoherence of austerity. As we saw with Greece, democracy is not a barrier to the unelected powers of the EU.  Instead, the EU called the elected Greek Government ‘insensible’, committed to the ‘fiscal waterboarding’ of Greece via the denial of liquidity to the Greek financial system, destabilising the economy and causing up to £2.1 billion euros worth of damage to Greece. And even with the resounding 61% ‘Oxi’ vote of the Greek Referendum, through political manoeuvring, they transformed the ‘No’ to austerity to a yes to even more punitive ‘austerity’ measures, including the ridiculous fire-sale of state assets, cuts to pensions and wages and commitment to budget surplus, though almost all economists are in agreement that without debt restructuring and investment, there will be no sustainable economic growth in Greece.

Regardless, of whether you are ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ EU, there is definitely a strong progressive argument for both cases, and recognising that; if the eurosceptics are to win the debate, British politics could follow in the footsteps of populist surge across the continent, as parties such as Podemos in Spain, The Front Nationale, Alternative for Germany and other varied populist parties seek to burn down the European superstate. But at the very least, all sides agree that Europe is in dire need of radical reform and the wavering polls predicting a 44% ‘In’ to 38% ‘Out’ vote now could in a year’s time, radically change the course of British-European history.