“Labour is ready...We have become a government in waiting...We are now the political mainstream.”
These were the confident words of Jeremy Corbyn in his keynote speech to this year’s Labour Party conference.
The Labour leader’s assured rhetoric, in turn, reflected the wider mood of enthusiasm amongst the overwhelming left-wing conference delegates and visitors. The Corbyn movement is moving forward stridently in the wake of the general election. After spending decades on the sidelines, the Left is beginning to take back control of the Labour Party at every level.
It is now the Blairites, meanwhile, who find themselves pushed to the periphery, forced onto the backfoot. Whilst Corbyn-supporting delegates boldly attacked the right-wing dominated party apparatus from the rostrum, bitter New Labour devotees from the Blairite factions of Labour First and Progress were reduced to standing outside the conference venue, pathetically handing out leaflets denouncing the “Leninists” that are “seeking to destroy the Party”.
Throughout the week, conference attendees were treated to a range of left-wing pledges by Corbyn and his team. Scrapping the public sector pay cap; public ownership of utilities; the abolition of PFI contracts and an end to privatisation; controls on rent: these policies, and many more, were advanced by Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and others.
Labour, the party leader promised in his conference-closing speech, will build “socialism for the 21st century, for the many not the few”.
Prime minister in waiting
With the Tories in disarray, Corbyn’s critics silenced, and a mass political movement developing around the Labour leader’s positive vision, it is clear to everyone that the next occupant of 10 Downing Street will likely be none other than the “unelectable” Jeremy Corbyn.
Furthermore, as Tory infighting continues and the Corbyn movement grows and gains confidence, it is possible that a new election (in the not-so-distant future) would see a Labour landslide.
Even the typically hubristic and out-of-touch Establishment are now coming to terms with this dire (from their viewpoint) reality.
The ruling class is acutely aware that they have lost control of the situation. Not only has their preferred political party become a Frankenstein’s monster of xenophobic and jingoistic fuelled chaos; but to add insult to injury, they no longer have a reliable “Second XI” in the form of the Labour Party, which for the past two decades (and until recently) had been firmly in the grip of the Blairite representatives of big business.
Nevertheless, the capitalists and their strategists pride themselves on their pragmatism. And with the Boris / Rees-Mogg wing of the Tories seemingly intent on seeing the country career out of the EU in a train-crash Brexit, some of the more astute voices within the ruling class are wondering whether there could be room for doing business with a Corbyn-led Labour government.
Not so bad, perhaps?
Step forth the Economist magazine, a dependable mouthpiece of the capitalist class, which led this week’s issue with an editorial entitled, “Jeremy Corbyn: Britain’s most likely next prime minister.”
Concerned with the prospect of a damaging Tory Hard Brexit, and resigned to the likelihood of seeing Corbyn become PM, the writers at the Economist - as with many other key capitalist journals - are now starting to think about how such a future Labour government could be made more amenable to big business.
“The unthinkable image of a left-wing firebrand in 10 Downing Street is increasingly plausible,” the article’s author despairingly states at first. But perhaps Corbyn and Labour would not be so bad after all, our journalist then ponders.
“[Corbyn’s pledges] are bad ideas, but not the policies to turn a country to rubble. If Labour combined them with an approach to Brexit that was less self-harming than that of the Tories—some of whom are still gunning for the kamikaze ‘no deal’ outcome—its prospectus could even be the less batty of the two.”
“If you are going to piss away £250bn by leaving the single market, another £11bn on [abolishing] tuition fees doesn’t matter,” says Tom Baldwin (a former adviser to Ed Miliband) to the Economist. “It’s another round of drinks on the Titanic.”
In short, a potentially pliant Corbyn government could be the lesser of two evils from the perspective of the capitalists.
The Greek tragedy
There is a clear and recent precedent for such hopes on the part of the ruling class. Only two years ago - just before Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader (for the first time) - the entire European Establishment closed ranks in order to pile pressure on the Tsipras-led Syriza government in Greece.
Faced with a collapse of the traditional centre-right and centre-left parties in Greece, and with a mass movement on the streets of Athens calling for “OXI” (NO) to the Troika’s austerity programme, the European ruling class was left with no option but to lean on the radical left Syriza party.
Despite the counteracting force of the movement beneath him, Tsipras buckled, and the Syriza leaders ended up carrying out even worse cuts and attacks on the working class than the previous government of Greek Tories had enacted before them.
Sabotage from outside and within
There is no doubt that a Left Labour government would face similar pressure from all quarters if in power. The whole weight of the capitalist state would be brought to bear upon such a government: from a hysterical and endless campaign across the mainstream media; to open sabotage through the stultifying civil service bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, the markets would hold a gun against the head of such a government, with a strike of investment and money siphoned out of the country by those looking to avoid higher taxes and increased regulations.
Indeed, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, earlier this week announced to a conference fringe meeting (entitled “Challenges facing a future socialist Labour government”) that he was conducting “scenario planning” to prepare for the possibility of a run on the pound under his oversight of the economy.
At the same time, a Fifth Column of Blairites inside the Labour Party would seek to hamper Prime Minister Corbyn, whilst various sweet-talking “advisors” would descend upon the Labour leader in an effort to moderate his programme. Already, various think-tanks are making plans for how they (on behalf of big business) can influence a Corbyn-inhabited Number 10.
Labour vs Syriza
However, Britain is not Greece; Labour is not Syriza; and Corbyn is not Tsipras. The Labour Party has a far greater historical weight and much deeper roots within the working class than Syriza ever had. It is not an ephemeral trend, but the traditional mass party of the British working class, with strong links to the trade unions. Indeed, with around 600,000 members (and rising), it is the biggest political party in Europe.
In this respect, as the aforementioned Economist article notes, “There are two visions of a future Corbyn government”:
One, outlined in Labour’s election manifesto earlier this year, is a programme that feels dated and left-wing by recent British standards but which would not raise eyebrows in much of western Europe, nor do the country catastrophic harm. The other, which can be pieced together from the recent statements and lifelong beliefs of Mr Corbyn and his inner circle, is a radical agenda that could cause grave and lasting damage to Britain’s prosperity and security. The future of the Labour Party—and, quite probably, of the country—depends on which of these visions becomes reality.
Of course, this is written from the standpoint of the ruling class. The former scenario, in this respect, is of a social democratic government carrying out a mild Keynesian programme that would be acceptable (although not necessarily desirable) to the capitalists.
The latter “grave” and “damaging” scenario, meanwhile, is that in which a Corbyn-led government moves far to the Left, under pressure from a mass movement of workers and youth demanding radical measures.
It is this potential outcome that terrifies the capitalist class. They can see that the Left is getting stronger, bolder, and more organised. Corbyn-supporters are reclaiming the Labour Party at every level, as seen by the clean-sweep of Momentum-backed candidates in one CLP after another in recent months. The recent rule changes agreed by the Labour National Executive Committee and passed at this week’s conference strengthen Corbyn’s position. And grassroots members have not forgotten the previous betrayals of various right-wing careerists who still infest the party as councillors and MPs.
Complete the Corbyn Revolution!
But to guarantee this victory, it is necessary to complete the Corbyn Revolution that began two years ago.
The “democratic review” promised by Corbyn and his team must itself be democratic, open, and under the control of the membership. CLPs should be allowed to submit and vote on proposals, and measures must be taken to shackle the bureaucratic Compliance Unit, to reverse the expulsions of socialists, and to introduce mandatory reselection (i.e. democratic accountability) of all elected representatives - in particular of MPs.
Meanwhile, the Corbyn movement must also be democratised. Too many decisions at conference were taken behind closed doors in dodgy deals between the trade unions and the (unelected) Momentum leaders, with honest delegates proposing decent rule changes being told to remit their motions to the forthcoming democratic review. And whilst the new Momentum app for organising delegates is a welcome step forward, there needs to be democratic accountability in terms of how these sagely decisions and advice from the ethereal cloud are arrived at.
Labour to power on a socialist programme!
Most importantly, however, is the programme that Labour and the Corbyn movement fight for. We must tell the truth: sabotage and blackmail from big business and the financial markets cannot be combatted through piecemeal reforms, regulations, and “scenario planning”, but only by breaking with the profit-driven market system altogether.
At the end of the day, you cannot plan what you don’t control; and you cannot control what you don’t own. To guarantee all the progressive measures outlined in Corbyn’s conference speech, therefore, Labour must put forward a bold socialist alternative.
To guarantee investment and prevent capital flight, a Labour government must nationalise the banks and major financial institutions, under democratic control.
To provide affordable housing, we must move beyond rent controls, taking over the properties of Britain’s parasitic landlords and management companies and nationalising the land and construction companies.
And to exploitative corporations such as Uber, McDonalds, and Sports Direct we must say: if you do not provide a real living wage and proper workers’ rights, you will be brought into public ownership immediately, without compensation.
Only in this way can we build a socialist future “for the many, not the few”.