The Corbyn campaign for Labour leadership, it seems, likes to operate at the 11th hour. It was only with two minutes to go that Corbyn reached the required 35 nominations from MPs. And now, in the final 24 hours before the registration deadline, over 160,000 people have applied as members or supporters in order to vote in the leadership contest. Nobody is in any doubt as to who the vast majority of these applicants will be supporting.
Following on from the YouGov poll earlier in the week that put Jeremy 32-percentage-points ahead of his nearest rival in terms of first preference votes, this latest surge in voter numbers is a further massive boost to the Corbyn leadership bid.
Even the Labour right wing seem resigned to the fact that their three candidates will likely trail Corbyn in the final vote. This pessimism, however, has been accompanied by a sharpening of the Blairites’ knives. The hysteria, desperation, and complete cynicism of the Labour establishment is now on plain view, as senior figures and MPs line up to smear the left-wing leadership favourite, imploring people to cast an “ABC” (“anyone but Corbyn”) vote and openly threatening to carry out an immediate post-election coup against a victorious Jeremy. The smiling mask of democracy has slipped to reveal the ugly, ruthless, and Machiavellian face of the ruling class underneath.
The Corbyn surge
On Wednesday morning, just hours before the registration deadline, we reported on the incredible support that Corbyn was gaining, particularly amongst affiliated trade unionists and registered supporters. At the time, around 80,000 trade unionists and 65,000 registered supporters had signed up to vote in the leadership contest, and the opinion polls suggested that such supporters were overwhelmingly backing the only anti-austerity candidate in the contest (with 67% of first preferences amongst trade unionists and 55% from registered supporters).
Added to these numbers were a further 79,000 new Labour Party members that have signed up since the election, with figures suggesting that 63% of these new members would be backing Corbyn. The total “selectorate” (of members, trade union affiliates, and registered supporters) stood at around 425,000 – an impressive number, and a large increase on the 200,000 members that Labour claimed at the time of the May general election.
The latest (last minute) surge, however, has blown even these impressive figures out of the water, with 160,000 signing up in the final 24 hours before the deadline, causing the Labour website to crash under the strain, and thus the registration deadline to be extended by several hours. Labour membership now stands at almost 300,000, with a further 121,000 registered supporters.
Most incredible, however, was the doubling in the numbers of trade union supporters now able to vote, with the figure now standing at almost 190,000. Given that all the major unions (with the notable absence of the GMB, who have not backed anyone) have backed Corbyn, this late push represents a massive boost to Jeremy’s campaign.
The total selectorate now stands at an amazing 611,000, over three times the size of the pre-general election Labour membership. With polls showing that a clear majority of new members and supporters are for Corbyn, it would seem that Jeremy’s victory is all but assured. The main task now is for Corbyn campaigners to get out in large numbers – on the streets, in workplaces, and throughout schools and colleges – and ensure that every registered person casts their vote. In particular, the unions must take their campaign up a notch and throw all their resources into the battle over the next four weeks to guarantee that union members vote before the 10th September deadline in order to put a Jeremy triumph beyond doubt.
Not playing ball
Unable to stop the rising tide of support for Corbyn, the Blairites have begun to throw their toys out of the pram, like the petulant children that they are. The three right-wing candidates have all made a joint official complaint about the voting process, protesting that they are at an unfair advantage because the trade unions – who are backing Corbyn – will be able to canvass voters (i.e. trade union members) in advance of anyone else. Instead of moaning about an election process that they all pushed for and naively backed (until it started to go against their favour), however, Jeremy’s rivals might like to ask themselves why they are so far behind in the polls, and why the major organisations of the working class – the people they occasionally pay lip-service too – have wholeheartedly backed Corbyn.
Elsewhere, the talk of “infiltration” in the election process has grown into a hysterical campaign, with a chorus of right-wing Labour MPs now calling for the leadership contest to be halted, or even cancelled as a result of the “dangers” of “entryism”. The threat of post-election legal action has be thrown in also, with backbench Labour MP Graham Stringer stating that, “if the election isn't paused that would be a shame…people will [probably] take legal action because the rules are not being implemented properly.”
"Through poor planning,” claimed Simon Danczuk MP, “Labour has handed its opponents the chance to undermine the party for the price of a Tesco meal deal.”
The irony of the situation has not been lost on anyone, as it was precisely these right-wingers in the Party that pushed for the new voting system, in an attempt to dilute the trade union influence in the leadership contest. Completely out of touch with the real mood of anger in society, the Blairites assumed that allowing anyone to register and vote would work in their favour. Now they will be cursing their own complacency and hubris.
The hypocrisy of Blairites seems to know no bounds. It is astounding to hear those who have supported war, privatisation, and breaking the unions from the Party claim that the thousands of workers and youth who are signing up to vote for an anti-austerity candidate don’t “share Labour’s values”. As Mark Steel, the socialist comedian and journalist for the Independent, who is one of those whose application has been rejected by Labour, commented:
“It’s easy to see why those in charge of the Labour Party are so depressed. They must sit in their office crying: ‘Hundreds of thousands of people want to join us. It’s a disaster. And loads of them are young, and full of energy, and they’re really enthusiastic. Oh my God, why has it all gone so miserably wrong?’”
This accurately sums up the farcical rhetoric of the Blairites, who have exposed themselves as being the ones who don’t “share Labour’s values”. Surely anyone genuinely interested in a Labour victory would be delighted by the large numbers signing up as Labour supporters? If these hundreds of thousands of new, young, enthusiastic activists were organised and given a clear programme to oppose the Tories, future Labour electoral campaigns would be unstoppable. And yet the Labour establishment seem more keen on paraphrasing the famous paradox posed by Groucho Marx: we don’t want any members in our club who want to be members of our club!
Who needs democracy anyway?
Former advisor to Blair, John McTernan (already infamous for his comments about Corbyn supporters being “morons”), effectively stated as much in a BBC interview, repeating the Blairite mantra that Labour needed to appeal to Tory voters, not gain the active support of those who already vote for Labour. This conveniently ignores the fact that many of these new, young Labour members and supporters – drawn into activity as a result of the inspiration of the #JezWeCan campaign – did not vote at all in the previous election, and that young people in general have been completely alienated from mainstream politics over the years, with only 44% of 18-24 year-olds turning out to vote in 2010.
It is hard to see what the point of the Labour Party – or democracy in general – is for people like McTernan. According to McTernan and other New Labour types, Labour can only win by copying the Tories and UKIP, particularly on key questions such as austerity and immigration. But if Labour is to be just another Tory clone, then what is its raison d'être? Why have a Labour Party at all? Why not just go the whole way and have just one party in the UK – the party of Capital? Indeed, this is what the ruling class hope for Parliament – and bourgeois democracy in general – to be: just a convenient façade for the undisputed rule of Capital, whereby the bankers and bosses make all the real decisions in society.
Similarly, why bother having the nuisance of party democracy? Clearly the “moronic” Labour supporters cannot be trusted to behave like adults and vote for a “responsible” candidate like Burnham, Cooper, or Kendall.
Indeed, the Blairites have openly stated as such, with the New Labour patriarch himself even wading in once again in order to patronisingly implore leadership voters (“even if you hate me”) not to “take Labour over the cliff edge”, and warning of “annihilation” for Labour if Corbyn were to win. At least Blair, for once, has the self-awareness this time to release he is one of the most despised individuals in politics.
In another fine display of their democratic credentials, the right-wing have recently stepped up their talk of a potential coup against Corbyn, with Simon Danczuk MP asserting that the left-wing potential future leader may be ousted by a right-wing rebellion in the Parliamentary Labour Party “on day one”, “if not before. As soon as the result comes out.”
“Am I going to put up with some crazy left wing policies that he is putting forward and traipse through the voting lobby to support him? It's not going to happen is it?”
Such statements by Blair, Danczuk, McTernan et al. demonstrate clearly the contempt that these ladies and gentlemen have for Labour members and supporters, and for the whole democratic process. In their eyes, the Blairites have a divine right to control the Party without question. Party members should be seen and not heard; mere cannon fodder to help promote their careers.
Blairites losing control
There is little the right wing can do, however. They are impotent in the face of such an enormous momentum behind the Corbyn campaign. A mass politcal movement has formed around Jeremy, pushing him forward towards a seemingly unstoppable victory.
Overwhelmed by the numbers applying to vote, Labour HQ have claimed that they will “remove infiltrators” after their votes have been cast. Such statements have rightly opened the door to accusations of potential serious election rigging in favour of the Burnham, Cooper, Kendall triumvirate.
But with over 600,000 now able to vote in the election, and Jeremy gaining support every day, attempts by the Labour bureaucracy to gerrymander the vote are futile. Even with the whole Party apparatus at their disposal, the right wing are unlikely to be able to reject enough applicants to sway the election in favour of their preferred candidates (at least not without causing an enormous outcry and calling the legitimacy of the result into serious question), with only a reported 1,200 “infiltrators” discovered to date.
Vote for Corbyn! Fight for socialism!
Nevertheless, Corbyn and his supporters must be prepared for immediate civil war after 12th September. The Blairites, will the full backing of the bourgeois press, will go on an immediate offensive against Jeremy. Sabotage and splits will be on the order of the day.
There must be no illusions in the intentions of the right-wing. Seeing the disastrous effect that anti-Corbyn mud-slinging is having, Burnham has taken a friendlier, softer, and more conciliatory attitude, praising Jeremy for helping to “open up the debate”, and stating that he would be willing to serve in a Corbyn-led cabinet. But even those who come with smiles on their faces will be more than happy to stick the knife in at a later date.
Great responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the union leaders, who will need to come out fighting against any attempted coup from within the Parliamentary Labour Party, throwing their full weight behind a Corbyn leadership.
But the potential power of the Corbyn movement is immense, and should not be underestimated. The hundreds of thousands who have signed up to vote for Jeremy – not to mention the thousands more who have come to his rallies across the country – is reminiscent of the enormous rise of the SNP’s membership (to over 100,000) in the wake of the energetic and enthusiastic campaign for Scottish independence. There are parallels also with the recent rise of Podemos in Spain or SYRIZA in Greece. It is a truly mass movement, unseen in Britain since the days of Tony Benn, which has drawn in a whole new generation of young, radicalised activists; more overtly political in its demands than that of the anti-Iraq-war movements in 2003 or the anti-Poll Tax campaigns against Thatcher.
If these 100,000s of new activists were organised around a bold socialist programme, to be taken into every workplace, every school, and every community, the social movement created would be unstoppable. This is the task that faces us: to educate, agitate, and organise; to argue the case for a genuine alternative to the Tories and austerity; to fight for the end of the crisis-ridden capitalist system and for the socialist transformation of society.