Jeremy Corbyn’s dramatic success in the British election shows the wide support for left-wing ideas. After Trump took the US presidency, and the far right National Front did well in the French presidential election, some said the right was on the rise globally.
It shows that socialists and the left can also tap the anger at the political system.
The idea that social democratic parties like Labour (and the ALP here) are only electable if they are pro-market, centrist and neo-liberal has been blown out of the water.
Despite universal ridicule from the media, the Tories, and many Labour MPs, Corbyn achieved a 9.5 per cent swing, reversing a long trajectory of British Labour’s decline.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who called the snap election confident that her 20-point lead would result in a landslide, has been humiliated. She now holds government only with the support of the bigots of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. Her minority government will be weak and unstable. May is already under challenge as the Tories bicker over her leadership.
Most commentators mistakenly put May’s defeat down to her appalling campaign and the U-turn over her pledge to privatise home care for the elderly. But this ignores the popular surge towards Corbyn that increased the voter turnout. Seventy-two per cent of young people between 18-25 voted, up from 43 per cent in the last election.
Corbyn’s manifesto included pledges to increase the minimum wage, re-nationalise railways, power and the post, 500,000 new council houses, free university tuition, one million new jobs through public investment and the repeal of anti-union laws. He promised to pay for this by increasing taxes on corporations and the rich.
These policies proved more powerful than all the media accusations that Corbyn had “loony” policies or was sympathetic to terrorism.
But as we saw with the example of the radical Syriza government in Greece in 2015, being elected with a democratic mandate does not deliver the power to make change. Even if Corbyn had won, the kinds of reforms promised in his manifesto are never delivered without struggle outside parliament.
Waiting for a Corbyn win at the next election would be a mistake. The rallies for Corbyn during the campaign, some attracting tens of thousands, show the potential to turn support for Corbyn’s policies into a force that can fight the Tories to win them.
Crucial questions face Corbyn and the movement around him. His position as leader may be secure but the right still dominates the Labour MPs. The hypocrites who tried to knife Corbyn now congratulate him for a “strong campaign” but they remain just as determined to pull Corbyn to the right.
Chris Leslie, who resigned from Labour’s front bench when Corbyn was elected leader, told the media, “We should not pretend that this is a famous victory… I will never apologise for my view which is… that you can actually move from protesting about a government to being the government.” Such right-wing Labour MPs will have to be fought.
On another crucial issue, Brexit and free movement of people, Corbyn has wavered.
In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, Corbyn was pressured to pander to the arguments that migrants take jobs or run down government services. Corbyn rejected this, but now accepts that free movement will end after Brexit (while avoiding to say whether immigration should rise or fall).
Such concessions politically weakened his campaign and only disarm Labour supporters in the struggle ahead.
In response to the two terror attacks during the election, Corbyn said the war on terror had failed and made mild references to Britain’s war-mongering in the Middle East. But he then attacked May from the right, accusing her of making Britain less safe by cutting police numbers.
But more police will do nothing to stop terrorism. They will be used to harass and intimidate Muslim and migrant communities, increasing the racist divisions that fuel it.
The lessons of Corbyn’s success have been completely lost on Australian Labor. ALP National president Mark Butler told reporters there is no need to find a Jeremy Corbyn-like leader in Australia. “We’ve been united, we’ve been disciplined and we’ve been holding this government to account.” But Shorten is leading a Labor Party that is hide-bound by neo-liberalism when what is needed is a stand for refugees, for the right to strike, and against Turnbull’s cuts.
The leadership of The Greens should also take note. Under Richard di Natale, the Greens have been moving to the right, in the name of “responsible pragmatism”. However, Corbyn’s success shows the possibilities of winning working class support for a radical social democratic platform.
All those inspired by Corbyn, and who want to see a real fight for change—for socialism—need to become part of the resistance on the campuses, on the streets and in the workplaces.
By Jean Parker