Corbynism taught Labour a vital lesson - GulfToday

Corbynism taught Labour a vital lesson

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

Michael Chessum, The Independent

Since 2015, Labour’s membership has roughly tripled. In the twilight years of Ed Miliband’s leadership, around 200,000 people were members; the electorate for Jeremy Corbyn’s successor is likely to be around 600,000. One of the obvious effects of this is that the majority of Labour’s members have no collective memory of Labour before Corbyn. Instead, many rely on ripping yarns from longer-standing members, and many more will be drawn in by the vague sense that Labour used to win elections.

It is understandable that many Labour members want to move on from the Corbyn era. Too often, loyalty to the leadership was the only gel that bound the left’s base together. With the leadership gone, many former Corbynites – especially those for whom 2015 was their first major political engagement – will take unexpected leaps.

It would be a fatal error for Labour members to buy into the idea that to win elections, we must return Labour to its pre-Corbyn state. The policy shifts that have taken place – on public ownership, the economy, the Green New Deal and austerity – are overwhelmingly popular. This, at least, appears to be a consensus among the candidates for Labour leader, at least for the moment, and, as a result, many left-wing members feel safe.

But looking at the field of candidates, I now think that Labour faces a profound danger, whoever wins.

Bluntly, and you couldn’t have known the extent of it unless you were in the party at the time, Labour before Corbyn was boring. Deeply, deeply dull. Local parties were much smaller and less lively. Without a strategy based on a mass membership and radical politics, most events, speeches and publications were pitched at the same set of professional lanyard-wearers who had organised, written and laminated them. When I was in Young Labour, a significant proportion of people attending weekend youth conferences arrived suited-and-booted with a pre-prepared speech on some minor structural reform, which they proceeded to read out as if it were ‘I have a dream’.

Pointing out how boring Labour once was is not self-indulgence. The lack of excitement was a critical part of what made the party unelectable under Ed Miliband. The problem was political: an ingrained institutional hostility to street movements and radical ideas inherited third-hand from Neil Kinnock. But to much of the public, to those on the streets and to Labour’s dwindling left, this was manifested in a sense of profound tedium and hopelessness. It was like being hit over the head with a big stick of “meh”.

By no means did the coming of Corbyn solve all this. The same culture of bureaucracy and triangulation dogged the leadership over during its four-year term, especially on issues like Brexit. Corbyn’s office deployed the same party-management machine, blocking radical party reform. But for all its failings, the project that started in 2015 was one of excitement, mass mobilisation and hope. It staked out a clear position on social and economic policy, and fought for it. It stretched and broke the boundaries of the mainstream, opening up a space for a movement to bloom – a movement that often broke from the leadership’s line on particular issues. From the climate crisis to Brexit, political education and The World Transformed, Corbyn catalysed a genuinely new politics.

It might seem bizarre that we could look back on the Corbyn era – which witnessed two general election defeats in four years – as a golden age. But unless some ideas and energy are injected into this leadership election, post-Corbyn Labour will be a boring place, and unelectable as a result.

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