Monday, September 14, 2015

The Corbyn Shockwave Hits Powerful Forces


Jeremy Corbyn will probably be pinching himself for some time to check whether he is dreaming or not. His sudden rise to the leadership of the UK Labour Party has probably surprised himself as much as those in the hierarchy of the party who had just included him in the race to try and make their own favourite seem more electable. Corbyn's strong socialist principles were deemed too exrtreme to ever be taken seriously and were supposed to encourage support for yet another moderate "Tory Lite" leader. Instead Corbyn's pure and principled messages struck a chord to Labour members and many young people who had become disillusioned with politics.

Jeremy Corban's rise to power created shockwaves that have rattled through the power base of the powerful and influential in the United States, the United Kingdom and his own Party. Over almost four decades the strong relationship that has been forged between politicians and corporate interests has caused neoliberal thinking to be embedded into the political mainstream.

The idea that people must serve the economy rather than the economy serving the people has resulted in growing inequality. The profits generated by working people have shifted upwards rather than shared and workers have become mere commodities helping drive the economic machine. Unions, regulations and taxes have been seen as impediments to economic growth and spending on Government services and welfare have become luxuries that need to be continually questioned. When the Great Financial Crisis occurred the perpetrators were bailed out (major banks and financial institutions were deemed too big to fail) and austerity measures were put in place so that ordinary people again bore the costs of neoliberal greed.

Socialism and a fair deal for working people had been the foundation of the UK Labour party (as it was in New Zealand) but the solid left politics of Michael Foot and Tony Benn were deemed too toxic to be electable during the 80s. Tony Blair shifted the party to the right and became the sort of leader that corporate interests could do business with.  Blair's fondness for military action was also like no other Labour leader and he led Britain into battle five times (more than any other British prime minister) and he was also a strong supporter of Israel. Blair's relationship with US Republican President George W Bush was a warm one and his honesty around joining the war in Iraq has been questioned, as has the legality.

Corbyn's views threaten so many powerful interests: banks, corporate tax evaders, Israel, oil companies etc. and those with political careers supported by them. The Labour Party hierarchy and ex-leaders did what they could to limit Corbyn's growing popularity. Tony Blair made a last minute desperate plea to dissuade people from voting for him and Gordon Brown did the same. Peter Mandelson even tried to convince the other leadership candidates that they should all withdraw from the race so they that they could suspend the election (Lord Mandelson currently owns a business providing management advice to corporates). Even the BBC attempted to railroad his campaign with a clearly biased Panorama documentary. However it became clear that to all that to shut down the election would only feed his support even more and Corbyn swept in with an overwhelming majority of almost 60% of the first preference votes.

The attacks on Corbyn are not going to stop after his election and many of the same accusations and charges made during the campaign are going to be repeated by the conservative media in both the UK and the US. Corbyn is portrayed as a friend of terrorists and a supporter of extremist views and yet almost all his strong and principled stands have been shown, with the passage of time to be correct (here is a list of fifteen). I especially enjoyed Corbyn's story about his arrest outside South Africa House after protesting against the the country's apartheid regime. He was charged for behaviour offensive to a foreign diplomatic mission and when it went to trial Corbyn was exonerated and paid compensation (which he then passed on the the ANC and the anti-apartheid movement).

I can see external trouble ahead for Corbyn through his strong opposition to Israel's treatment of Palestinians. As with his olive branch approach to Gerry Adams, he greeted Hamas and Hezbollah and referred to them as friends in welcoming them to talks. Such an approach will not please Israel and Corbyn's support for diplomatic solutions rather than violent ones in the Middle East does not fit with the US's black and white approach to allies and their expectations of their Five Eyes club members.

Jeremy Corbyn is no messiah (as his initials suggest), he just is a highly principled, hard working socialist politician whose dedication to politics has seen the seen the end of two marriages. There is the possibility that unless he can rally a strong team around him, the hope that he has generated in the grass roots and growing membership may crumble under the intense pressure, both inside and out. He is not experienced in leading a team and has spent most of his career fighting his battles with minimum support. He has already upset some women in the party for having males dominate leading roles in the shadow cabinet (despite increasing female numbers substantially overall) and the centrists in his Party are plotting.

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