When Jeremy Corbyn announced his intention to stand in the Labour leadership contest, supporting his campaign was a total no-brainer for me. The other candidates represent colours from the just about pink of Burnham to the blue of Liz Kendall with Yvette Cooper somewhere in between. Corbyn is the only one with real red blood.
I was disappointed to miss out on tickets for the Welsh hustings in Cardiff on Sunday 5th July. It was poorly organised and extremely limited (once again showing Labour Party HQ’s complete lack of understanding and care for Wales) but thrilled to learn that Corbyn would be doing a meeting by himself in Swansea the day before, organised by Welsh Labour Grassroots. It was very well attended by Party members and other local lefties (People’s Assembly, SWP and Socialist Party were present) and whilst he was to an extent preaching to the converted all were impressed by his message.
It is clear that he is committed to creating a better society, in Britain and the rest of the world, and not just to getting into power. I believe that such an approach of offering a progressive, positive alternative to austerity could and should be genuinely popular. As was mentioned at the meeting, the “too far too fast” and “austerity lite” messages of the last election hardly set the world on fire. Voters I spoke to on the doorstep often bemoaned the parties were “all the same” but looked to UKIP. These voters saw the same problems that we do, benefit cuts, zero hour contracts, the Bedroom Tax, high cost of living, but have been taken in by the scapegoating of immigrants and the EU. We need to to have the argument, and to win it, that the banks caused to the crisis and instead of shutting our doors and looking inward, we should be investing in jobs, homes and hope.
Here are my notes from Saturday’s meeting. Rather long and a bit choppy (not a verbatim record) so I’ve highlighted some key quotes.
Jeremy Corbyn, Unitarian Church, High Street Swansea 4-6pm Saturday 4th July
Nick Davies kicked things off by saying that Corbyn had been on the right side of the 3 big lies of the 21st Century. First that we should go to war with Iraq over their weapons of mass destruction, second that Labour overspent on things like health and education and finally that we lost the 2015 election because we didn’t appeal to business and the middle classes. This was followed by a contribution in support from Swansea East Assembly Member Mike Hedges.
Jeremy started by stating that he didn’t want a leadership contest at this time. He thought the party should wait a year and have time to firstly re-examine our policies, the movement and the austerity agenda. The Labour Representation Committee had to look at how best they could influence the debate which was why he decided to stand.
For him in Islington, 2015 had been a success. He achieved his highest Labour vote on the highest every turnout. He campaigned in 11 constituencies where he found there was a lot of support for individual candidates but not the party’s message. He heard people upset about austerity, about benefits, youth unemployment etc but we weren’t able to offer an alternative. Whilst we were promising to scrap the Bedroom Tax and end zero hour contracts an incoming Labour government was fundamentally committed to making more cuts.
When the recession hit Brown and Darling did the only thing they could really do, but the flaw was that the public ownership of the banks was not real. We could have used them to put investment back into industry and to the economy. Instead Osbourne is selling them off at a massive loss no doubt to Tory friends in the City who stand to make a lot of money from it. This obsession with overturning the deficit and setting a date is ridiculous, an economy is not like a household budget! Alistair Darling was saying in 2010 that Labour would make cuts that would “make Margaret Thatcher blush!”.
Tory austerity amounts to sustained attacks on welfare which hits the disabled and the poorest hardest. WE founded the NHS on the principle that health care is a human right and we are rightly defending this today. Why can’t we do the same about the welfare state? We have the greatest inequality in Europe and its getting worse. We are using in work benefits to subsidise low pay and housing benefits to subsidise rents especially in London and the South East where the average rent for a two bedroomed flat is £250 a week. Social cleansing is going on there, moving further and further out of the city and it will affect everyone in the UK one day. The cap on benefits is only going to make this worse. We need to regulate and control private rents.
Housing is one of the biggest issues we need to address. The number of children in overcrowded and damp accommodation is rising. Is it necessary? The Tory answer is right to buy but Corbyn says if it is good enough for social housing why can’t it be extended to private tenants? We need to build council houses, with lifetime tenancies, of good quality and with reasonable rents.
We must challenge the economic orthodoxy. We are told we need to balance the budget but we are ignoring uncollected tax and tax havens. Why don’t we use these negotiations with the EU to include closing loopholes in places like Lichtenstein and Monaco? Moving corporation HQs around to reduce tax liabilities (like Boots has done) is theft from the people of Britain. It is taking away health, education and benefits. We must not be afraid to stand up to big business, we became frightened in Labour around 1993. We should be developing productive industries, especially green technology, not just financial services.
With regards to the environment we are in the midst of unprecedented extraction of natural resources. We have quite good regulations in Great Britain and Western Europe (although all that would end if TTIP goes ahead) although we import from nations with worse. This is why we need a global approach to the environment, not by promoting the free market but with socialist ideals and agenda. We are creating environmental refugees as a result of desertification and flooding largely because of deforestation.
Jeremy joined CND at 15 and is now the vice chair. We have a grand illusion that holding nuclear weapons will make us safe and secure. As Abdul Minty recently said, South Africa is secure because we don’t have the ability to destroy the rest of the planet. It will cost £100billion to replace Trident, this money could be spent developing high technology engineering.
All Jeremy’s life he has been committed to the peace movement. He opposed Saddam Hussein when he was our ally and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ignoring the wishes of 1 million people in London has had a catastrophic political effect for Labour. The derivatives of war are huge profits for the likes of Haliburton but so many victims who are left dead and impoverished. We can not wash our hands of it. He is not a supporter of Assad in Syria but there is no sense in joining a 4 way civil war where aerial bombing will lead to group troops. Libya is in chaos, Iraq is in chaos both down to us. ISIL did not come from nowhere. The arms we sell to Qatar, Bahrain, Saudia Arabia are ending up in their hands. There is no simple solution but our foreign policy should be about supporting people, human rights and protecting the environment.
We want our party back! It is possible! 250,000 people marched against austerity. They are on our side. Don’t forget and don’t ever be ashamed of what our socialist values are about.
Questions and contributions from the floor:
Stevie Stevenson- New Labour had been a monumental disaster. Mandelson took to the airwaves the very next day after the election to criticise Miliband. How do we get our core vote back? We need to get back to what Harold Wilson called a “crusade”. He fears further movement away from the unions.
Bob Davies- reminder that socialism is the soul of Labour. Asked Jeremy for his views on constitutional issues.
Q on if Corbyn would commit to reopening mines in the UK and developing clean coal technology. We are currently importing coal from Russia, Poland, Colombia- where it comes soaked in trade unionists’ blood.
Q about stopping Swansea Council cuts
Time Evans- reminded that electing a leader is not enough- look at what is happening to Greece. We need a movement behind it, the media and civil servants can work against a progressive government “A Very British Coup” style.
Liz Evans PPC for Gower spoke of her defeat. Gower was the longest held Labour seat in the country, 109 years. A key reason was money- the Tories threw £100,000 at Gower while we were baking cakes! Frequently heard people saying “I’d never vote Tory but I’m voting UKIP”. People agreed with anti-austerity message but saw immigration as a problem. Who are these “aspirational voters” we keep hearing about? She just heard people who were worried that they couldn’t afford their rent or child/ elder care. We need to reclaim the name of the party and stay with the grassroots.
Jeremy Corbyn responded to most of the points put. He thought the 2015 manifesto was actually very good!
During the refurbishment of Parliament it should go elsewhere. Too many MPs think of Parliament as a place rather than an idea. Corbyn wants to see a constitutional convention take place where we look at the voting system, the upper chamber, powers of local government. He told people in Manchester to beware of Tories bearing gifts! They would give them power but not resources and leave them to carry the can.
Young people were not anti-politics, they were getting involved in anti-austerity, peace, housing causes and engaging with social media which is an important political space.
Regarding coal, Thatcher committed an act of political vandalism with her attack on the NUM and working people. He remembered going up the M1 to Hatfield Main being passed by a paramilitary convoy going up and another coming back.
Individuals don’t bring about change, unity and collective action does. Tony Benn once said that the best leaders are the ones you never remember because you did it yourselves.
Inequality enriches the richest.
More questions and contributions
How can we better engage with young people?
Devolution- the English party has a lack of understanding in spite of bringing in devolution., How will you engage with the devolutionary landscape?
Noted that we struggle to get our message across through mass media- Murdoch empire etc.
Corbyn gave some background on his campaign so far- started out with no money and no organisation. Had raised £17,000, office loaned by TSSA, now employed 3 staff. Tomorrow was to be his 14th hustings. Interest in the issues is huge.
He is not going to sit back until 2020 and hope the welfare state is left.
Is creating an online book/ “manifesto” where anyone can contribute.
He is very worried about TTIP and the unaccountable power growing in the world. We need strong global justice and trade union movements- build alliances.
The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy was formed 20 years ago as they were disappointed with the state of the party, it seems like a paradise now! Conferences, selection processes have all been devalued. Any member, any branch, any CLP should be able to put forward an idea, have it debated, make it a policy.
At the end of this we want a stronger, more vibrant left.