A year ago today Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of our party.
I remember that day with joy, but it was a joy that was soon to become marred by the anger and bitterness of a large group of Labour MPs who couldn’t accept this seismic shift. Their put downs started during the campaign. We were told to end the madness, get a heart transplant. Our passion for change was attributed to nothing more than an emotional spasm in response to the election defeat.
After Jeremy’s stunning victory several experienced MPs invalidated his leadership by refusing to serve in his shadow cabinet. In doing so they were invalidating us, and the choice we had made.
Then came the smears. Female MPs pointed to sexist tweets from unknown and clearly idiotic individuals, then pointed at all of us. “Sexists” they said. Ironically these same MPs seem unperturbed by the sexist remarks that fall from their preferred candidate’s own mouth; a silence that confirms what we knew all along – their outrage is selective, only to be deployed if it proves useful to their anti-Corbyn agenda.
Then came the anti-semitism, trotskyite arm-twisting and thuggish rabble smears.
It has been relentless!
Just as relentless have been the attacks on Jeremy himself by the PLP, always gleefully reported by a hostile media, and I include the BBC in that. We have spent the last year either defending Jeremy or defending ourselves.
It’s not all been bad of course. We won 4 by-elections and 4 mayoralties and performed far better in the local elections than many expected, but even then none of the credit was given to Jeremy Corbyn or the party’s new anti-austerity position. It was either down to the ‘centrist candidate’ or the fact Jeremy was barely mentioned. On the local election night tv specials, Labour MP after Labour MP was wheeled out to bemoan the ‘terrible’ results, with no mention of the 7% swing to Labour from our General Election results just a year before. So even our victories were tainted by the bitterness of others.
Despite how hard this year’s been I am celebrating Jeremy Corbyn’s first anniversary as leader because it’s worth celebrating. I just don’t feel like popping open a bottle of bubbly when my messenger inbox is filled with messages from devastated friends who’ve been purged from voting with no clear explanation given. I’ve even cried over them; overwhelmed by a feeling of impotence, frustration and anger.
This party – so beloved by many of us for all its incredible achievements over the years – has scoffed at our choice of leader, smeared us all in revenge for voting for him, and then revelled in its power to strip away our democratic right to vote. This year has been a real eye opener but not in a good way. Except maybe there is something good in having our eyes opened if you subscribe to the view it’s better to have the truth out in the open, than to believe things are ok when they are not.
This past year has revealed one truth above all others. The Labour Party is NOT a broad church.
It’s a nice label, but it only holds true if all sections of the party are treated with equal respect; and I don’t mean a respect that’s reliant on them staying on the back benches. If Dennis Skinner, Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott were considered too far left to lead the party, the party should have expelled them all years ago. The only reason they didn’t is because these ‘political dinosaurs’ served a purpose. They were essentially the party’s token lefties. Expel them and it would have killed both the concept of Labour as a broad church and a democratic socialist party in one fell swoop.
The illusion of a broad church was an important one to maintain because it helped the party hold onto those tribal working class voters New Labour love to take for granted. They knew that as long as Dennis Skinner was being irreverent to the queen and Jeremy Corbyn was speaking at a stop the war rally, people would assume Labour couldn’t have moved too far from its roots. The premise of the broad church wasn’t enough to stem the haemorrhage of five million voters under Blair and Brown, but it will have stemmed the flow. But then the membership went and did something that exposed the illusion for what it was. We voted for Jeremy Corbyn. And the PLP have been trying to restore ‘order’ ever since.
So yes, our eyes have been opened. That’s not to say many weren’t aware of this state of affairs long before now. I know many were. But I also know many weren’t, and have been genuinely shocked and horrified by the way the PLP have behaved since Jeremy’s win. Thankfully most of us understand the motives driving the actions of the PLP. Break the membership and you break Jeremy, and vice versa. That awareness might not be enough to spare us from feelings of frustration, depression and even occasional bouts of despair, but it is enough to stop us from breaking.
Gone is the optimistic joyful membership of a year ago. In its place is an angry determined membership, under no illusions they have the respect of most of the PLP, some of whom hold us and our politics in contempt. It’s a painful truth, but it’s a truth nevertheless, and it’s a truth that will better prepare us for what lies ahead should Jeremy win again.
But what if Owen Smith wins? What then?
That depends on the size of the win. Any margin smaller than those disenfranchised by the vote freeze or the purge will be a Pyrrhic victory. The only way it becomes a real victory is if we respond in a way that brings our movement into disrepute – which I trust us not to do – or if we left the party in disgust.
Jeremy Corbyn has attracted hundreds of thousands of socialist members into our party. Now we are here we must stay. Why? Because with the numbers on our side, we can change our party from the bottom up. We can stand as councillors and MPs in the future; we can elect our preferred candidates to the NEC in the way we have just done, and send our delegates to conference.
Jeremy was the beacon that drew in that new enthused membership. We must never let the legacy from September 2015 go to waste. Nothing would play into the plotters hands more, and no ending could be more tragic.
So one year on we should make this pledge. What ever happens on September 24th 2016, we stay.
As the late great Tony Benn once famously said, “There is no final victory, as there is no final defeat. There is just the same battle. To be fought, over and over again. So toughen up, bloody toughen up.”