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It’s about the message not the messenger

Only Labour, standing on the Corbyn platform, can put forth a vision in which the life chances of those at the bottom are a priority at the very top, argues SALMAN SHAHEEN

Hands up. An admission. Even as a journalist, I have no bloody idea what’s going on in this country anymore.

We’d had barely enough time to get our heads round Brexit, when the Tories decided to launch themselves into civil war and Labour MPs, rather than pressing their advantage to present a united alternative, decided they didn’t want to be left out of the conflagration.

The European question will continue to prove a minefield for Theresa May’s government in the long-run — if she doesn’t push the Article 50 nuclear button she’s damned politically, if she does then she’s damned economically and then politically — but the Conservative civil war is, for now at least, resolved.

And Boris Johnson will be representing our country before the world. Great. Look out for all those old colonies writing to him requesting to be subjected again.

Labour’s troubles, however, are only just beginning. Like many people who joined Labour last year to support Jeremy Corbyn and the antiausterity, anti-war principles the party now commendably stands for, I was relieved that the NEC voted last week to allow him on the ballot paper to defend his huge popular mandate as democratically elected leader.

If MPs had succeeded in keeping him off the ballot paper against the wishes of the vast majority of members, it would have put the party in a highly problematic position.

At a time when ordinary voters who have been alienated too long are eager to give the Westminster elites a kicking, what message would that have sent to the hundreds of thousands of people who have suddenly been inspired by the values Corbyn espouses to take part in politics?

The relief didn’t last long. Soon we found out the NEC had voted to suspend all branch meetings for the duration of the leadership contest. Not only that, it had decided to disenfranchise well over 100,000 members — perhaps almost as many as the entire Conservative membership — from voting in the election.

As such, the NEC has partially suspended democracy just at the time the party is meant to be engaging in its most democratic exercise — choosing its leader. In the case of my branch, in Brentford and Isleworth, we had been due to meet last week to discuss a motion supporting Corbyn.

The meeting was cancelled with only four hours’ notice, but many of us decided to meet anyway for an informal, unofficial discussion in the pub. And 41 Labour members from Hounslow came with barely any notice. The motion backing Corbyn passed unanimously.

Reports from other branches across the country whose meetings had also been cancelled suggest we were far from alone.

The campaign for Corbyn goes on nationally and locally — on Sunday, we will be holding a curry and discussion at Kingsway banqueting restaurant in Hounslow.

The meeting in the pub was friendly and positive with members coming together to express their support for our leader whose policies we want to carry through the leadership election and into the next general election.

It was not in any way an attack on our MP, Ruth Cadbury, whose antiwar, anti-Trident, pro-European principles I greatly admire.

Cadbury has said she shares many of Corbyn’s values but backed the no-confidence motion against him because she did not believe he could win an election. While I respect her concerns in a seat with a wafer-thin majority taken from the Tories at last year’s election, I disagree with her conclusion.

Labour has increased its vote in by-election after by-election under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and it returned the London mayoralty, among others, in part because for the first time in years the party has been providing a genuine opposition to punishing austerity measures and failed economic policies.

Moreover, the policies Corbyn stands for — including wildly popular ones such as renationalising the railways — are exactly what Labour needs to win the next election.

It is said so often that it has become an accepted truth that Labour lost the last election because it moved too far to the left. But it is not true.

In England, Labour lost many of its votes in marginals to the Green surge, while the collapse in the Lib Dem vote among progressives who felt betrayed by the coalition frequently benefited the Tories.

In Scotland Labour was wiped out by the SNP not just because of independence but because the Scottish nationalists outflanked Labour on austerity. Hence, Labour actually lost the last election because it was not left-wing enough.

When people looked at Labour in the past and saw little to differentiate it from the Tories it was a hard task to ask them to cross its box on the ballot paper. Many did not even vote at all.

It is true that Labour under Corbyn would struggle to win over people who voted Conservative at the last election. But it is far better placed to reach out to the millions of poor, vulnerable and working-class people who Labour once took for granted and who have become disenchanted by a political system they do not perceive speaks to them.

The EU referendum showed many are prepared to turn out to vote, if only to stick two fingers up to the status quo, but they have been hoovered up by the anti-immigrant populism of Ukip, despite its arch Thatcherite economic policies.

Only Labour standing on the platform Corbyn provides can offer a genuine alternative and put forth a vision of a better society in which the life chances of those at the bottom are a priority at the very top.

Labour MPs have picked the worst time possible to launch a rebellion against their leader. But what’s done is done. We will have this leadership contest and when the dust is settled, I hope the party can unite around Corbyn to provide a strong, effective opposition.

One that is needed now more than ever. If it can do that then I believe Jeremy Corbyn will be our next prime minister.

  • Salman Shaheen is editor-in-chief of The World Weekly and a Labour Party member. He has written for the Guardian, New Statesman and Huffington Post and is a regular commentator on current affairs on television and radio.

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