TOMORROW as Labour picks its new leader there will be no packed conference hall, no crowds of ecstatic supporters.
The Covid-19 pandemic has drowned out coverage of the leadership contest and the government’s success in creating the impression of swift and sweeping action has given the Conservatives an almost unheard of poll lead, with 54 per cent saying they would vote Tory in an election.
The irony is that the Prime Minister’s popularity surge is down to huge state intervention in the economy, extension of public control to the railways and state-led efforts to mobilise production and labour. Policies more associated with Labour’s outgoing leader than with Boris Johnson.
A year ago few could have imagined the enormous changes to the way we live that have been imposed by the coronavirus.
With millions coming to their windows to applaud NHS and care workers, with public plaudits awarded to formerly despised “key workers” from supermarket staff to couriers, the task our movement now faces is to ensure there is no back to “business as usual,” but that the workers keeping our country going win the pay, dignity and job security they have always deserved and the public services we rely on are not starved of resources or exposed to predatory privateers again.
It might seem counterintuitive when the Tories appear unassailable, but our fight for systemic change has been enormously advanced by Jeremy Corbyn’s five-year leadership of the Labour Party.
Corbyn has been a game-changer, not only arresting a decades-long decline in political engagement by presiding over Labour’s growth into the biggest political party in Europe but fighting two general elections in which voters were given a real choice about the direction of our country.
Establishment apologists will sneer that Labour’s defeats showed what choice that was. This is misleading.
Labour’s huge surge in support at the 2017 election, the biggest increase in vote share the party had seen in 70 years, took place in the context of a relentlessly hostile and dishonest media war and a parliamentary Labour party riven with disloyalty. So much so that the party was not so much fighting with one hand tied behind its back as repeatedly “stabbing itself in the front,” to adapt the nasty phrasing of one of Corbyn’s many internal enemies.
To come within a whisper of victory under such circumstances was remarkable and testament to the appeal of socialist policies, the power of mass collective action and inspirational leadership from Corbyn and his team.
The party’s much worse performance in 2019 was down to its disastrous approach to Brexit — allowing a Tory Party under new management to win a single-issue election. But socialism remains a far larger, stronger current in our politics than it was in 2015.
The Tories’ commanding poll lead masks the fact that Britain, which yesterday’s figures showed has now lost more lives to coronavirus than China, is appallingly badly prepared for the crisis as a result of decades of privatisation and cuts.
Our government was slow to react to the gathering storm and is failing our people on everything from personal protective equipment for front-line workers to mass testing. The consequences of these failings are becoming clearer daily.
Huge social solidarity and community actions are being mobilised independently of government. Trade union membership is rising as unions take the lead in acting to protect workers and public health. A mass Labour Party remains committed to the redistribution of wealth and power two manifestos promised, and a generation alert to the dangers of climate change already grasps the need for a change in the economic system.
Labour may or may not pick a socialist to succeed Corbyn today, but the man himself will, as he promises, “not be silenced” and will continue to fight by our side whether on the front bench or from the grassroots.
The world is still ours to win.
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