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Power cedes nothing without a demand

The recent smear against Corbyn in the Times is an important reminder of what we are up against - and why we must remain united as we approach power, argues RICHARD BURGON MP

A FEW years ago, John McDonnell said: “If you think things are bad now, wait until we get even closer to Number 10. They will stop at nothing to demonise Jeremy. They’ll lie, cheat and slander in ways you couldn’t dream of right now. We’re expecting it and so should you.”

The smear on Jeremy Corbyn in Murdoch’s Times at the weekend, suggestive of a collaboration between senior elements in our Civil Service and the right-wing media — and the economic interests which it defends and supports — was a reminder of this.

It served to underline how for the very powerful, our politics, economy and media are there to serve the interests of a tiny fraction of society.

Labour believes the exact opposite. A socialist Labour government with Jeremy as prime minister, John as chancellor and Diane as home secretary will oversee a fundamental shift in wealth, power and control so the system works for the vast majority of people — a truly democratic society.

Make no mistake, the Establishment — domestically and internationally — understands exactly what is at stake when it comes to the possibility of a Corbyn-led Labour government.

Watching last week’s 2020 Democratic Debate, I was struck by Bernie Sanders’s emphasis on how just the three wealthiest billionaires in the US now have as much wealth as the bottom half of the US population combined. It is what Sanders rightly calls the “billionaire class” that benefits from the current system. And since the onset of the neoliberal system, that elite is who the model has predominantly served.

And it is such groups that Boris Johnson wants to serve by using a ”No Deal” Brexit as an opportunity to impose a free-market shock doctrine — a Thatcherism 2.0 — in Britain to deregulate even further, privatise even further, and drive down wages even further, with even our NHS up for grabs by US corporations.

Powerful economic interests in the UK understand that a Corbyn government wouldn’t allow them to go down this path and would instead challenge the grotesque inequality in our own country.

And they know in the event of a future global financial crisis, a Corbyn-led Labour government would not make the choice of placing the burden of this on the shoulders of ordinary people through deep cuts to public services. It would do the right thing and hold to account big economic players and institutions who had created such a crisis.

Likewise, the neo-cons in Washington know that as Prime Minister, Jeremy Corbyn would not blindly follow their bombings, invasions and occupations which have caused so much suffering, death, destruction and instability in our world.

It is not hard to imagine Jeremy Corbyn as our prime minister, sitting across from Donald Trump at the United Nations security council — where the UK has a permanent seat and veto — and raising deep concerns over the latest US proposed military adventure. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recently recorded comments about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister should be seen in that context.

It is through such transformative anti-austerity economic policy at home, and our anti-war internationalism globally, that we will become the kind of government that Tony Benn — the ideological father of Corbynism — talked about when he said “We’re not here to manage capitalism — we’re here to change society.”

Inevitably, that clashes with vested interests. While the overwhelming majority will benefit from a fairer system, some — a tiny minority — will lose the privilege the current system affords them, and which they want to maintain.

And so, this change cannot be delivered without the work of Labour members, activists’ groups like Momentum, trade unionists and events like the excellent Arise conference I recently addressed.

Labour Party members across the country and trade unionists are the lifeblood of our movement. They give up their spare time, and all too often put up with a lot of rubbish, in order to do their bit to fight for a better world. Many of the activities they give up their spare time to undertake are seemingly unexciting, unglamorous tasks — leafleting, door-knocking, street stalls, telephone canvassing.

When you’re an activist, regularly involved in these activities, they become part of the normal routine of your life and so it becomes easy to forget the huge and historic struggle of which they are part. It becomes easy to forget exactly what’s at stake.

But these activities are vitally important and part of the huge collective, grassroots effort required if the false claims of the Establishment are to be countered, if the truth about our transformational programme is to be known and a truly progressive government is to be secured and then defended.

So, in order to achieve our vision of a new people-focused society, all socialists must brace themselves for more attacks like last weekend’s Times smear and avoid falling into the Establishment’s favoured traps of distraction, diversion, division and disunity. For as the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass famously said: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress…Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Richard Burgon is shadow justice secretary. He writes this column fortnightly.

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