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Opinion A year of tragedy, but also hope for the future

RICHARD BURGON surveys 2017, where, amid death and conflict, the spirit of socialism was rejuvenated

SINCE this is my last Morning Star column of 2017, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect upon the year we’ve just had and upon the year ahead that, as a movement, we must strive to collectively shape.

I write this in the week in which the six-month anniversary of the fire at Grenfell Tower takes place. 

Nothing here in Britain so symbolises the indifference of powerful people and institutions to the lives of ordinary people as the Grenfell fire, the circumstances leading up to it and its aftermath.  

Residents also describe what seems a complete absence of the state, with wholly inadequate support for survivors and the bereaved in the aftermath of the fire and people still not rehoused six months on and still not getting the mental health support they need.   

Internationally, 2017 has been another sad and dangerous year. The world has been too full of death, conflict, starvation and sorrow to even allude to it all in passing in a mere article, but we have a particular duty to give special attention to the conduct of Britain’s allies. 

Saudi Arabia’s bombardment of Yemen has been a source of shame for a Westminster government that provides the Saudi government with weapons. 

The massacre and displacement of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar raises real questions about the government providing “human rights training” to Myanmar’s army. 

The dangerous escalation of the US-North Korea situation is a risk to the lives of many millions. 

And it should worry us all that the president of Britain’s closest ally, the United States, has employed not just dangerous megaphone diplomacy but threatened the nuclear annihilation of the entire country. 

His “recognition” of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was yet another inflammatory barrier in the way of peace and resolution. 
And more widely, he has openly pursued divisive and racist narratives and policies which have increased tensions in the US and elsewhere. 

Climate change has continued this year to rightly become more widely accepted as a clear and present danger to humanity and our ecosystem, with the exception of the oil industry-backed US president. 

But determined international co-operation and resolve is required to collectively change course before it’s too late. 

We can be proud that we have a Labour Party leadership which speaks out on all of these issues and is determined to do something about them. 

Our goal is now to get a Labour government as soon as possible so that we are in place to achieve the positive change that people increasingly want to see. 

Securing such a government in what is still objectively one of the most economically and politically influential countries in the world would be a progressive milestone here in Britain and would also be of major international significance. 

Nowhere can that be seen more clearly than in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the United Nations in Geneva last week. 

Of course, 2017 saw an early general election called by the Prime Minister because she thought it would yield her a majority that would amount to a blank cheque for a long-term future of Conservative cuts and privatisation. Instead, a campaigning, socialist-led Labour Party proved so many pundits wrong by removing the majority she previously had. 

This would have not been possible without Corbyn, his political principles and his ideas. 

And he is right to say that Labour’s manifesto and hugely increased membership were two heroes of the election campaign. 

I’ll never forget the moment that exit poll came out. I’d just got home from the last door knocking of the day when the exit poll was announced. 

When the exit poll was announced back at the 2015 general election, I couldn’t have felt more deflated. 

The elation of that summer evening of June 8 2017 couldn’t have been in greater contrast. This was an electoral advance that hadn’t just proven wrong the Establishment in the media and in Parliament. It had put them on notice that the decades-old way of doing things, both politically and economically, is on the way out. 

When David Dimbleby read out the exit poll and outlined its implications, I punched the air and shouted with delight. I’m sure millions did the same. 

But, in truth, it wasn’t this summer that changed everything. The summer that changed everything was the summer of 2015, when Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party. 

And that was partly a consequence of the autumn that changed everything or, to be more precise, the day in September 2008 when the mighty investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, proving that the neoliberal economic consensus and the triangulated political gymnastics that acted as its advocate was bankrupt and needed replacing by pro-investment, socialist politics fit for the 21st century. 

In his recent video, Corbyn made clear to the bankers that Labour is indeed a threat to any notion that the bankers and the super-rich can run or rig our democratic system.

In 2017, we saw an unnecessary general election. In 2018, it’s time for a very necessary general election — one to sweep away a cruel, callous and incompetent Conservative government and usher in a Labour government led by Corbyn as prime minister with John McDonnell as chancellor. 

A government that will be all about putting millions of people into power. How far we’ve all come together in 2017!

But we must keep on going and not take our eyes off the prize, however much the Establishment may, in response to our continued advance in the opinion polls, further ratchet up the pressure and spread smear stories. 

Scottish socialist folk singer Dick Gaughan sang in his song written to mark the new year, that our new year’s resolution each year should be to “keep on working for the change that needs to come.”

Having met inspiring Labour members at events from Selby to Stafford, from Bradford to Brighton and from Calderdale to Cleveland (and more) since the summer as part of my own resolution to speak at a different Constituency Labour Party somewhere in the country most weeks, I feel confident that Labour members will rise to the challenge and do just that.  

Richard Burgon is shadow justice secretary.


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