As rallies of support for Jeremy Corbyn are held in Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance this weekend, Simon Parker writes an open letter to the region’s only Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw.
I address this to you, but it applies equally to Cimber, Casca, Brutus and the others. Let me say at the outset that I’ve always liked you, always admired your straight talking, your passion, your courage, your genuine interest in the underdog, your honesty. That’s why I find it so difficult to stomach your actions this week. It is with a heavy heart that I feel the need to take issue with our region’s one Labour MP.
I wish you had come out with me on Monday evening. A group of us were gathered in the public hall of a workaday village in South East Cornwall for the regular meeting of Moorland Branch Labour Party. We are a small but growing group, united in our commitment to building a better future for our community, our country and our world. As well as Moorland, there are new and active branches right across my area – Torpoint to Tamar Valley, Lostwithiel to Looe.
What sort of people do you imagine us to be, I wonder? I’ll tell you. None are professional politicos, just ordinary working men and women, mums and dads, retired people and students, who all want to make a difference, collectively. We are a rag-tag of folk from every background, feeling our way in these difficult times, but united in our belief that promoting a new brand of politics is the only way forward for Britain. We hold regular meetings, we campaign, we support the activities of the constituency Labour Party, we debate a range of issues.
On Monday, the topic of discussion was to be “the new politics” in the wake of Brexit (we had all campaigned hard for Remain). However, this was overtaken by events, and it was clear by the time we sat down that you and your colleagues had unleashed a plot to depose our leader.
Tell me, Ben (because I am at a complete loss to understand) what it is that Jeremy Corbyn is supposed to have done wrong? Why have you and your colleagues failed to unite behind our leader and in doing so disregarded the wishes of the vast majority of Labour Party members? Or are you all so disengaged from the electorate that you have forgotten that democracy is not about politicians; it is about the people.
I am sure you don’t need to be reminded, but may I take you back to last September when Jeremy won a landslide victory, taking 60 per cent of the vote. It was a massive endorsement from more than 250,000 members. Jeremy was elected with the largest mandate of any political leader in the history of our country. We voted for him – and we expected, naively in retrospect, that our Parliamentary representatives would accept this whopping democratic mandate. We pleaded for unity. You turned your backs. We invited co-operation. You slammed the door.
It seems that Jeremy’s crime, the thing his detractors so despise, is his honesty – the personal quality that has resulted in an additional 60,000 people across the UK signing up as Labour members in the past five days. These people are heartily sick of hearing the same old platitudes about gaining power at any price. They are telling the political class that power is pointless without principle. By contrast, Jeremy’s message of inclusivity, accountability, co-operation, fiscal security, safe public services, the reversal of marketisation in the NHS – communicated in weekly emails to members – chimes with a huge number of disaffected voters.
It’s time the plotters woke up to the fact that they’ve had their day and that their actions alone – not Jeremy Corbyn’s – have this week damaged the prospects of an effective Opposition, just when we need it most. As I wrote in numerous WMN opinion articles last year, it is the Blairite old guard who are the extremists, not the Corbynistas. Such arrogance in disregarding the views of members is a painful reminder of the discredited New Labour project, whose adherents, to their eternal disgrace, ignored the needs and fears of its traditional heartlands. And look where that has left us: with a far-right austerity-obsessed government. And Brexit.
May I also remind you that the 2015 general election was not lost by the present leadership; they didn’t lose Scotland for us either. In the voters’ eyes, your Labour Party was already a tainted brand. It was viewed by many as a group of privileged Tory-lite neoliberals that led this country into an illegal war in Iraq; that meekly accepted the flawed Tory narrative of Labour economic polices, not the bankers, being responsible for the 2008 crash; and that abandoned the very people it was set up to champion: the weak, the poor, the disaffected.
Jeremy Corbyn inherited that tainted brand. He and his colleagues on the front bench were a mere nine months into a project to steer this once great party, this creator of the NHS, this defender of workers’ rights, this internationalist movement, back to its roots by offering the real possibility of a progressive force to tackle 21st century problems.
And what did you and your pals do? Grumbled and plotted from the outset, like churlish children who’d had their toy taken away. We, the members, could see the long view, were ready to put in the work for a long haul. We met in small groups up and down the land, engaged in practical socialism. Meanwhile, those at Westminster plotting his overthrow were unable or unwilling to see that the tide was turning. But the status quo isn’t changed overnight – certainly not in a mere nine months. The plotters didn’t give it a chance. Instead they listened to the poison of a non-progressive press, and became its puppets.
And yet the concrete facts of Corbyn’s success so far are indisputable. Since he was elected leader, Labour has won all four by-elections, won four mayoral elections, led more than two-thirds of Labour supporters to vote Remain, and presided over a growth in membership other parties can only dream of. When asked by BBC Newsnight two days ago, 90 per cent of the chairs and secretaries of local Labour parties who endorsed Corbyn last year said they would continue to support him, despite the vote of no confidence.
As shadow chancellor John McDonnell put it yesterday: “Our party members are sovereign. There was an election held and a decision made, and 172 people cannot outweigh a quarter of a million others.”
Given the opportunity, I will again cast my vote for Jeremy. If he decides to pass the baton to another, I will support the candidate he and his team endorse. Why? Because this isn’t about one man. It is about a fundamental realignment of the Labour Party for a new era. It’s about wresting control from those Tory-lite neoliberals who have let down the party’s core supporters.
This moment, created by you and your colleagues, represents a fundamental battle for the very heart and soul of the Labour Party.
The actions of the plotters might still result in Jeremy stepping down, but we have a saying in Cornwall: there’s 20,000 Cornish men will know the reason why. How much more effective is the backing of 200,000?
We are on the same side, Ben, and we ought to be working in unity. You’ve had your wobble; now it’s time to get on with the work. This open letter is intended as a hand of friendship. I urge you to reconsider, to support our leader, to unite our party, and together we can get on with tackling the real crises facing this country.
Why we should back Corbyn: An open letter to Ben Bradshaw