The leader of the Labour Party called on his supporters last week to join him in building a “social movement” that can force change through parliament.
To an audience of almost 2,000 in Salford Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour had won victories in parliament “because people campaigned together”.
For decades the right has dominated the Labour Party leadership. But Corbyn’s leadership is a break from all of that—it’s a sign that politics really is changing.
Some of Labour’s “moderates” struggle to conceal their disdain for the idea that ordinary people can have a role to play in politics. Others show blatant contempt.
They point out that the Labour Party was never supposed to be about struggle—what really matters is what goes on in parliament. Social movements are irrelevant and can only lead Labour down the path towards “unelectability”.
Still others see Labour’s new, active membership as outright dangerous. They long for the days when party members could be relied on to rubber-stamp decisions at conference and turn out the vote at election time.
Corbyn supporters have been smeared as bullies, antisemites and sexists.
In private meetings Labour MPs relish in hurling abuse at Corbyn that, as his ally Diane Abbott wrote, is designed “to break him as a man”.
But when faced with the anger of their own members, those same MPs complain of being bullied.
Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol even threatened to bar people from voting in the leadership election for “engaging in abusive behaviour”. But it isn’t messages on social media or loud voices in meetings that scare Labour MPs. It’s the thought of a movement that threatens their grip on the party.
In a letter to Corbyn last week several MPs demanded that he condemned “campaigning outside MPs offices, surgeries etc.” They spoke of “a worrying trend” of “hostility towards MPs”.
For years Labour MPs have either stood by—or worse, joined in—while the Tories ram through their attacks.
Many Labour MPs, including some of Corbyn’s critics, voted for the war in Iraq in 2003, and for the bombing of Syria which saw hundreds killed last week.
People have a right to be angry about all of that—and they have a right to protest where they want.
People such as Sarah Champion, who un-resigned as a shadow cabinet member this week, are against that. There’s no point in offering them “the hand of friendship”.
Corbyn has won support by taking on the right. There must be no more compromises with them now.
Radicalism has built the movement—not manoeuvres.