Has Jeremy Corbyn made the Labour Party unelectable? It’s the main charge against him from the Labour right and even parts of the “soft left”.
It was one of the main subjects among former car workers at Cowley, Oxford, in a discussion with Socialist Worker journalist Tomáš Tengely-Evans and others at a meeting last week.
It was organised by their Unite union retired members’ branch. It brought together workers who have seen previous Labour governments and taken part in bitter class struggles.
Vince argued that working class people can see through the right wing smears. “Politicians walk all over working class people, but Corbyn doesn’t, that’s why people are voting for him despite what the right says.”
He said the right was “attacking him because they feel threatened, they know things will change once he gets into power”.
Dan, a Labour councillor who supports Labour left group Momentum, stressed that, “There’s incredible antagonism from the media. Overcoming that is a massive, massive challenge.”
Support for Corbyn shows that a significant minority within society has shifted to the left, but some question how deep Corbyn’s appeal is.
Dan argued, “While a minority of people are politically engaged, the majority of the electorate are not particularly engaged or particularly on board with left wing ideas.
“The question is how to get them on board. The policies that Corbyn offers are in their interests, but it’s hard to get them to see that when he’s portrayed as someone who wants to embrace terrorists or hates England.”
Another retired worker argued that working class people reading right wing newspapers was the biggest problem. “You talk about the media, but the sad thing is that most of the working class read The Sun and Daily Mail,” he said.
“The Sun is the most read newspaper.”
Bill argued that the difficulty comes because “all our lives we’ve been taught that they’re our betters”.
But he thought history shows that it’s possible to overcome this. “We went through the 1930s and had that shitbag Ramsay MacDonald—that’s real right wing infiltration into the Labour Party,” he said.
“After the war there was an election coming and the Labour Party never thought it could win faced with the popularity of Winston Churchill. But we had an overwhelming majority, with the strongest socialist
manifesto announced in this country.”
Dan argued that mobilising Labour’s mass membership could overcome the challenges.
“The Labour Party membership is now over 500,000—much higher than it’s been for decades,” he said. “If the Labour Party was able to utilise these people to get the message across, we could achieve electoral success.”
He argued that “a real social movement could successfully bypass and overcome the opposition from the establishment”.
That’s true—but electing a left government would not be the end of that opposition.
As Bill warned, “You have a push for a socialist programme but the big challenge is going to come afterwards—you’ve got the establishment to beat.”