A Corbyn rally it was not—but perhaps these are early days.
Around 200 turned to see Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey above a trendy east London bar on Tuesday night.
They came from all over London. Most were there because Long-Bailey represents a defence and continuation of left wing politics in Labour, and a candidate who can succeed where Corbyn stumbled.
“She’s the only progressive socialist candidate,” one supporter, Matthew, told Socialist Worker.
“The main problems in the election were the Brexit policy and the leadership issues. Long-Bailey accepts the result of the referendum, and she’s from the north so she can speak to people from all over the country.
“Long-Bailey doesn’t have the same baggage as Corbyn. She hasn’t been around as long, so there’s less that the media can drag up and use against her.”
Long-Bailey promised her own version of the project begun under Corbyn.
It would be a “fundamental shift in our economy” away from the model of privatisation and market rule driven through by Margaret Thatcher.
“This time another woman—this time from Salford—is going to lead a movement to re-programme our economy and transform our democracy to give it a new purpose.”
Labour’s Green New Deal—a plan to create new jobs in new green industries—would be at the centre of it. But so is a “democratic revolution” that involves replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber somewhere outside of London.
But the promise that got by far the biggest, loudest cheer was the one for “open selections” in the Labour Party. This would mean that ordinary Labour Party members get to choose their local candidate for MP ahead of every general election.
It was clearly meant to be a keynote of the speech—and the crowd went wild for it. “Calm down,” Long-Bailey had to tell them.
Before Long-Bailey had even finished speaking, Labour left group Momentum emailed its whole mailing list to tell them all about it.
“This is huge,” it said. “By announcing her support for open selections, she has set out a path for Labour to become the democratic, open party we’ve always aspired to be.”
Fair enough. If you’re in an electoral party, the least you can expect is a say in who you have to campaign to get elected.
But this isn’t the stuff of an outward-looking, insurgent leadership campaign like Jeremy Corbyn’s in 2015 and 2016. Then there was a sense of moving upwards and outwards, and at least the possibility of a movement that breached the narrow confines of the party.
This time it’s not about building the left, but defending and consolidating it around Long-Bailey. Underneath it all is a fear that at least some of Labour’s membership might be swayed by the idea that the party has to move rightwards, and back Long-Bailey’s main rival Keir Starmer.
Currently he not only has more nominations from Labour’s affiliated trade unions, but from constituency parties too.
One of Long-Bailey’s supporters, Martin, had joined Labour just ahead of the 2019 general election. “If Starmer gets elected it would be a move towards the centre,” he told Socialist Worker. “But we can’t ignore the people who want to adapt to those ideas. We have to listen to them.”
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery was brought on to attack the right. “Beware wolves in sheep’s clothing,” he warned the crowd. He would “take no lectures from people who say we need to draw a line under it when they undermined Jeremy Corbyn.”
Meanwhile it was Long-Bailey’s job to be more conciliatory, promising unity and no more “abuse” of right wing Labour MPs. She was “sad” that right wing candidate Jess Phillips had dropped out of the race.
Backing Angela Rayner for deputy leader—rather than left wing candidate Richard Burgon or Dawn Butler—is part of this plan to build bridges. But there was some tension.
MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy—who compered the whole thing—began by saying she was proud to back Burgon.
And one Long-Bailey supporter, Kate, told Socialist Worker, “I will maybe back Richard Burgon because of his policies. But do we really need two white people? I might back Dawn Butler but I don’t know her policies yet. I certainly don’t back Angela Rayner.”
So this is the picture of Long-Bailey’s campaign so far. Smaller and compromised.
“Is this Baileyism? Are we Baileyites?” Lavery joked.
Whatever it is, it’s a step backwards from Corbyn.