This has been the summer of Corbynmania. Thousands of people have attended Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn’s election rallies in towns and cities across Britain.
These meetings have been some of the biggest we’ve seen since the anti-war movement in 2003, with venues overflowing into outdoor rallies from London to Liverpool to Norwich.
Corbyn, with his principled stance on war and oppression and vow to end austerity, has become an unexpected figurehead for discontent.
The right wing media has gone out of its way to denounce him as an extremist: he’s a threat to national security because he has met Gerry Adams of the IRA and he once sat next to a Lebanese Islamist at a Stop the War event.
The latest ridiculously overblown claim is that he wants to segregate women on the Tube — in fact, he has said he wants to take action on sexual harassment and is willing to listen to suggestions, such as women-only carriages.
Some 367,000 people have signed up as members or supporters of Labour since the May general election.
Rather than celebrate this, the Labour Party machine has fallen into a panic, seeing every new supporter as a potential “infiltrator” and spying on them.
Over 3,000 people have so far been excluded from the vote on the basis that they don’t “support Labour Party values” — 1,900 Greens and 400 Tories. And one Mark Serwotka, leader of the civil servants’ union PCS.
After all, what could leading a trade union have to do with “Labour values”?
Yet a large part of the reason Labour lost the general election was because it had ceased to represent any values that would distinguish it from the Tories.
Under Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s leadership Labour lost 5 million votes.
Their “New Labour” project represented a total acceptance of neoliberalism, tax cuts for the rich and privatisation — not to mention war.
Thousands switched to the Lib Dems in 2010 and the Greens and SNP in 2015 looking for an alternative.
Many of those rejoining Labour now want to see the back of Blairism, and Corbyn is the only candidate who delivers that.
The right denounce him as a “throwback”, but to those who have grown up under Blair, Brown and Cameron he represents something new.
At the heart of Corbynmania is a rejection of austerity politics. But we can see in Greece that voting for an anti-austerity leader doesn’t in itself win the battle.
As we go to press the leader announcement is two weeks away. Corbyn looks likely to win, despite the right’s threats and shenanigans — which will be sure to continue if he does win.
If we are to bring about the real change that Corbyn’s supporters want to see we will have to build a stronger anti-austerity movement, starting in Manchester this October — and deepening into the workplaces, communities and colleges.
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