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Labour right has no clue on beating the Tories

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Issue 2515
Owen Smith would take Labour sharply to the right
Owen Smith would take Labour sharply to the right (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Jeremy Corbyn’s critics inside the Labour Party have perfected missing the point. They come in many guises, from the hardened Blairites to a fake “soft left”. 

Some are even dressing up arguments against having a socialist leader as “socialist”. That’s true of Owen Smith, the MP challenging Corbyn after a shameful shadow cabinet coup.

It’s also true of Owen Jones, the Guardian newspaper columnist and former “bag carrier” for the Labour left.

He joined the right’s chorus last weekend with scathing “questions” for Corbyn supporters.

The script they’ve perfected goes like this. Socialism means making socialist policies, which means “taking power”, which means winning elections.

Corbyn can’t do this because he preaches to the choir and can’t handle the media.

Being anti-austerity is fine, but being anti-racist or anti-war confuses and alienates people.

Workers have “concerns” about immigration that must be “addressed”.

So the argument goes—but it flies in the face of reality. Corbyn is energising hundreds of thousands who weren’t Labour members or even voters.

His detractors’ argument rests on a pessimistic and patronising view of working class people.

Years of bosses and politicians squeezing workers and blaming migrants have had an effect.

But arguing that passivity and racism come from below slanders workers and lets politicians off the hook.

Many working class people want to see a fightback and many of them are proudly anti-racist. And those who aren’t can be won over.

But the Labour right’s politics are about trying to be all things to all people all the time—so long as it doesn’t provoke a fight with the establishment.

It didn’t work for Ed Miliband and it can’t work for Owen Smith. Labour lost the last election because its right wing policies inspired nobody.

You can’t be anti-austerity enough to offer better living standards while being pro-austerity enough to satisfy the Tory press. You can’t stop the growth of racist parties while pandering to racism.

What you can do is offer an alternative. Labour isn’t in trouble because of Corbyn trying to do that, but because of the forces trying to stop him.

It’s no surprise to see Labour dropping in the polls when most of its MPs are focused on attacking their own leader.

The path to a socialist society may be long and hard—and Corbyn himself may not go all the way down it. But there’s no shortcut on offer from the snake oil salesmen of electability.

Instead we need to defend Corbyn and strengthen the struggles in the workplaces and on the streets that are key to winning change.

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