YESTERDAY’S landslide election of Jeremy Corbyn as the first truly socialist leader of the Labour Party since Clement Atlee is a profound moment in British politics.
Like thousands of other like-minded people, I am still shaking with emotion and trying to get my head round what has really happened.
For decades our country – and most of Europe – has been sleep walking into a world of personal greed, arrogance and self-importance with totems such as The X Factor, tanning studios, Top Gear, designer clothes labels and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Human kindness, gentleness, peace, society and social justice were jettisoned for a winner takes all mentality and a scapegoating of the homeless, those claiming benefits, Muslims, asylum seekers and the poor in general.
All of this was underpinned by our malicious gutter press who daily smeared and pilloried anyone who dare question the status quo or suggest alternatives.
When Cameron’s far right Conservative Party was elected in May this year I genuinely feared for our collective futures.
Here we had the election of a UK government compiled of self-seeking rich Tory elitists who care more about their mansions and banking friends than about people.
And their shopping list for change was truly terrifying as this is unshackled Conservative government promised to:
- Rip up the Human Rights Act, which underpins our legal system and protects all our basic freedoms and those of persecuted minorities.
- Spend £100 billion on replacing Trident with new nuclear weapons, which at the push of a button could wipe out millions of lives and pollute our planet for tens of thousands of years.
- Make £12.8 billion of cuts to welfare, leaving the poorest, the oldest and the weakest in our society facing the bleakest of futures. In turn this will ensure the need for a food bank in every town and extend child poverty ensuring suffering and a loss of opportunity for millions.
- Begin a phased end to council housing, thus pushing up rents in the private sector and making families homeless. Once again – as under Thatcher – we will see a surge in rough sleeping and begging.
- Will enact tougher sanctions on migrants, involve the UK in further illegal wars in the Middle East and trigger an increase in racism and Islamophobia.
- Extend zero hours contracts, thus massaging the unemployment figures and leaving thousands of the poorest people without any job security.
- Legislate for more private schools which will imbed the class system even deeper in our society, rather focus on improving our state schooling system.
- Escalate and accelerate the privatisation of the NHS, so medical care will depend on wealth and power rather than need.
- Then redraw constituency boundaries so these same corrupt capitalist elitists stay in power for another 20 more years.
And the Labour Party, which should have been standing and campaigning against all this, crumpled into a Tory Lite modelled in the image of war monger and former leader Tony Blair.
Just over 18 months ago I had turned my back on Labour as a real alternative and joined Left Unity in a vain attempt to change things.
But outside the Labour Party the Left is too splintered and divided to succeed electorally, rather than uniting to defeat the greed and corruption of capitalism.
Following Cameron’s election victory I said the Left “must begin now to unify around a leader or leadership we can all trust, organise and start the fightback, or we wave farewell to hope for a fairer and better future.”
Well the fightback has now really begun.
And I must admit I never thought it possible.
But we had a hint that it may be possible by the political events in Scotland. There the electorate woke up to years of Tammany Hall politics and Establishment lies and en-mass elected 56 SNP MPs dedicated to social justice, welfare, investment and non-nuclear proliferation.
But other than the SNP standing candidates in English and Welsh constituencies, how could a similar popular uprising spread south?
Well along came Labour back bencher and peace campaigner Jeremy Corbyn – the rank outsider, who only just managed to get the 36 nominations from MPs needed to stand in the leadership election.
Then over the summer this gentle political firebrand, who appears more like a superannuated university lecturer than a Prime Minister in waiting, packed out meetings and hustings the length and breadth of this country with his simple messages of an end to austerity, an end to nuclear weapons and an end to needless wars over oil in the middle east and beyond.
His messages caught the hearts and minds of millions.
These are some of his primary beliefs:
- The UK’s financial deficit should be paid off – but not through spending cuts and not to an arbitrary deadline. Instead, a Corbyn government would fund its reduction via higher taxes for the rich and a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion. “Quantitative easing for people” could be used to invest in housing, energy, transport and digital projects.
- Britain’s railways should be renationalised. Energy companies should also be under public ownership. He is “totally opposed” to fracking. However, he says deep-mine coal pits in the north of England could be reopened.
- Far more allotments would be good for the UK and councils and builders “should be doing their best to ensure that every new development includes some allotment space”.
- Talking to militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah is necessary to win peace in the Middle East. And arms embargo should be imposed on Israel. Mr Corbyn, who is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said that Palestinian refugees should be given a “right of return”.
- Replacing Trident would be a costly mistake. Jeremy Corbyn says plans to replace the nuclear missile system should be ditched. He believes the project’s £100 billion price tag could be better spent “on our national well-being“.
- A National Education Service modelled on the NHS should be established. Under Mr Corbyn, state-funded academies and free schools would be forced to return to local authority control while university tuition fees would be scrapped and replaced with grants. He would look at ending the charitable status of public schools, although he accepts this would be complicated and might not happen immediately.
- Labour should not support air strikes against ISIS in Syria. Mr Corbyn, who is national chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, believes innocent Syrians would suffer and the supply of UK and US arms and funds to ISIS should be cut off instead. He wants to see “illegal wars” replaced with a “foreign policy that prioritises justice and assistance”. This would ameliorate refugee crises. In turn, the arms trade should be restricted. Mr Corbyn would like to see the “brilliance and skill of those in the arms industry be converted for peaceful purposes
- Rent controls should be re-introduced, linking private rents to local earnings, and more council houses should be built. Mr Corbyn also believes that council tenants’ right to buy their homes should be extended to private sector renters.
- Remaining in the European Union but with changes. Mr Corbyn says he is not content with the EU as it stands, but wants to stay to fight for a “better Europe”. He also opposes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal.
- Ireland should be united and returned to Irish rule. Mr Corbyn has long supported British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.
- Protect trade unions in the face of Conservative plans to overturn almost 100 years of workers’ rights with new legislation.
- A national maximum wage should be introduced to cap the salaries of high earners. He would also introduce a windfall tax on former state assets such as the Royal Bank of Scotland.
- Every child should have the chance to learn a musical instrument or act on stage. Mr Corbyn’s arts policy also includes directing a greater proportion of funding to local projects, widening access and protecting the BBC.
- Private Finance Initiative deals with the NHS should be ended by using government funds to buy them out.
- A “serious debate about the powers of NATO” is needed, but Mr Corbyn says there is not “an appetite as a whole for people to leave”. He also says open eastward expansion of NATO would lead the Russian military to conclude that it had “to expand to counteract NATO”.
All in all, a brave new world indeed.
In his victory speech, Mr Corbyn said: “We go forward now as a movement and a party bigger than we have ever been in a very, very long time, stronger than we have been for a very long time, more determined than we have been for a very long time, to show to everyone that the objectives of our party are intact, our passion is intact, our demand for humanity is intact.”
So at last we have our charismatic leader who with friends in the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru can offer a true progressive alliance and a way forward for us all.
Hope is renewed.
Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind An’ the unpawned painter behind beyond his rightful time An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales For the disrobed faceless forms of no position Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts All down in taken-for-granted situations Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
Even though a cloud’s white curtain in a far-off corner flashed An’ the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale An’ for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
(Bob Dylan, 1964)