The British establishment just doesn’t get it: democracy has spoken, with the stunning election victory of socialist candidate Jeremy Corbyn to take the leadership of the Labour Party. Yet, immediately, the democratic mandate of his supporters was dismissed by the predominantly rightwing British media.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times tried to dig up some scurrilous angle on party splits in a breathless report claiming: “Corbyn sparks Labour civil war”; while the Daily Express crowed with supercilious delight: “Bye Bye Labour”; andthe Mail on Sunday denigrated Corbyn’s election as signifying that the Labour Party was now: “Red and Buried”.
More ominously, sections within the British establishment moved, within hours of his election, to paint Corbyn as a national security risk. The Conservative Defence Minister Michael Fallon – who has for the past year been ardently beating anti-Russian drums over Ukraine – was over the weekend busy telling various news outlets that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn would “weaken Britain’s defences”.
Three months ago, Jeremy Corbyn was mocked as a “loony left”outsider when he first announced his bid for the British Labour Party leadership. This weekend the veteran socialist parliamentarian proved his detractors all wrong after winning a landslide victory among the party’s rank-and-file members.
Following that upset, there is a discernible sense among the British elite that Corbyn’s election is “just not cricket”. It’s simply not the kind of result that is allowable, according to Britain’s “upper-crust”.
However, disquietingly for the British establishment, Corbyn’s election is a real sign that the people of Britain are indeed waking up to the possibility of a genuine, radical political alternative – after decades of being forced into a comatose state of submission to neoliberal capitalist domination, under both the Conservative Party and the so-called New Labour Party of Tony Blair and his ilk.
It is arguable that that is why the Labour Party under Blairite Ed Miliband failed to make significant gains in the British general election in May, and why the Conservative Party was able to win a second term with such underwhelming support from the electorate – winning only a third of votes cast. That lacklustre election was due to the fact that people felt they did not have a real choice to vote for. Now, with Corbyn putting Labour forward as a clear socialist alternative, he is energising public support in a way that is being described as a“political earthquake”.
Corbyn (66) gained nearly 60 per cent of first-preference votes, leaving the three other Blairite leadership contenders in the dust. It marks an emphatic victory, giving the new Labour leader an unassailable mandate for his socialist policies to renew British society.
To ecstatic cheers from supporters, Corbyn addressed the party in his Westminster victory speech: “During these amazing three months, our party has changed. We have grown enormously because of the hopes of so many ordinary people for a different Britain, a better Britain, a more equal Britain, a more decent Britain. They are fed up with the inequality, the injustice, the unnecessary poverty. All those issues have brought people in, in a spirit of hope and optimism.”
Corbyn’s radical agenda is equally applicable to foreign policy. He is against Israeli occupation of Palestine, opposes Britain’s membership of the American-led NATO military alliance, and he is against the creeping British military involvement in Syria. Corbyn wants to normalise relations with Russia, and he is campaigning to disarm Britain’s nuclear arsenal.
In a comment piece for The Guardian following his leadership win, Corbyn writes: “The hope of change and bringing big ideas in is now back at the centre of politics: ending austerity, tackling inequality, working for peace and social justice at home and abroad. That’s why the [British] Labour party was founded more than a century ago.”
The trouble for the British establishment is that the North London MP is a life-long committed socialist and anti-imperialist. For more than 30 years of his parliamentary career, Corbyn has never flinched from his policies. And he is hardly going to change now. He therefore is very unlikely to be co-opted or subdued into making grubby compromises.
Secondly, Corbyn’s policies are being buoyed by a radical new social movement that is being expressed not just in Britain but right across Europe. This new mass movement is yearning for a break from the conventional policies of economic austerity and NATO-style militarism overseas. The rallies across Europe this weekend in support of refugees fleeing to the EU is also testament to this democratic surge among ordinary European citizens.
Jeremy Corbyn’s election victory is reflective of the sea-change in public mood, one that is agitating for greater democracy both in domestic economic policy and in foreign affairs. And in Britain, the ruling establishment knows deep down that Corbyn thus represents a serious political threat to the rightwing order.
Britain’s rightwing Daily Mail newspaper quoted unnamed senior Conservatives members as admitting to being on the back foot over Corbyn’s radical agenda on the economy.
The paper reports: “Privately, senior Conservatives concede that Mr Corbyn's critique of spending cuts and call for re-nationalisation of industries, including the railways, have struck a chord with voters.”
The Mail then goes on to reveal the dirty tricks that are in store: “But they [senior Conservatives] believe his [Corbyn’s] biggest weakness will be on the issue of national security and counter-terrorism… 'We are going to go after him on security,’said one senior minister.”
Already, during the Labour leadership contest, the British media excelled in mud-slinging against Corbyn, dredging up accusations that he was, among other alleged misdemeanours, a terrorist sympathiser, anti-semitic and soft on Russia. Now as Labour leader and presenting a real political threat to the establishment we can expect a full-on propaganda war against him, in which he will be demonised as “an enemy of the state”.
As Tory Defence Minister Michael Fallon put it hysterically this weekend: “Labour [under Corbyn] are now a serious risk to our nation's security, our economy's security and your family's security.”
But the power of British state-scaremongering is not what it used to be, just like much else of the old sclerotic empire. Today, people are no longer bewitched by officially designated demons. They no longer rely on the British establishment for their views and understanding of the world.
The election victory of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, despite an intense media campaign of denigration and vilification over the past three months, is proof that a new independent popular socialism is growing in Britain. And Corbyn’s personal mettle and deeply held convictions will not let the movement down.
As a measure of the man’s humanity and the new politics he is winning people over with, he said following his weekend victory: “I have a background in human rights and peace and in trade unions. I want to make sure nobody is ignored in society. It breaks my heart when I see people sleeping rough. It breaks my heart when I see people begging or people using food banks. It’s not necessary. We are a rich country and we can do things differently.”
Doing things differently is exactly what the people of Britain are mandating Jeremy Corbyn to do. And the strength of this mandate may be too great even for the backstabbing reactionary British establishment to thwart.