The Labour Party has attracted more new members since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, than UKIP have been able to scrape together in their entire existence. Why? Voters really want a politician that speaks human, but unlike Nigel Farage, Corbyn can do this without being a bigot.
The Labour Surge
For much of the last parliament, right up to the general election, the UK press was full of stories about a UKIP surge. This, despite the party having fewer members than the Green Party (and you’ll have to look really hard to find more than the odd think-piece on any ‘green surge’) – hitting a high of 42,000 in January 2015.
From this membership, the party generated 4 million votes in the 2015 general election.
In just the fortnight since Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party, more than 50,000 people have joined the Labour Party. Labour doesn’t just have more members than any other main UK political party, it has more members than the Tories, Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP and the SNP combined.
This is the beginnings of a Labour movement, rather than a Labour Party.
As many of us in the alternative news space have predicted for some time, there was a latent social democratic/democratic socialist movement in the UK that has been without a political expression since 1997. As the chickens of neoliberalism came home to roost through the last decade, the numbers in this movement swelled. The Occupy Movement, Disabled People Against Cuts, the Student Movement – these were the canaries in the mine.
But everyone involved in those movements felt, like this writer, that there was simply no way of articulating these concerns or presenting a radically different socio-economic model through the parliamentary system. It appeared as if the neoliberals had an un-breakable grip on things.
Then the Labour Leadership election happened, and to be honest, every time I think about the Labour front bench I burst out laughing. Not in ridicule (this is the most exciting and innovative front bench of any party in my lifetime), but in utter disbelief that it has actually happened.
The Labour Front Bench Speak Human, Not Bigot
You almost had to feel sorry for the mainstream press while Corbyn appointed his front bench. They had their headlines all ready – no women, sell out, hypocrite. Then he went and appointed the first majority-female shadow cabinet in history, and they were no sell outs, this is a front bench of the Labour left.
Corbyn also does this really strange thing when he is asked a question – he answers it, like a person. There is no jargon or spin. He sounds like a regular human being, thinking about an issue out loud, in conversation with the person asking the question.
Whereas Ed Miliband’s New Labour ended up buffeted by this media, defending themselves against accusations of socialist intent by swinging ever harder to the right – Corbyn’s front bench have no such crisis. They are unashamedly left-wing progressives.
Corbyn does not have the bombastic style of Farage, but he has something equally attractive, he has the ring of truth about him.
We have a Shadow Chancellor in John McDonnell who supported the WOW Petition, fought Atos, and has called out Capitalism itself as the source of our economic crises. Many of us who have engaged in popular activism in recent years have met and spoken with Corbyn and O’Donnell. It’s like seeing a couple of your favourite uncles suddenly placed in a position of real power.
I’ll never forget the morning after I was arrested while attempting to report the Critical Mass bike ride on the opening night of the London 2012 Olympics. Over 180 of us were kettled for hours, handcuffed, bussed to police stations around London and held overnight without a phone call to our loved ones. We had our DNA and fingerprints taken, and were given bailconditions without charge that restricted our freedoms of movement, assembly and protest.
The following morning, having come straight from Charing Cross police station, tired and smelly. I bumped into John McDonnell at a protest in Stratford. His response after I told him what happened was this:
“Those absolute bastards!”
We have a Shadow Secretary of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Kerry McCarthy who is a vegan. This is as radical an appointment as John McDonnell. McCarthy is a long-standing and hardworking local MP from whom we can expect exciting things to come over the next few years. I recall returning home from Gaza last year, having reported Operation Protective Edge, and contacting McCarthy (my local Labour MP). She made time to meet me the same day I arrived home, and we talked for nearly 2 hours in her constituency office in Bristol. She just got it. She put me in touch with various MPs who I could tell my story to, and showed up at my film premiere a month later. I did not expect this level of support, considering my position was so unequivocally opposed to Israel – you can see my reports here.
This front bench is basically the dream team from point of view of anyone with bone fide socio-economically progressive intentions. If you were to pick a team that would bust a gut to deliver a fairer, more equal, more progressive society – this team is it. If there’s any hope in Westminster politics, they are it.
The Media Fallout Of A Plain-Speaking Man
As platform turns into policy, Jeremy Corbyn and his team have a lot to live up to. They have far greater expectations upon their shoulders than perhaps any party other than the SNP – who also rose to power on the back of a movement. They are the breakthrough of hope, a breakthrough the mainstream media and political pundits thought was impossible.
Michael Crick told us Liz Kendall would win.
And then there’s Dan Hodges, a guy who seems to like to troll the world by pretending to be part of the Labour movement while espousing little but contempt and vitriol to left-leaning people or ideals. Poor old Dan thought he had the thing locked down too.
These are the same people who tell us now that there is no public appetite for Jeremy Corbyn or his policies. The same people who said Corbyn couldn’t win the Labour Leadership, are the same people who told us there was a UKIP surge when the party attracted fewer members in five years than Corbyn has in two weeks. In any sane media, these people would have eroded their credibility irrevocably, and their platform would be revoked and gifted to those with greater talent and integrity.
But instead, they remain in place, firing shots at the Corbyn team non-stop, turning the printing presses of the UK media into weaponised production lines of anti-Corbyn, anti-left, pro-austerity propaganda.
The problem is, this approach has nowhere near the efficacy against Corbyn that it had with Miliband. Why? Because Corbyn’s team aren’t targeting the middle class liberals with a conscious that would vote for Labour so long as they held the economic values of Tories, but the social values of Liberals. Corbyn’s front bench are building a potentially massive, grass roots popular movement, the likes of which this country hasn’t witnessed since the post-war period in which we built the NHS, the education system, most of our public transport system and social housing.
Corbyn’s team aren’t even trying to win over the hostile press by conforming to the political norm – they are defying it by standing true to their principles. The principles that won them a landslide in the Labour leadership, and Labour’s only path to Downing Street come 2020. It is this plain-speaking, this harmony of words and deeds, under-pinned by decent human principles rather than bigotry, that has so many excited about politics again.
If you’re not noticing the winds of change blowing, you’re not paying attention.
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