Rejoice? Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn today - and here's why

I was expecting to abstain, but in the end, I voted Jeremy Corbyn, says Neal Lawson. 

Today I surprised myself. So far I have been horribly and deeply ambivalent about the Corbyn Surge. I loved the fact that the glass ceiling on austerity, public ownership and Trident have been shattered. The energy it has released has been a joy.  But I worried deeply about a political project that might not be plural, carried at least traces of left elitism, didn’t understand our emerging network society and had little by way of an organisational or electoral strategy. I was going to abstain. 

I still worry deeply about those things.  But I voted for Jeremy Corbyn, with no illusions, although Compass, the organization I chair, has taken no formal position on the vote.  For someone avowedly of the soft left to vote for the candidate of the hard left is a big step. But things change.  There is no perfect wave, and Jeremy isn’t perfect. But this is not about the person but the moment and the wave the Corbyn candidacy has unleashed.  I voted for the wave.

The question is one of political strategy and ambition. Should we largely stick to current orthodoxies, hope to fall over the line first at the next election and make a now rampant global capitalism slightly more humane, i.e. continue the New Labour project plus or minus a bit?  Or do we need to radically reframe the debate in the search for a good society? Do we stick or twist?

Both options represent a huge gamble.  But this is why I shifted.  The Corbyn Wave is a window into what is possible. Its energy is breaking up the permafrosted soil that for 30 years has been too harsh for our dreams to grow in.  Labour as a party and a movement cannot survive electorally or politically unless it holds out the hope of radically changing society.  On this point time has caught up with New Labour. If the best it gets is to slow the pace at which the poor get poorer and the planet burns then its not enough to sustain us.  A party needs high ideals and deep organic roots in society if it is to transform that society. This cannot be done from the top down, only when a party meets a ground swell from below.

Realistically none of the candidates look like they can win the next election – so who will change the terms of debate and allow the prospect of a movement for change to be built so that we can win again for a real purpose? One more heave – doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome – or going with the wave of enthusiasm and energy being unleashed around the party for the first time in two decades?

Of course, Corbynism, as yet, is too crude a project.  It needs to open itself up to an array of voices, thoughts and ideas.  It could start by reading Frederic Laloux on Reinventing Organisations and Paul Mason on Post Capitalism.  But it holds the seeds of some hope. What those seeds grow into if it wins is then up to us – the wave.  

And here we have to stop the wars, feuds and the vitriol.  Labour must stop living each day like a rerun of the past. Whoever wins we can’t replay either 1945 nor 1997.  The world has moved on – so must the party.    And to get on with the country we have to first get on with each other. 

This means entering the world of, as  ‘reciprocal vulnerability’ (h/t Robert Phillips at Jericho Chambers) in which we recognise our weaknesses and those of others and build trust through our mutual interdependence.  No one in Labour has all the answers. Right, center and left will have to negotiate a new settlement or the Tories win. 

I watch in disappointment and some bewilderment as camps on either side call each other either Trot or Tory and then complain if they get back what they give. This cycle has to be broken.  Socialism has to be about believing the best in each other and having empathy. If you want to be a rebel then be kind! So whoever wins, their leadership will have to be incredibly open, generous and humble.

But the tipping point for me was the realization that what is happening around Labour is metaphor for what we want for our society.  For people to join, participate, debate and decide. Life as a democratic and collective endeavour.  In the summer of 2015 Labour is starting to prefigure the world we want to make happen. Because there are no short cuts to a good society – no leader and no elite of the right or left is going to do it for us  – we were always the people we have been waiting for. Jeremy Corbyn may or may not see that  - but the wave is starting to feel it.

Antonio Gramsci, the brilliant Italian socialist strategist said ‘we must live without illusions without being disillusioned’. I think that is the sentiment that should carry us.  The Corbyn Wave is a straw in the wind of a new way of being political.  It isn’t perfect, it could fail, I have no illusions  - but I must have hope.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones. 

Getty
Show Hide image

Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

0800 7318496