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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. 

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.