With some reluctance I’ve decided to write something about Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader of the Labour Party thanks to so many people asking me about it. I am reluctant because in many ways it’s a matter for Labour members, and to others it really makes no difference until (if?) Labour policy actually changes. At that point I’ll be only too happy to comment. However, as I say, people have asked, so here goes.
Firstly let me say that Corbyn was the only one of the leadership candidates that seemed to offer Labour any hope of changing to be close to ‘old’ Labour. Burnham was ok I suppose, but we’ve seen his voting record for authoritarian nonsense like ID cards, and he was a fan of ruinous PFI in the NHS. At least he was better than Kendall.
So anyway, I was pleased when Corbyn won. Of course I was - a lot of the policies he supports are Green Party policy. He’s much more closely aligned to us than to his own party on most policies. With the indisputable combination of lack of media coverage and, when we do receive coverage, bias against our party, to have the main opposition party advocating our position can only be a good thing. Shifting the argument over to our position means that it is discussed more widely even where previously the media did not discuss us.
It is also good to see the majority that Corbyn won by, and there are many Labour supporters who are very pleased that they now have a leader that shares their values. Some of those have approached me (and I am guessing other Greens) and talked about ‘working together’ and so on.
This is where I have a slight problem though. What did these people do in May? I’d be surprised if any of them didn’t vote Labour, but consider that for a minute. They voted for a pro-austerity Thatcherite party, even they supposedly believe in everything Corbyn has been saying. Why would they do that? Why wouldn’t they vote for the Greens, a party that actually agreed with far more of their supposed values than the Labour Party? In Tory/Labour marginals they could conceivably vote Labour as the logical best choice, but there aren’t many Tory/Labour marginals.
Here in Bath it certainly wasn’t a Tory/Labour marginal, yet we were fighting a supposedly left-wing local Labour Party who were only too happy to be part of a party machine telling voters that our plans to renationalise rail, abolish tuition fees, and many other things that Corbyn supports were ‘unrealistic’ or unaffordable. In my (many!) hustings I was putting forward arguments that the local Labour Party supposedly believed in far more than the view that their candidate argued for, but they were happy to both back him and select him in the first place (their PPC, by the way, backed Liz Kendall for leader, so is very much to the right of the party).
What are we in the Green Party to make of this? We’re going to hear a lot from Labour in the coming months about working together as a ‘progressive’, non-tribal force to fight the Tories. I have a lot of time for that argument, but only when I trust that those putting it forward actually believe it. Why would I listen to those who fought to get a candidate elected who was so distant from the views they supposedly have? What’s that if not tribal?
Labour nationally spent huge sums in Brighton trying to beat Caroline Lucas and our only council, and almost equally huge sums in Bristol West to stop us getting second MP - this rather than spending that money on fighting the Tories. Almost everyone involved is still in the Labour Party.
I’m not saying we can’t work with Corbyn, but the ball is in Labour’s court. He’s already had to compromise on some of his policies, and he missed a real opportunity to ‘show willing’ by giving Caroline Lucas a position in his shadow cabinet. My feeling is that there is a lot of good will being sent his way by people of a progressive persuasion, but Labour will have to do something meaningful, such as offer PR without a referendum or stand down in three or four constituencies for us, before I’ll really believe that ‘working together’ doesn’t mean ‘help Labour win’.
In the end we are a party where policy is decided by members. Labour is a party were policy can be dramatically changed by one man. And one man can change it back. I’ll take democracy over that.