Ken Livingstone Believes in the Credible, Coherent, and Inspirational Corbyn
There were some prominent Labour politicians who stood up for Corbyn, including former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, who insisted in late July that the leadership candidate offered a “credible economic alternative” to the neoliberal status quo. He even asserted that Corbyn was “the candidate most likely to win the general election for Labour”, and that “his ability to speak clearly and provide a real alternative to cuts and austerity” was a very appealing characteristic.
Livingstone stressed that Corbyn’s campaign HQ was “heaving with young people who [had] rushed to join the Labour Party”, insisting the organisation could not win the 2020 elections without them. “No Labour leader”, he said, had “connected with the voters like this since Blair”, and the party had simply “come alive”. Having focussed on “his constituents’ problems and campaigning for the causes he believes in rather than promoting himself”, Livingstone emphasised, “there is nothing of the Westminster elite about him”. For example, he was “unscarred by the expenses scandal and [had] never sold out his principles for a job in government”.
Corbyn’s economic policy, Livingstone noted, had been “largely ignored by the media”, but it offered to turn the Bank of England’s successful policy of quantitative easing (which “has not caused inflation”) from a measure to protect banks into a way of encouraging positive investment (which was at its “lowest level since the Second World War”). The former mayor of London stressed here that the capital city’s fortunes had been “turned around” under his own leadership thanks to investment in transport and construction from 2000 onwards. In fact, he added, “one of Britain’s most successful businessmen” had told him “I agree with that completely” when he “explained Jeremy’s economic plan”. In other words, Corbynomics was far from a ‘hard-left’ position, and was instead an attempt to work for progress within the capitalist system. Furthermore, “rather than squeezing British firms”, Livingstone asserted, Corbyn would crack down on the “tax avoidance and evasion” of “international giants like Google, Starbucks and Amazon who pay virtually no tax anywhere and have no loyalty to any nation”.
“We didn’t lose the last election because we were too Left-wing but because we didn’t have the coherent economic strategy Jeremy is proposing”, added Livingstone, emphasising that Blairites had “said the same” about his own lack of electability when he was running for Mayor of London. In fact, he stressed, there was “only one place” in 2015 which saw a “swing to Labour”, and that was London, “where for 40 years Labour pursued a radical and progressive agenda”. Left-wing voters lost elsewhere, he said, would never be won back if Labour did not express “clear values”. In response to right-wing criticisms of Corbyn, the former mayor highlighted that he had “supported the Right-wing candidate Denis Healey for leader” back in 1980 because he didn’t think Michael Foot could win (even though he “agreed with his politics”). After 35 years of the “same economic strategy”, however, he now believed that Britain was ready for change.
Livingstone’s generation, he insisted, had been “the luckiest in human history”, being “born into post-war Britain’s welfare state” where everyone could get “a job, healthcare, free education and help to buy our homes or pay our rents”. To get the same opportunities for his “children and grandchildren”, he stressed, “Jeremy Corbyn is the best chance”. As a “fundamentally decent” person who had “never said something he didn’t believe or lost his temper… in more than 40 years working together”, Corbyn was now “offering hope for a better future to a generation that has no hope”. And that, argued Livingstone, was one of the big reasons for the leadership candidate’s immense popularity.
On August 17, Livingstone spoke out about Corbyn again, claiming he had “breathed life into electoral politics”. The likes of Simon Danczuck, meanwhile, were simply “out of touch” when they spoke of Corbynmania as a process of the “far left” (which was “at its tiniest in decades” according to Livingstone). Furthermore, the former mayor of London stressed, the current leadership election had “more controls over who can participate than any other”, making entryism much less of a concern than in the past (when every member of affiliated trade unions was sent a ballot paper, “regardless of whether they wanted one or not, and completely regardless of whether they supported Labour”). In fact, it was precisely the system chosen by figures on “the Labour right”, like John Mann, who “argued for the opening of the party to the public through primaries”. Now that it was in place, then, Livingstone stressed, the right could hardly complain, and the party “must welcome these members of the public to [its] fold”.
Corbyn’s “authenticity”, Livingstone argued, gave him a “strong breadth of appeal” with a very “disenchanted public”. Referring to a “Survation video poll”, the former mayor stressed that Corbyn had won against his fellow leadership candidates “time and time again”, being found “the most in touch with ordinary people, the most likely to hold the government to account, the most likely to do best in a TV debate with Cameron… [the] most likely bring over voters to make them vote Labour… and the person who cares the most about the British people”. Moreover, Livingstone said, Corbyn had made very “clear” his “comprehensive alternative that is both popular with the general electorate and far fairer than the current cuts… and tax breaks for the very rich”. In short, he had staked a claim to “an unheard centre ground that [had] been ignored by too many years of Tory dominance”.
On September 4, Livingstone argued that Corbyn had “all the qualities he needs not just to lead the Labour Party but to be prime minster”. Having himself beaten the odds to become London Mayor in 2000, he believed his “old friend” Corbyn could do the same in general elections. In fact, being an underdog or “outsider” was “the very quality” that Labour would need to bring back its lost voters. “People who defected to Ukip”, Livingstone maintained, were “never going to think Jeremy’s just part of the Westminster establishment”, because he “hasn’t got half a dozen houses”, “hasn’t raked in millions of pounds”, and is “not getting bungs from some corporation”. In short, he is “completely in touch with how tough life is for ordinary people”.
For Livingstone, “Corbyn’s age” (which had fostered a “solid confidence in himself and his beliefs”), his “general habit of dressing down”, and his “lifelong policy of saying what he thinks” were precisely “the assets that [would] bring him electoral success”. Furthermore, his place as the “nicest person in politics” would help to win him “swing voters” just like John Major did in 1992.
As far as beating rebellion in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was concerned, Livingstone explained, Corbyn would have to “tell the troops how they are expected to vote” but at the same time “should not try to sanction MPs who defy the whip”. In his experienced opinion, “the rigid discipline that was imposed under Tony Blair just encouraged rebellions”, and the best tactic was instead to allow MPs the freedom to vote as they saw fit. Then, if they still betrayed the party line, “the hundreds of new members who [had] joined Labour since the election, most of whom [were] believed to be Corbyn supporters”, could be brought in to “call [their] MPs to account”.
Richard Burgon Says Corbyn is not on the ‘Hard Left’
Just like Livingstone, Leeds MP Richard Burgon also insisted that Corbyn was “not “hard-left”” but simply “a challenge to the Thatcherite “economic consensus””. A lot of the media scaremongering, he asserted, was a “deliberate, politically motivated choice of language”. He explained how “neo-liberal economics has ruled the roost, regardless of which party’s been in power, since about 1979”, before asking “who really thinks that’s worked in the interests of ordinary people?” Subsequently, he reminded readers of the famous Einstein quote about the definition of madness being “doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results”, insisting that this statement “applies to economics and politics as much as anything else”. Then, referring more specifically to the economy, he said claims of Corbynomics being “hard left” policies were “plain silly”, insisting that there was “simply no evidence” that PQE would be disastrous.
Later, when voting closed on September 10, Burgon asserted that Corbyn’s leadership style would be “more collegiate” and “more collectivist”. Many people, he insisted, would be “pleasantly surprised” at his approach if he was announced leader.
John McDonnell Explains Corbynomics
Left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell (who The Telegraph claimed, according to “a source close to Mr Corbyn”, was “almost certain to be given the top job in the Treasury team” (i.e. shadow chancellor) if Corbyn became leader) argued on August 11 that Corbyn’s “plans to tax the very rich and reshape the economy” were simply “sound common sense”. Conscious of right-wing critiques about the deficit, he accepted that “deficit denial is a non-starter” whilst stressing the leadership frontrunner was “committed to eliminating the deficit” but by “creating an economy in which we live within our means” and “not by hitting the poor”. In short, “the vast majority of middle- and low-income earners who didn’t cause the economic crisis should [not] have to pay for it” (as proponents of the “dominant economic thinking” believed).
The economic tactics of Corbyn’s team, McDonnell asserted, would be to “tackle the deficit by halting the tax cuts to the very rich and to corporations, by making sure they pay their taxes, and by investing in the housing and infrastructure a modern country needs to get people back to work in good jobs”. The only cuts they would undertake, he said, would be “to the subsidies paid to landlords milking the housing benefit system, to the £93bn in subsidies to corporations, and to employers exploiting workers with low wages and leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab”. In short, the biggest difference between their tactics and those advocated by “the economic orthodoxy of the Conservative and Labour establishments” would be that, “alongside tackling the deficit”, they would launch a “strategy to tackle the underlying flawed fundamentals of our economic system”.
Corbyn’s opponents, McDonnell argued, love to “wrongfully describe anyone who disagrees with their austerity programmes as deficit deniers”, but in reality “they themselves seem to be crisis deniers”, failing to understand how “the unregulated, law-of-the-jungle market system they advocate is inherently crisis-ridden” and will lead to “further inevitable crises” if left unchanged. To prevent such catastrophes, Corbyn’s team would introduce: “an effective regulatory regime for our banks and financial sector”; a separation of “day-to-day and investment banking”; a “radical reform of the failed auditing regime”; the encouragement of “smart forms of 21st-century common ownership”, including “public, co-operative and stakeholder ownership”; and a “financial transactions tax”. As an example of how a Corbyn-led government would encourage common ownership, McDonnell stressed that the railways would be renationalised, “but with a form of joint management involving workers and passenger representatives”, while “energy would be socialised from below by the massive expansion of renewable energy production and supply by local communities, local authorities and co-ops on the successful German model, removing the monopoly of the big six energy companies”.
Then, in a final defence of Corbyn, McDonnell denounced the “increasingly hysterical” reaction “from elements of the Labour establishment” regarding Corbynmania, claiming that the “small band of shadow cabinet members” which had “lined up to refuse to serve” under Corbyn were doing so “on the basis of objection to economic policies they clearly [had not] read”. Likewise, he criticised the “rebukes to Labour supporters to end their summer of “craziness””, insisting that they had “not only [insulted] the intelligence, idealism and judgment of our party members” but had “simply made them more determined to challenge this heavy-handed, domineering establishment attitude”.
Michael Meacher Criticises New Labour
For Oldham MP Michael Meacher, the Labour Party under Tony Blair essentially “made it safe for British capitalism” so that “many top companies and banks were content to contribute large sums to the party”. In short, this change meant that the powerful “gained whichever party won the elections”, and “Blair’s abiding legacy, apart from the Iraq war” would be “to abandon the fundamental principles of the party and to assimilate it instead to the Thatcherite ideology”. Having accommodated “the ruling corporate class” in order to ensure “their avenue to power”, Meacher said, the Blairites adopted an “unwillingness to listen”, with the party being “virtually disbanded… into a press release and door-knocking organisation”. Then, when popular progressive movements began to emerge in Greece, Spain, and Scotland, this “deep arrogance” and “contempt for any radicalism from the Left” led the Blairite establishment to think they “could muffle dissent and ignore” the clamour for change.
According to Meacher, it was the Tories that “threw away the 1997 election”, not Labour that won it by moving to the right. For that reason, New Labour’s “second election was marked by stasis after an undistinguished 4 years”, while “the third saw the loss of 4 million votes after Iraq”. There may have been “huge investment in health and education” under Blair and Brown, Meacher conceded, but “a large part of the former was spent on building (fine for the construction industry rather than the essentials of health) and on outsourcing and privatisation (again good for the corporates rather than patients)”, while the latter mostly included “programmes inaugurating academies and free schools which have never proved their worth and have never been popular”.
In other words, Meacher was arguing that the right-wing project of New Labour was not actually responsible for Labour’s three consecutive terms in office. Instead, it was the Blairites’ capacity to garner media favour and misinform the general public that allowed Labour to triumph against a weak Conservative Party. Now, when faced with the fairly strong Tories (who have the media on their side), the Labour Party needs to rediscover its progressive roots, and Corbyn is the best chance of that happening.
Others in the Labour Party
Even Tony Blair’s former right-hand man John Prescott insisted that it was Blair’s “decision to invade Iraq that stops people voting for Labour and not Jeremy Corbyn”, accusing him of “hypocrisy” and “absolutely staggering… abuse”. For Prescott, it was “totally unacceptable” for Blair to suggest Corbyn supporters got a heart transplant, as Labour was supposed to be “about the heart as well as the head”. To finish off, the former deputy leader asserted “I don’t think it would be a disaster” if Corbyn won. “Let’s get real, calm down, it’s the party’s decision; not [that of the] MPs”.
Former first minister of Wales Rhodri Morgan, meanwhile, whose own election in 2000 was a “profound embarrassment to the Blair camp” which had backed a more ‘acceptable’ candidate, denounced Tony Blair’s patronising insults towards Corbyn supporters in July as “astonishing and unwise”. Morgan himself had suggested Corbyn was unelectable and backed Yvette Cooper, but nonetheless insisted that senior party figures like Blair should simply “pipe down” and focus on purely political arguments.
For deputy leader candidate Tom Watson, it was important to clarify in the press that Corbyn was “no Trotskyist”. On August 20, The Guardian revealed that, in Watson’s opinion, the leadership contest had been “overdramatised”, as in reality “all four candidates have a lot in common”. Adopting a “conciliatory tone towards Corbyn”, Watson nonetheless wanted “military spending to be maintained to make sure Britain meets the Nato 2% defence spending target” – something which “could sit uneasily” with the leadership frontrunner. Speaking about the possibility of both the leader and deputy leader being men, meanwhile, he asserted that “the national executive committee could consider appointing another female deputy as well” – an interesting idea which Corbyn would no doubt support.
Deputy leadership candidate Angela Eagle, meanwhile, called the “fierce attacks” on Jeremy Corbyn “disrespectful and damaging to morale”. She insisted that “the unwelcome briefings and public prophesies of doom and destruction from senior figures are doing more damage to the party than they are to the leadership candidate himself”. In order to avoid “alienating swathes of Labour supporters”, she said, “the political elite need to lay off him”.
Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett also chipped in, saying that the “seven shadow cabinet members” who had said they would not work with Corbyn had “made a profound mistake” by trying to “de-legitimise” not only the leading candidate but also “all those tens of thousands of members who voted for him”. In short, Trickett asserted, Labour needed Mr Trickett said Labour needed a “new vision for new times”.
Acting leader Harriet Harman, meanwhile, seemed to hit out against the derisive comments made towards Corbyn and his supporters, saying that, “in a hotly contested leadership race stakes run high and things get said which raise the temperature and they shouldn’t”. She must have realised at this point that, as Corbyn had been “backed by 152 constituency parties” (with Burnham and Cooper gaining just over a hundred each), Corbyn was a genuine contender for the leadership and had real support from party members – suggesting that a heightening of tensions would not be good for party unity.
For Newport MP Paul Flynn, it was a good thing that Green party members were registering as Labour supporters. “I’ve always believed”, he said, “that the best way of advancing environmental policies was to Green existing parties rather than stand as a separate party, until we get proportional representation”. Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd, meanwhile, stressed: “We like the Greens”.
After Corbyn had spoken about “where you can” reopening of coal mines (for “clean coal burning – an eco-friendly method of using the energy while containing the harmful emissions coal can give off”), Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery (a former miner and NUM president) claimed on August 8 that the candidates comments were “responsible and both economically and environmentally sensible”.
On August 10, contender for Labour’s London Mayoral candidate Diane Abbott asserted that “it would be absurd if you just halted an election because you were worried your side was going to lose” – referring to the Labour establishment’s dissatisfaction with Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity in the leadership race. “This election is being fought under rules that were agreed by the whole party last year”, she insisted, suggesting that the results should be respected as a matter of principle. Ten days later, meanwhile, Abbott claimed the party establishment was “frozen with fear” over the success of the Corbyn campaign.
On August 16, The Telegraph suggested that the politics of Labour’s new leader in Scotland Kezia Dugdale was not “wildly different” from Corbyn’s (although she backed the renewal of Trident, for example). In fact, she claimed she had become “excited” about his leadership campaign (despite having previously asserted a Corbyn victory might reduce Labour to “carping on the sidelines” for years). Critical of New Labour, meanwhile, she had claimed that Labour’s “reforming spirit” under Tony Blair had quickly been “replaced by a small ‘c’ conservatism”. On September 1, The Telegraph reported on how Dugdale would be “delighted” to work with Corbyn if he won the leadership election. Furthermore, in spite of her “multilateralist” position on nuclear disarmament, she said Corbyn was “honest” for asserting that “every single penny saved” by scrapping Trident would have to be “reinvested” to protect the jobs that the process would take away. She also pointed out that she had “called a debate at the Scottish party conference so members could have their say”. The Scotsman, meanwhile, claimed that there was “a faint glimmer of hope offered by Corbyn’s rise… in what remains of Scottish Labour circles”, with Dugdale’s advisers highlighting that “a Corbyn win creates a problem for the SNP”. One adviser, for example, argued that, “if Jeremy wins, the SNP would find it very difficult to attack us from the left”.
On August 20, Swansea East AM Mike Hedges asserted that “you win elections when you give the electorate hope” and “when they think you are on their side”. The Labour Party, he said, had lost in both 1959 and 2015 because its members had “not [been] prepared to differentiate ourselves from the Tories”. Labour voters, he argued, had been taken for granted when New Labour sought to “gain some conservative ones by moving to the right”. Labour’s loss, he claimed, had come “because too many ex-Labour voters could not see how we would make their life better, why voting Labour would make a difference”. If the “centre ground” was really the territory to occupy, he stressed, “the Liberal Democrats would win every election”. In reality, however, the Lib Dems’ “most successful elections” had been “when they moved to the left”.