It was not just economists, left-wing Labour figures, and union bosses who came out in defence of Corbyn, though. Even other political parties defended him, with the SNP, for example, saying he would “help it get the Trident nuclear deterrent axed”. The party’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson, for example, said the Labour MP’s opposition to Trident had been “very consistent and very principled”. Furthermore, Robertson called him “a strong voice against austerity”.
On July 26, The Guardian’s Letters section included a number of comments about the need for an “anti-tribal” outlook towards politics. Tony Booth from Cambridge, for example, stressed “the need for a progressive alliance” that cared “about issues above party and short-term gaining of power”. Diane Randall, meanwhile, criticised The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland as “patronising and insulting”, insisting that “many of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are not young, not needing identity, absolutely sure of their politics, with long experience and with greater depth than obviously he has”. Criticising the “sham democracy” of the UK, she said that, “if elections are not about policy, nobody should waste our time with them”. Subsequently, Tim Dyce emphasised that Labour was “not electing a prime minister” but “a leader of the opposition”, and “conviction and two-way communication” had to be the priority. For him, “ego-driven, PR-manicured politicians” could not deliver such things.
Stop the War Coalition
Stop the War published a significant number of articles during the Labour leadership race in support of Corbyn (the chair of the organisation). On August 10, for example, Robin Beste wrote at the Stop the War coalition website about how “Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Alistair Campbell [were] all calling for Labour to select anyone but Jeremy Corbyn as the party’s next leader”. As the “three architects of the lies and deception that took Britain into the illegal Iraq war”, Beste asserted, they had essentially “slaughtered over one million Iraqis, made four million more homeless and so devastated the country that the conditions were created for the emergence of ISIS”. And yet, comparing themselves to Corbyn (who “has never lied to his party or the electorate” and was a “central figure in opposing the illegal war on Iraq”), they somehow felt “qualified to lecture their party”.
Support from the Green Party
On July 26, Kent Green Party secretary Pat Marsh wrote in to The Guardian to support the establishment of a new kind of politics. Corbyn, she said, represented “[not] a step backwards to the 1980s [but] the inevitable direction for the future”. She continued, asserting that “the Greens, the SNP, [the] Occupy movement, the Spanish Indignados and [the] Greek Syriza [were] not alone in championing an alternative to austerity and neoliberalism”. Emphasising that “nobel-prizewinning economists Elinor Ostrom and Joseph Stiglitz [had] for some time been pointing the way to what Paul Mason calls nascent postcapitalism”, she noted that the Greens and SNP had gained support in the 2015 elections not by moving right but by moving left. “Under a Corbyn-led Labour party”, she argued, “there would be a real chance of the progressive parties in British politics working together to lead this country into the postcapitalist future”.
Marsh stressed that, “in many constituencies, like mine, there are always more votes for the progressive parties combined than for the Tory incumbent”. The problem, she asserted, was that, “under the current electoral system, candidates from a united left would appear to be the only way Labour could get back into power, albeit with some kind of agreement with other progressive parties”. The party’s policymakers, she said, were “mistaken if they think they will attract many people back to Labour with Tory-lite Blairite policies from the past”.
On August 24, Caroline Lucas chipped in with a letter to Corbyn in The Independent, saying “I can help you build a progressive majority”. By way of “potential electoral pacts”, she asserted, “we have a chance of beating the Tories”. It was, however, “crucial” for the Labour leadership frontrunner “to recognise the multi-party nature of modern British politics”. There was no single party, she stressed, which had “a monopoly on wisdom” or was “capable of making the transformation alone”. In twenty-first century Britain, she insisted, “a diversity of progressive voices is essential for our democracy”. For 2020, then, she argued that there was “potential in considering local grassroots electoral pacts where progressive candidates are standing, so as to give us the best chance of beating the Tories”.
On September 2, Green Party member Bradley Allsop wrote an article in The Huffington Post criticising “the media’s caricaturing” of Corbyn, saying it ought to be a “concern” to all progressives, who he advised “to start seeking truth”. At the same time, he argued, “we need to start demanding more of our journalists and political news sites, punishing the sensationalists and [rewarding the thoughtful, considered pieces”. Five days later, Josiah Mortimer said that the Corbyn campaign had “rattled” the Green Party because it was “the first time the UK [had] faced the likelihood of having a genuinely left-wing opposition leader in decades”. The Greens, he said, had “become used to wearing the mantle of being ‘the’ main anti-austerity party” in the country and “a party that positions itself as the voice of Britain’s marginalised left”.
At the same time, claimed Mortimer, a Corbyn victory would not necessarily mean the death of the Green Party. In 2013, he explained, “a small group of us proposed a change to the party’s Core Values to establish the Greens as a party of ‘social and environmental justice’” – a proposal which “passed overwhelmingly” (reflecting “the longer-term changes happening in the party”). Responding to Michael Chessum’s argument that “the Greens should only stand candidates jointly with Labour” if Corbyn won, he highlighted “clear organisational, cultural and ideological differences” between the parties. Green councillor Caroline Russell, for example, had stressed that she found Labour “tribal and determined not to do anything collaboratively”. And the fact wa, Mortimer said, that “most Labour MPs are significantly to the right of both Corbyn and the Greens, meaning joint candidacies would be a quagmire and a non-starter for both sides” in many places. In short, “a socialist leader doesn’t make a socialist party”.
The role of “left-wing Greens”, Mortimer suggested, could be to “reinforce the arguments of the Labour left from an outsider perspective”, thus creating “a new left-wing pluralism” that “could become a force to be reckoned with”. In other words, Greens were not about to “just climb aboard” the Labour bandwagon in the knowledge that it was “under fire” and within a political context “in constant flux”. For Mortimer, many Greens may be “excited by the prospect of [Corbyn’s] election”, but they were also “comfortable with being left-wing” inside the Green Party. In addition to this feeling, they were aware that “Corbyn may not last”, and would not “relish watching… [or] being part of… the coming storm within Labour”.
Left Unity Criticises the PLP’s “Witch Hunt”
On August 7, Left Unity (a new party consisting of many former Labour members and supporters) “accused Labour of a “witch hunt” against people signing up to back Jeremy Corbyn in its leadership contest”, according to the BBC. “Labour should be “thrilled” so many people want to join rather than focusing on “people who it thinks are too left wing”, asserted the party’s principal speaker Salman Shaheen. With Harriet Harman having “emailed MPs… with a list of new members from their constituencies, asking them to check for any suspicious names”, Shaheen stressed that it was “ludicrous” to refer to potential supporters as “entryists”. His own party, he affirmed, had “many disaffected former Labour members”, and it was “no wonder that some people genuinely wanted to have a say in the Labour leadership contest” when a left-wing candidate was actually on the list. These citizens, he underlined, “fully agree with the aims and values of the Labour Party – it’s the Labour leadership who abandoned those values”. From a Left Unity perspective, Shaheen argued, the Corbyn campaign was “a genuine popular movement that the Blairites [couldn’t] stop”, and there were “just 18 Left Unity members out of the tens of thousands who [had] signed up to support Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity, true Labour politics”.
Three days later, Left Unity published an article in which it insisted that Corbyn’s popularity was part of “the emergence of new parties and movements” throughout Europe and the world “in response to the capitulation of social democracy to the neoliberal austerity offensive”. As Britain was previously “immune” to the trend, it asserted, disaffected left-wingers had founded Left Unity or (in a form of “deflected radicalisation”) had entered the Green Party or the SNP. Now, though, Corbyn’s campaign expressed “the hopes of millions”, and the “alternative policies” presented were “policies that Left Unity fights for too”. The party saw the candidate’s popularity as a part of “the emergence of a real mass movement”, with “many towns and cities… seeing their largest political meetings for a generation”.
The article then asserted that, when Left Unity was formed, its members “understood clearly that to become a serious political force [they] would need to forge strategic alliances throughout the left”. And that would include supporting “the strengthening of the socialist voice and values within the Labour Party”.
The party recognised, however, that a Corbyn win would only be “the beginning of the struggle”, with a “virtual state of civil war inside the Labour Party” almost certain to break out. The “majority of the parliamentary party”, it said, would be “a serious long-term obstacle for the Labour left”. Nonetheless, the “wave of enthusiasm” in society (which had already seen “some” Left Unity members leave “in order to campaign and vote for Jeremy”) would continue to grow, as the “new movement” would continue to represent “a new political moment which goes well beyond the structure of the Labour Party itself”.
As an “activist campaigning party”, Left Unity was founded on an “aim to build a broad party of the left” and to “work alongside those in the Labour Party and other organisations where we share common policy aspirations”. The Corbyn campaign, it affirmed, was just one example of such left-wing cooperation. Meanwhile, a “‘friends of Left Unity’ category”, the organisation said, would be created so that those who had left to join Corbyn’s movement could continue to “participate in joint discussion and common action on issues that unite us”.
Some Tories Respect and even Fear Corbyn
On July 26, Matthew d’Ancona spoke at The Guardian about how there were “unmistakable trends” within the Conservative Party regarding Corbyn’s leadership campaign. Some, he said, though “surprisingly few”, could not “disguise their glee at Corbyn-mania and their general disdain for the mediocrity of the contest”. However, others were either respectful or cautious regarding the Islington MP’s hopes of becoming Labour leader. For former cabinet minister and Conservative whip Andrew Mitchell, for example, Corbyn “walks tall… in an age when authenticity is increasingly valued by voters”. [Having been “friends for many years”, Mitchell and Corbyn actually “went to Washington DC in May to lobby for the immediate release of Shaker Aamer, a British resident – and detainee at Guantánamo Bay since 2002”.]
One cabinet Tory, d’Ancona said, saw “a more likely political difficulty arising from Corbyn’s defeat”, as “Corbyn’s failure, after so much hoopla, would threaten to re-define the centre ground and, by definition, make the Tories look more rightwing” (especially as “the Blairite faction, once so ruthlessly organised, [had] effectively left Kendall stranded behind enemy lines”). Even if Corbyn lost, d’Ancona asserted, he would now “remain a force in his party – and beyond”, having “stormed through the crash barriers of contemporary politics as if they weren’t there, presenting the ideals of the left as if they were… absolutely tailored to the needs of our age”. The “rules”, however, might well “have changed”, d’Ancona stressed, and “smart Tories, far from gloating”, were now asking themselves if Corbyn’s popularity was “more than an anomaly” or if it was the “start of something” much bigger.
On August 3, meanwhile, The Huffington Post reported on how former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke was warning his colleagues “that Mr Corbyn’s branch of left-wing populism would be hard to campaign against”. Stressing that Corbyn was actually “not as left wing as former Labour leader Michael Foot”, he told fellow Tories: “Don’t underestimate Jeremy Corbyn. He’s a nice guy”. Disagreeing with figures saying the frontrunner was unelectable, Clarke stress it was “not certain he will lose an election”. Michael Foot, for example, “who stood on a much more left wing platform in 1983”, was actually “miles ahead before the election”, and only ended up losing because of a combination of external factors. “If you have another recession”, he argued, “or if the Conservative Government becomes very unpopular”, Corbyn “could win”.
Clarke also disagreed with Corbyn critics within the Labour Party who claimed the organisation had to “focus on wooing defectors from the Conservatives”, insisting that there “could be a large enough “anti-Westminster” body of voters to sweep Mr Corbyn into power”. With figures like Tony Blair being “very unpopular”, he emphasised, Corbyn simply fit “the bill of being anti-political”, and could be regarded as “a non-politician’s answer to the Westminster establishment”. Labour activists in particular, he said, were “very attracted to him because he sounds and looks like he believes what he says”. In other words, he was neither a liar nor a PR-trained bureaucratic robot (like the non-Corbyn candidates).
On August 7, even Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson said his party ought to “pay attention” to Corbyn’s popularity, suggesting a number of the frontrunner’s critiques were “not wholly wrong”. For example, he agreed that there was “a problem of inequality” and “of low pay”. In short, he stressed, “it would be very complacent and wrong to ignore the truth of some of the observations he is making about ways in which society could be better”.
UKIP Impressed by Corbyn’s Criticism of Europe
On September 3, UKIP’s Nigel Farage asked Corbyn to join him in the ‘No’ campaign in “Britain’s referendum on its membership of the European Union”, insisting that it was an issue that “transcends all political divides and boundaries”. Referring to how Tony Benn “understood the grave threat that the EU posed to nation-state democracies”, Farage stressed that “it doesn’t matter where you see yourself on the political spectrum, …if your vote at the ballot box no longer has the power to bring the fundamental change dictated by the will of the people, then what kind of democracy are you really left with?”
Corbyn’s “sweeping emergence on the Left of British politics”, Farage asserted, had “helped re-engage many who had given up on politics”, and that was essentially “a good thing for our democracy”. Labour now had “a potential leader unwilling to sign up to the corporatist, bullying EU agenda in the usual unquestioning manner which we saw from Blair, Brown and Miliband”. Then, the UKIP leader introduced a caveat, insisting “I disagree with Mr Corbyn on virtually every issue” before conceding that “there may be common ground” on the issue of the EU. Consequently, he extended “an invitation to Jeremy Corbyn to join [him] on stage” on UKIP’s nationwide “Say No to the EU tour”. The campaign, he said, could benefit from having “a genuinely radical voice on the Left”.
A day later, Kapil Komireddi spoke at The Independent about how Corbyn had “engaged Ukip voters without ever uttering a word against immigrants”. His popularity was “striking”, Komireddi asserted, because it contained “none of the divisive dog-whistles that [had] elevated politicians in other major democracies to positions of authority”. In short, he represented “a triumph of defiantly inclusive messaging”. Therefore, while “British commentators” were “busy tormenting Corbyn”, they were “neglecting the fact that he [was] pioneering what [was] perhaps the most inclusive political movement in recent history”. If he was successful in Britain, Komireddi stressed, he would “do more to advance the cause of participatory democracy and pluralism around the world than any war ever could”.
Podemos Backs Corbyn
Finally, Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos officially backed Corbyn’s campaign on August 22. The frontrunner’s popularity, the party asserted, was “great news”, as it provided “a solid alternative to socially irresponsible and austericidal policies”. Labour, it said, now had a choice – to “follow the steps of PASOK into irrelevance” or to “reverse its neoliberal drift” and “be true to its roots”. For Andrew Coates, though, Podemos itself was becoming “less and less a model for the Left”, as the leadership of Pablo Iglesias (“a charismatic leader who holds the party together and takes the decisions”) had created certain tensions in Spain. “His attitude to the rest of the Spanish left” (i.e. his “dislike” for the ‘old’ Left), along with “disputes over Podemos’ stand on Catalan independence”, had apparently seen the party claiming “it needed an approach that was “beyond” the left/right division”. Regardless of the defects of the Spanish party, however, its endorsement essentially turned Corbyn’s campaign into a fully-fledged member of the wave of anti-austerity coalitions which had formed throughout Europe since the global capitalist crisis in 2008.