Jeremy Corbyn closed his speech to Labour’s Party conference in Liverpool with a peroration. He followed convention in enthusing his troops into battle and looked forward to next year’s conference, when he and they would be the party of government.
Mr Corbyn had brought listeners through an ambitious tour of the politics of grievance, conjured up by selective historical highlights from home, of massacre (Peterloo) and exploitation (Chartism), and images from abroad, of Libya and Syria, Gaza and Palestine – the latter a ‘cause’ that Corbyn has made his own. There was also a more familiar list for a broader audience on the home front – to end austerity, to keep the state pension triple- locked, to put employees in the board rooms and to usher in a green revolution creating more jobs. It lacked both the analysis and the advocacy needed to convince any but his followers that with him and his movement lies the solution to the great problems of our times.
The Labour party he replaced had, with the Conservative and Liberal Democrats, been preoccupied with these real, pressing problems, on and off, over the decades, in power or out. Corbyn did not go about identifying their causes or proposing solutions. Rather, he took refuge in cliché. Thus on the financial crisis we heard merely of an ‘edifice of greed-is-good deregulated financial capitalism, … [which] came crashing to earth with devastating consequences. [The] establishment strain[ing] every sinew to bail out and prop up the system that led to the crash in the first place’. But there was no discussion of the contributory factors, tackled or outstanding, on which the main stream parties have sought to make a start: the legal framework, the mistaken economic measures used by the Treasury to measure the economy, the high levels of public spending to GDP that weakened the country by reducing GDP growth, the historically low interest rates in addition to the internal business models. All was reduced to the level of street rhetoric, a narrative in which the crash led to wage stagnation, cuts, austerity, racism, and populism and what Corbyn calls the ‘crisis of democracy at home and abroad.’
Mr Corbyn is right in mentioning a crisis of democracy. But the charge of bringing that about should be levelled against himself and the coup against his own party. By his militant packing of the membership with fellow travellers, his threat to deselect decent MPs with the talent, brains, ability and experience to return Labour to power , the shameful exploitation of the politics of race and Antisemitism in a scramble for the votes of Israel haters, the attempts to ‘buy votes’ and make militancy out of real problems that should be solved within a proven democratic framework, he is striking at the very soul of Britain’s historic Labour movement. In fact, Corbyn has all but destroyed the most successful democratic Labour Party of the west. It grew from the Labour movements and groups, the trade unions, the parliamentary Labour Party, the Christian Socialists and Fabians, the evangelical movements and the inheritance of radicalism into a parliamentary party. It brought remarkable men and women into this country’s unique system of democratic government, first coming to power in 1924, winning support over a century from decent people who, when the time came, gave Labour a chance to govern.
In closing, Corbyn alluded to Labour’s sweeping victory in 1945. He failed to mention that the then leader, Clement Attlee, had not materialised from the ether of the revolutionary left, but from a lifetime of service going back to the Oxford of the early 1900s. He had worked practically to alleviate the poverty of the East End slums and to identify its cause and solution when an academic teaching in the LSE. He served in politics, both local and national, and had fought in World War One, where he was wounded in the service of his country. His leadership of the Labour party was marked not by factionalism, rhetoric or show, but by dedication to the country to which he belonged; to the service of its people; to its political system, which he did much to shape and which shaped him and his life of service. Under Churchill he had served Britain’s wartime coalition, his country and its government and, as deputy prime minister, he mastered and bore the responsibilities of power without flourish throughout the good days and the bad. When his time came in 1945, the country turned to him, because he and Labour were proven. Unlike Corbyn and his followers, they were fit to govern.