Steve Belcher, UNISON official, captured the mood at the Cardiff Rally perfectly last night.
He stood up and pronounced, loud and proud to a packed audience, ” I’m Steve, and I am a socialist!”
He went on to say it had been a long time since he had felt able to say that confidently in Labour gathering. It embodied the new found, long lost, confidence that we lefties have been suffering from for so long, certainly since Blair and New Labour. Steve also pointed out that we have now reached a point that every time Blair or Campbell stand up and slate Corbyn and what he stands for, all it achieves is driving thousands more to rallying behind Corbyn’s campaign.
Among these thousands are lefties of all affiliations and none. At the Cardiff rally last night I bumped into comrades from Left Unity, the SWP, the Socialist Party, TUSC, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and various campaign groups. I guess there were a few more Greens there than just me and John, but I didn’t see them there. I also didn’t see anyone I recognised from Bridgend Labour Party, but they appear to be backing the wrong horse and favouring Andy Burnham, from the few that have spoken to me.
What I did see was a true cross-section of demographics present. There were some wizened old-stagers for sure, but far more encouraging was the high proportion of young people, a close to even male:female ratio, a noticeable number of people from various minority groups and the general air of optimism.
So what does all this lead me to conclude?
Firstly, it is refreshing to see the left being emboldened and refreshed. Corbyn’s greatest achievement to date in this campaign is have largely dispelled the New Labour Blairite mantra that socialism is a dirty word and that electability depends on buying into the neoliberal hegemony. There is a real sense that people are regaining the confidence to promote socialist ideas again, and, crucially, that the wider public are beginning to be prepared to listen.
This last point is the critical one for me. Socialist ideas have had little traction with the general public for a long time now because no credible party of government has been espousing them. They have become minority views for minority parties. Corbyn is beginning to change that, and people are beginning to sit up and take notice.
In his address to the rally, Corbyn stressed just how dysfunctional our democracy has become with over 50% of young voters not taking part along with despair setting in among the oppressed minorities, the poor and the vulnerable, such that they too have given up on politics and, especially, the Labour Party. The result is Hobson’s choice of the barely distinguishable Thatcherite Tories or Blairite New Labour.
At last, Corbyn offers something different. To the young, he offers a fresh, new, previously unseen (in their lifetimes) alternative based on fairness, equality and human decency. That has to be hugely attractive, doesn’t it? To the poor and vulnerable, he offers real hope that there can be empathy and a desire to change their lives for the better. Isn’t that worth a cross on a ballot paper?
The biggest challenge in Corbyn’s way is, of course, his own party. Despite their roots and their inner convictions, too may Labour councillors and Labour MPs have convinced themselves that they have only been elected because of their Tory-lite policies of the last few decades. In Wales, at least, that has translated into pretty much jobs for life on the back of an electorate that keep voting them in out of deeply ingrained hope, rather than any real expectation any more, that they may do something to improve their lives.
Wales is in desperate need of a truly socialist agenda. There can be little doubt about that. This is why Plaid Cymru, with its raison d’etre of doing the best for Wales, has become an avowedly ecosocialist party over the last few decades. It is why committed socialists also find themselves in the Green Party, SWP, Left Unity, TUSC, Socialist Party, etc. rather than in the Labour Party, because socialism has become a dirty word to Welsh Labour.
One of the big achievements of last night’s rally was in bringing people from across the left spectrum together in one room in a spirit comradeship and hope. It is something I have been dreaming of and trying to engineer, and utterly failing, for years now. So where do we go from here?
I see two ways forward for socialists in Wales:
- If you are in a political party, Labour or otherwise, push the socialist agenda, loud and proud, and ensure that your leadership, at all levels buy into it (more of a challenge in some parties than others). Encourage dialogue and co-operation across and between parties and recognise common objectives. Learn from the good things achieved by Syriza in terms of unifying the voice of an even more splintered left in Greece.
- If that is not possible, or you are not currently in a party, wait and see that Corbyn is elected first and then join the Labour Party and work to ensure that it recognises the opportunity for the Labour Party to rediscover its raison d’être.
Given that 1 seems beyond the Green Party in Wales, I am therefore looking at following my own advice and joining the Labour Party if Corbyn wins the leadership. Whether I can actually bring myself to do that, given my deep-seated loathing of everything represented by New Labour, remains to be seen. And given that I am probably not the only one thinking like this, this may well be what fatally derails the Corbyn bandwagon ultimately.
Nonetheless, I have no reservations about taking Steve Belcher’s inspiration and saying:
I’m Andy, and I am a Socialist.