I have just been reading Tariq Ali‘s essay in the London Review of Books entitled “Corbyn’s Progress”. Tariq is always worth listening to, but he has not got anything particularly insightful or revelatory to say about Corbyn’s period as leader of the Labour Party to date.
The most interesting section, to my mind, was that he has to say about debates over whether bomb Islamic State positions in Syria. Ali speculates that part of Cameron’s motives were to try and make Corbyn’s position as leader untenable in the aftermath of Maria Eagle shafting him over Labour’s trident position. Ali suggests that in this light, Corbyn should not have allowed a free vote on the issue, thus allowing Hilary Benn to deliver his disgraceful tirade citing Hitler and the Spanish Civil War, and culminating with 66 Labour MPs voting with the Tories. However, the majority of the PLP did support the Corbyn position.
Ali purports that this relatively good result for Corbyn led the media to seek out someone else to blame for MPs getting behind Corbyn. That, he suggests, was ‘Stop The War’, an organisation chaired by Corbyn ever since the death of Tony Benn. The fact that Corbyn wished to consult Stop The War before the Syria bombing debate in Parliament rattled the cages of many, both inside and outside the Labour Party.
Curiously, it also seems to have had repercussions in the Green Party too. Caroline Lucas had been a prominent supporter and committee member of Stop The War for many years, sharing platforms with Corbyn on many occasions. She resigned not long before the Commons debate. Ali suggests that this was possibly at the behest of Natalie Bennett, who he describes as inept and fearful that Green supporters were being seduced away by Corbyn and therefore wanted to be seen as taking a different approach. I am not too convinced by this analysis, although disappointed by Lucas’ actions (for once). She offers an explanation (or is it more of an excuse) on her website.
Given that Bennett has now decided to stand down, there is enormous support (including from me) for Lucas to take on the leadership position again. If she does so, it will be fascinating to see how she seeks to position the Party. It is to be hoped that she will seek to enhance the Party’s ecosocialist credentials – rebuffing the relatively right wing elements that have effectively driven many of the Green Left ecosocialists within the Party to at least consider their positions, if they haven’t already given up (I am far from the only one in this category).
The Green Parties USP is its ecologism, which is subtly but significantly different from the environmentalism found in many political parties. This gives it a vital role to play in any potential coalition of the progressive left, so long as it does not lose its socialism.
Never in my lifetime has there been so much deep-rooted inner turmoil in just about very political party simultaneously. Every party seems to be having a kind of identity crisis. There is the real possibility of the long-standing neoliberal hegemony (established by Thatcher, reinforced by Blair and maintained ever since), finally crumbling. This is largely being self-inflicted by self-serving, complacent, arrogant and ignorant Tories of various hues from blue to red via purple. Now is the time for the radical left to get its shit together, cut out the sectarianism and form a united front that can step successfully into the breach.
As we have seen in Wales in recent days, the first step towards that is for parties to heal themselves. It is little wonder that Plaid Cymru (itself not quite as homogenised as it likes to pretend) cannot work out whether to see Labour as friends or foes. Corbyn’s Labour ought to be seen as friends. Carwyn Jones’ red tory Welsh Labour are rightly distrusted.
As Tories and Labour, in particular, continue to tear themselves apart, they are both beginning to realise that FPTP may not look after them quite so well in the future. All other parties are also freshly reminded of just how un-representative FPTP is, and even Additional Member systems are. The time is ripe to bring PR back onto the agenda.
That being the case, parties need to recognise that the old sectarian habits will get them nowhere. Coalition will become the norm. For Greens and Plaid Cymru to have so very much in common, and for Labour and Lib Dems to also have significant ground in common, means that implementing the common ground ought too be a formality. What ruins this though is the vitriolic, sectarian spite that emerges over areas of difference. The dynamics within our politics need to change.
This, more than anything else, is why Corbyn truly shows us the way forward. Without compromising his most strongly held beliefs, he is prepared to talk to anybody in a civilised and constructive manner. It allows apologies to be made for past mistakes, compromises to be made that allows some progress in the right direction (rather than none), and for everybody, friend or foe, to be treated with dignity and respect.
Corbyn’s progress has been astonishing, but he has a long way to go, within his own party first and foremost. Tariq Ali seems to think he is getting there. That is good news for all of us.
Perhaps the best thing ecosocialists in Wales can do is to join Welsh Labour and help steer onto the Corbyn path. It is a very big ask though, and one that I for one am do not have the stomach for at present.