by Barry Weisleder
British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn is on track to retain his job and defeat the right wing challenge to his leadership. The 67 year old, self-described Marxist, campaigns for re-nationalization of public utilities and railways, and for unilateral disarmament of nuclear weapons. Corbyn beat out three other MPs to become Leader in October 2015, after attracting hundreds of thousands of new members to the party. Now he faces an all-members’ vote. The result will be announced on September 24. The election was triggered by non-confidence expressed by about 70 per cent of the Labour MPs just after the Brexit referendum in late June. They accused Corbyn of failing to campaign for the ‘Remain in the EU’ side with sufficient enthusiasm. Now it is clear that it is the majority of LP MPs who are out of touch with the rank and file. As Corbyn speaks to huge rallies across Britain, his remaining opponent, MP Owen Smith, is fading. Another adversary, MP Angela Eagle, pulled out of the race on July 19, and endorsed Smith.
In August, the British High Court ruled that people who joined the Labour Party after January 12 must be permitted to vote for Leader. But Labour officials were granted a right of appeal. The appeals court (including judges appointed by former Prime Ministers David Cameron, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) ruled with the labour establishment, thus trimming the voters’ list. This is a small setback for Corbyn, who continues to attract new members who seek a radical political alternative to the Tory coalition government, now led by Theresa May, and to the LP Blairites. The validity of memberships is still in contention. One member was banned for listing on Facebook that she “f-cking loves the foo fighters”. Another was removed because she voted for the Green Party two years ago. Still, most observers agree that Corbyn has more than enough supporters to win convincingly.
This was evident in August when LP members elected a new National Executive Committee. All six pro-Corbyn, Momentum-backed candidates for the NEC won, thus making for a clean sweep. In addition, 83 per cent of Constituency Labour Parties (local electoral district LP associations) voted to re-nominate Corbyn for Leader. Smith obtained the support of only 11 per cent, slightly more than the number of CLPs that expressed no opinion.
In another development, Labour MP Sarah Champion, who was one of several who quit Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet right after the Brexit vote, has been reinstated after she “unresigned” back to her old post. Others who walked out on Corbyn are now rumoured to be looking for a way back. The tide has turned.
Even Social Democratic Party founder David Owen expressed support for Corbyn, opposing Owen Smith’s EU-remain policy and praising Corbyn’s stance on the National Health Service – saying it is an improvement on LP policy which in recent years accepted partial privatization.
Supporters of the pro-war, austerity-friendly, ex-LP Leader and former Prime Minister Tony Blair have posted angry messages on the party’s official facebook page. Many threaten to stop their monthly automatic donations to the party. Their money may be missed more than their odious politics. But the swelling movement for a socialist, working class agenda can easily make up for all of it.
Speculation is rife that a split in the parliamentary caucus and the party as whole is imminent, especially as numerous MPs who were behind the failing coup against Corbyn face de-selection in their constituencies prior to the next general election. A split by the right wing, as occurred in 1981, will produce a rump that may eventually seek refuge in the Liberal Democratic Party, perhaps even in Conservative ranks. This prospect opens up the possibility that the LP under Corbyn will move further to the left, posing a significant challenge to capitalist austerity, and maybe more.