CLASH OF COMMENTS: Should Jeremy Corbyn still be leader of the Labour party?

Jeremy Corbyn Bahrain 2

Image: Wikipedia

YES – Jacob Miller

The question ‘Should Corbyn be leader’ should not have to be asked. I say this because when the mass resignations and leadership contest began, he had been in the job for less than a year, having been elected by 59.5 per cent. This is not a fair chance. If MPs had been serious about making it work, they should have rallied together at a time of national crisis following the Brexit vote, when the Tories were vulnerable. I support Corbyn because this situation indicates a need for the democratisation he has been proposing. For those talking of electability, we would be a laughing stock if we deposed a democratically elected leader and then claimed to be a democratic party in a general election.

I do not support Corbyn in the belief that all is rosy. I accept that the polls are dire – with one putting Labour on course for its worst election defeat since 1935. But we can’t blame this all on Corbyn.

Prior to the resignations Labour was 4-5 points behind, with the gap narrowing in May and June – not fantastic, but not catastrophic. The current shift followed the mass resignations and the ascension of Theresa May.

Most polls show support for Corbyn’s policies, with 60-70 per cent supporting public ownership of the railways, and 61 per cent supporting a 50p top rate of tax. It’s not policy but ineffective communication which is his major failing. The Conservatives are adept at crafting concise messages which resonate with people in their everyday lives (e.g. “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”). In contrast, when Owen Jones asked Corbyn to summarise his Labour leadership in a sentence, it took him about four. A number of miscommunications by Owen Smith, such as the infamous smashing Theresa May back on her heels, reveal that he was no more competent a communicator than Corbyn, and therefore hardly a better choice. Corbyn should be leader provided he tries to improve, which is likely given John McDonnell’s suggestion that he and Corbyn could take lessons from more experienced MPs.

Ultimately, there is no way to predict, especially after Brexit, events which could profoundly alter the political landscape. As I said in an article following Corbyn’s first victory, the fact that Margaret Thatcher was once considered unelectable by many of her MPs indicates that the centre ground is constantly shifting. In order to offer a real choice, parties have to break out of the consensus. We want power, but while in opposition we can make a real difference.

We’ve had our victories, with U-turns on tax credits and the Saudi prison contracts, as well as in Mayoral elections. Corbyn is a leader. Leadership requires courage and determination, something he has undoubtedly shown after attacks on all sides, and pressure under which most would have buckled. If he listens to criticism and works on his flaws, Corbyn could yet be PM, but in opposition he can at least widen debate in our democracy.

 

NO – Rory Kelly

First, an important concession. Since the birth of empire, brave dissidents have been dishonestly and acrimoniously slandered as traitors who hate their own countries. Many of us on the left, sceptical of American and European foreign policy, learned to roll our eyes at the over-used pejorative “anti-Western” and grew tired of hearing that to oppose any one of “our” own policies was to support various dictators around the world. This inoculation became a necessity when debating  foreign policy – but in Jeremy Corbyn’s success we see a dangerous consequence of this defence mechanism.

Corbyn’s foreign policy record is not only anti-imperial, as he would have us all believe, but supportive of almost any movement, no matter how thuggish, as long as it is anti-Western.

Corbyn has legitimised the state propaganda channel of the Iranian theocracy by making five paid appearances, without raising a word in protest against the state’s human rights abuses. He was consistently against negotiations in Northern Ireland during the 1980s and 90s, on the grounds that the IRA should take up arms until they received an unconditional surrender. He used the word “friends” to describe a delegation from Hamas, a group who explicitly call for genocide and rule out a peaceful resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict in their charter.

At this point, I can hear the road-blocks being thrown up in the heads of the Corbynistas. To anyone thinking that way, I beg you – ditch those excuses. These are not slanders against Corbyn, nor exaggerations, but facts. Were these positions not so controversial, he would likely wear them with pride, as he has done in the past. Corbyn is part of the section of the left wing that have long found it impossible to oppose the policies of the west, without giving support to any anti-western group that saunters by – no matter how morally repugnant.

For the most part, Corbyn was not elected on these grounds but as the most authentically anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal candidate on offer. But this foreign policy record still cripples the case for Corbyn. First, it damages his wider electability, as being able to show the left as rabidly anti-west is always a huge asset to the right wing.

Furthermore, given Corbyn’s lack of experience in government, the positions that he has taken over the years are almost all he can be judged on. They reveal the intellectual and moral calibre of the Labour leader – and they show him to be seriously lacking.

Finally, any feeling that Corbyn’s record on foreign policy is not important only emerges from a sense that he will be more focused on domestic policy. But anyone who looks at the struggle in the Middle East between democracy, theocracy, and military dictatorship and thinks we can shirk that conflict is seriously misled.

Unfortunately, Labour have made their disastrous decision clear – twice – meaning that there is only one option for the rest of us. When 2020 rolls around, don’t vote for Labour.

Leave a comment