Hey everyone, today we have a guest blogger, one of our members, Steven Smith, who reports back on his visit to see Jeremy Corbyn speak in Leeds last month.
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Corbyn in Leeds
On Saturday 30 July there were important and historic events in Leeds. After the West Yorkshire Humanists picnic at lunchtime, Jeremy Corbyn was here in the evening on his leadership campaign tour round the country. This blog entry is intended to be an unbiased description of an event – simply going to see a particular politician does not mean endorsement of his/her views – a friend of the writer has been to see Jeremy Corbyn, Nigel Farage and many other political events in Leeds “to understand all points of view.”
What an event this was though, first impressions were being overwhelmed by the size and length of the queue. Far past the front door of the Armouries, it went quite a long way round the dock side, see a short clip of it here. I decided not to join the queue until it reduced a bit and so didn’t get in, along with what I estimate to be about 500 people. The large hall was presumably full to capacity and must have had about 2,000 people in it.
Fortunately for us outside while the three initial speakers were addressing the audience inside (Leeds East MP Richard Burgon starting by emphatically making jokes about himself being the warm up act and obviously not who everyone has really come to see), Jeremy Corbyn upon realising there were still a lot of us outside came and stood on the steps and gave us his speech. You can experience it for yourself here. Particularly memorable things he mentioned were extreme inequality as shown by the greed of Philip Green, clamping down on tax havens and tax avoidance, setting up a national investment bank, protection for the NHS (I believe he said 49% of NHS spending goes to private companies already) and in particular support for mental health, investment in the public sector and condemning the recent outbreak of racist hate-crime (as mentioned in the previous blog article by Michael).
The situation now is that the overwhelming majority of labour party members, well over half a million, support Jeremy Corbyn whereas they majority of Labour MPs do not. Party membership has approximately doubled in the last 18 months, the reason being to support Jeremy. This doubling of membership is arguably caused by the hope that Labour under Corbyn can be a left-wing party again. In fact a group called Momentum has been created just to support Corbyn.
Whatever your political views it is surely not controversial that Tony Blair took the Labour party well to the right, becoming almost indistinguishable from the Conservative party. It is probably reasonable to call the Labour party under Tony Blair a Tory party – ‘Tory’ is a an adjective, not a noun, and Toryism is a political philosphy which in general terms means the government by and for the monied, propertied few over the much poor rest of society. ‘Tory’ is not simply another word for the Conservative party, but a general description of those who support the private sector, the wealthy, right wing values in general. By any reasonable analysis of the word ‘Tory’ Tony Blair and his party New Labour were a Tory government.
During this time moderate and able MPs were deselected by Labours central committee, the NEC, for example Dennis Canavan was not chosen by New Labour to be an MSP candidate despite a 97% support from his local constituency members. Here in Leeds the Labour NEC blocked apparently left-wing Liz Davies, the choice of the local Labour group, to be the Labour candidate for Leeds North East MP and imposed their own choice Fabian Hamilton.
It would be incredible for people in the Soviet Union to not know the ideology of their state was communism, or for the people of Spain in the 1950s to know that they lived under the ideology of fascism. The ideology Britain is currently under is neoliberalism. Corbyn is a threat to that which explains why he is so demonised by the Establishment, and the media in particular, and so supported by those who want change to the left (as opposed to those who want change to the right – BNP/Ukip etc.).
A Corbyn government would be more right wing than the Thatcher government was. Yes, you read that right, quite obviously if Corbyn was running the country, and did everything he said he would, the government would be far to the right of Margaret Thatcher’s. Choose any serious measure you want. For example Corbyn said he would nationalise the railways. Well, they were a nationalised industry in Thatcher’s time, along with many other national industries like electricity, gas, coal and water. The NHS was much better funded that it is now, with so much fewer services contracted out to private companies. Corbyn would clearly not change the NHS back to how it was instantly, he might merely raise health spending by 5% rather than doubling it and drastically reducing the amount given to private companies. Also, and this is the big one, the rate of corporation tax is currently stunningly low at 20%. Maybe Corbyn would increase it to 22%, or even 23% (shock!) and he’d probably be called a Communist trying to smash British capitalism. Well it was 40% in 1985 half way through Thatcher’s government.
Clearly Jeremy Corbyn is the overwhelming choice of the Labour party members and will be elected as leader. What happens next is uncertain. Will the 172 MPs who are opposed to him leave to form their own party? The British precedent for that is the formation of the SDP which quickly dwindled to nothing. Will the 172 all be deselected to be replaced with Corbyn-supporting MP candidates? Is there enough support in the voting public for a Corbyn-led Labour to win a general election? Would he prevent or push through Brexit?
Whatever your political position clearly British politics will be very interesting in the immediate future. There is genuine difference at last.
Why not come to the 2017 humanist picnic and discuss things with us?