By KD Tait The attempted coup launched by Labour’s parliamentary rebels has failed to oust Jeremy Corbyn - but it has provoked a renewed membership surge.
Figures confirmed by the New Statesman show 200,000 people have joined the party in the last two weeks, taking total membership to 600,000. Labour is now the biggest it has been for 50 years and the biggest left party in Europe.
This is a mass phenomenon, which makes a mockery of the idea that Corbyn can’t appeal to people.
Local parties report that the bulk of new recruits are joining to defend Jeremy Corbyn. Alan Johnson’s constituency party, Hull West, recently voted overwhelmingly to endorse Corbyn’s leadership, as did Angela Eagle’s branch in Wallasey.
Right wingers have been joining too, but the heirs to Blair who lost the 2010 and 2015 elections have been completely outmatched by the mass of people joining who want to see a new kind of politics.
The right wingers’ attacks were almost entirely against Jeremy’s supposed lack of leadership. They obviously did not want to come clean on the policies they would advocate: austerity-lite and attacks on migrants and refugees.
The failure of the aptly-named ‘Chicken Coup’ was as spectacular as it was pitiful. The Parliamentary Labour Party rebels and the councillors doing the Tories’ dirty work cutting jobs and services are more isolated from the members and Labour voters than ever.
This victory should give us confidence to press for Labour to adopt the policies Jeremy Corbyn was elected on: anti-austerity, anti-privatisation, taxing the rich to fund investment in jobs and services and defence of migrants and refugees.
However, we mustn’t be complacent. The hardcore rebels who have set up the Saving Labour faction have been outmanoeuvred but they have not been politically defeated. Their behaviour during the abortive coup reveals their contempt for the members and proprietorial attitude to the party (and their MP privileges).
We cannot expect them to simply give up. Even now they will be preparing their future challenge. The left should welcome political debate within the party, but we should not tolerate sabotage and abuse of democracy. The right might have been stymied for the time being but they will definitely be back in one form or another.
There is a burning need to take the offensive against the Tories. To ensure the party can become an effective leadership that millions of people want to see, we need to make it fit for purpose.
The opportunities presented by the huge surge in members following last May’s general election and Corbyn’s election in September were missed as the Corbyn leadership and Momentum offered damaging concessions on party democracy (reselection) and allowing council cuts in order to try and secure the cooperation of the right wing.
Let’s not repeat this mistake. The blatant coup attempt has renewed members’ determination to press forward and seize control of the party for themselves.
The surge in members is a protest against the old order. But Labour’s 600,000 members and the millions of affiliated union members also contain the germs of power based on a new, socialist, order.
Socialists need to help organise the new members by offering practical support and political policies to rid the labour movement of the discredited representatives of the Establishment.
The period of kindness and compromise is over. Under Corbyn’s leadership the party has already secured a number of important victories. But if we want to get on with the job of opposing the Tories and winning victories for working people we need to move decisively to change the policies and representatives of the party.
- Democracy: the MPs and councillors should reflect the views of the members. If MPs can’t or won’t support the line of the leadership, they should make way for those who will. This year’s conference is unlikely to be representative of the new membership. That’s why it’s vital that the party draws new members into discussion of policies that hold our representatives to account and commit party to a fighting programme as soon as possible.
- No cuts: fresh Tory tax cuts for business and the threat of a new recession bring more cuts in services. We need to build a united front of all Labour, trade union and community organisations to coordinate and effective fight against every cut.
- Alternative: the influx of new members, many of who are becoming politically active for the first time provides a rare chance to rethink what kind of political programme we put forward. We need a major debate across the whole party to discuss what Labour’s alternative should be. Mass meetings should bring together representatives of the leadership, the members, the trade unions and ordinary people affected by cuts to discuss the way forward.
- Address the real needs of working class people in the neglected former industrial areas through a massive campaign of regeneration, providing well paid jobs, social housing, good schools and hospitals. These real-world improvements would provide opportunities for young people, revitalise communities and provide a powerful antidote to the anti-migrant racism which blames the blameless for problems created by the capitalist system and its ruling class.