By Andy Yorke
12 July 2015
Hundreds of Labour party members and supporters, mostly thirty or older but a decent number of young people, piled into the Yorkshire regional Labour leadership hustings at Elland Road. There was an hour for Labour leader candidates – all of whom were present, with Jeremy Corbyn arriving just as it started from a previous meeting in the region – followed by one for Deputy leader candidates. It was a tightly controlled event, with questions submitted in writing or emailed in beforehand and then selected. The first question, about what positive vission and message for Labour each would put forward to win, acted as an opening speech, and the sessions ended with each candidate ssumming up.
Despite the moderator asking for no clapping (no doubt to muzzle the left and even it up for the less popular right), when Jeremy Corbyn arrived a sizable section of the room broke out into clapping and cheering. This was to set the tone for the meeting – the largest applause consistently for Corbyn and speeches on poverty, inequality and the NHS from Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper. There was less for the “middle two” when they celebrated “entrepreneurial Britain” and at the other extreme a polite smattering of clapping for Liz Kendall.
Yet speaking before the party faithful, all made as “left” a speech as possible within the limits of their political stance. Yvette Cooper and particularly Andy Burnham appealing to Labour’s tradition, principles etc. trying to flatter the activists and members assembled to boost their less convincing political message. Burnham ended his tub-thumping speech with his aim of making “this great party of ours the people’s party once again”. Yvette Cooper appealed for the vote of Labour women by saying she wanted to give David Cameron “an even bigger woman problem, and smash the glass ceiling”.
Liz Kendall used the crisis in Greece to ram home her core message, that the “centre-left” parties had a challenge to find alternatives to austerity while a hard left wouldn’t face up to it, and a “credible alternative” was needed. In her conclusion she reiterated the Blairite mantra that Labour had “lost touch with the country” on taxes and the economy, warning that “we can’t move to the far left or we will be out of power for a decade”.
Her summing up delivering this “painful truth” received little applause and a bit of heckling. But her insistence that the way to protect the “services” families relied on was to “build the businesses of the future”, because “without great businesses there won’t be great jobs” was echoed several times by both Cooper (“A stronger economy and a fairer economy go hand in hand”) and Burnham. Winnability everything but unlike Ed Miliband in 2010 this was not by (temporarily) rejecting the Blairite mantra of winning Middle England but pulling it into new clothes, a Britain “where everyone can get on”.
Burnham and Cooper each had their own policies aimed at different constituencies. Cooper called for 300,000 new houses a year, and an end to child poverty in a generation – something the last 13 year Labour government failed to achieve. Burnham spread his bets further to the left, shadowing Corbyn and cherry picking his policies. So Corbyn said he would put rent controls against “excessive profits” back in place, while Burnham would consider them but also have tougher controls over private landlords.
But since then, Burham has shown how much this is window dressing for his bid for respectability and big businesss support. His July 15 economic programme projects Labour as the ‘Party of work, business and economic credibility”, and tech entrepreneur Rajesh Agrawal has endorsed him.
Despite coming out against Harriet Harman’s policy of not opposing the Tory Welfare Reform bill, he has so far been silent over Rachel Reeve’s endorsement of Harman’s stance. Reeve is the chair of his Business Advisory Panel, the “shadow chancellor in waiting”, and infamous for boasting how she would be harder on benefits than the Tories.
Although Cooper speaks a bit like someone who graduated a long time ago from the Blair school of clones, and Burnham is a natural speaker who knew how to deliver a message in a hands on way, there is little funadmental difference between the two.
All three supported renewing Trident while only Jeremy Corbyn stood clearly against, from a pacifist approach. While the main three candidates emphasised homeownership, Corbyn stood out for ending the right to buy properties, at least at a massive discount. Since the husting Corbyn has announced a plan to fund free education and maintenance grants by levying a tax on the rich.
As one Unite bus driver afterwards summed it up as “I support Jeremy and don’t like Liz Kendall, but I think Yvette Cooper and Burnham made some good arguments, Burnham’ll probably win he looks like a leader”. This probably summarised the thinking of a substantial part of the room, possibly a majority.
Despite that, it’s clear that the Corbyn campaign has invigorated Labour leftwingers and brought more into the party, particularly young people. He is now level with Burnham, having secured 48 CLP nominations.
It can only be a good thing that Corbyn’s continued rise in support has rattled the Labour establishment. Corbyn’s entry in the campaign also enabled the entry of Labour’s members and supporters. It busted open the cosy circle which the four original candidates thought they would sit around attacking their working class members and blaming their election defeat on Miliband’s ‘left-wing’ policies.
The surge in Labour membership since the election is no doubt due in large part to Corbyn’s campaign and demonstrates that Labour remains the main party of the working class.
Workers Power urges all socialists to sign up as a supporter to vote for Corbyn and help build a movement within and outside the Labour Party to oppose cuts in the Tory parliament and Labour councils.