My social media feeds have been aflame since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Labour party in the UK. Most Canucks would say “Jeremy Who?” and that’s understandable – as a dual citizen I probably pay a bit more attention than most to political goings on across the sea. I don’t really have a horse in the race but a lot of my friends both real and Facebook do. Over the past few days I’ve noticed something is afoot. Loads of disaffected Labour people have suspended their grievances and are heading back to their original political home. When New Labour under Tony Blair became America’s key partner in the Iraq War, numerous old school lefties quit the party in disgust. Some packed it prior to this due to Labour’s support of the first Gulf War in 1991. They bailed in droves and formed smaller factions that lacked any amount of mass political clout but that is rapidly reversing. Not everyone is pleased of course; if there is one thing The Left is exceedingly good at, it’s dishing out a critical beating on one of their own who doesn’t completely align with the vision of their faction. A unity candidate can only carry things so far but it looks as if the reunification of Labour is on. Scores of people like what they are hearing from the top and are returning to the fold. Dust off the banners from the days gone by and reprint the songbooks, the bike riding pinkos are returning to the village.
Corbyn is the guy who hung around long enough that they finally had to give him top billing. He was first elected as an MP in 1983 and never gave up his firm socialist stance, which must have been tough in the “New” Labour era. The odds were very much against him to win the leadership but his landing 60% support on the first ballot says otherwise. He presents true to type, resembling and sounding like a seasoned Marxist political science professor with the demeanour of jedi knight Obi Wan Kenobi. That he could still actually exist within an organization that had changed so thoroughly seems to be a part of what Labour-left people find refreshing about him. He’s very much a down to earth sort who doesn’t milk his title or give a shit as to how he is perceived by the media or establishment. Photos of him appeared taking the night bus from parliament like any other worker. His total expenses as an MP in 2010 were £8.70 for an ink jet cartridge. His first stop on the same day he was announced as leader was to attend a march in support of refugees. Political singer Billy Bragg, who quite publicly quit the Labour party 25 years ago, stood with Corbyn at the rally and sang the Red Flag – a song that was thoroughly repressed by the previous regime. The first stanza is “The people’s flag is deepest red, it shrouded oft our martyred dead”. A flagpole has been jabbed straight through the heart of the New Labour project. There will be no funeral.
A murmur of excitement has hit left wing circles here in Canada since Jeremy Corbyn’s victory. Many are looking to Labour’s distant cousin, the NDP, and hoping that the change in tone that seemingly happened overnight in the UK might happen here. Is it possible that the Dippers might turn back the clock and reinsert the “s” word back into their core documents? The NDP tolerate a small but vocal socialist caucus whose wish list is more aligned with Corbynite policy than anything Thomas Mulcair might support. There are no sitting MPs that will openly identify with them though. The only thing Corbyn and Mulcair truly have in common is that they are both still rocking their 1970s beards. Mulcair is certainly more progressive than Stephen Harper, which is not a difficult space to fill, but he definitely isn’t a rebel. Corbyn could not be whipped, having voted against his party nearly 500 times in the past 30+ years. He has been arrested for protesting apartheid in South Africa and unequivocally supports the Palestinian people against Israeli oppression. Taking such a radical stand in Canada would be seen as toxic and unelectable. Part of the problem with the orange left’s wishful thinking is that the NDP is lacking a Corbynesque contender of any description. There is no seasoned contrarian back bench pink menace waiting for the right moment to hop on his Raleigh three speed and mount the coup. The revolution will not be televised as it isn’t even on the horizon.
All democratic movements are larger than any one person. Every party has it’s heroes that get trotted out and name checked as being the high ideal, such as Tommy Douglas for the NDP. There has been a bit of scrubbing in his case as he’s never publicly referred to as a socialist by his own people. As his official party bio states: “As premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas made history by leading the first social democratic government ever elected in North America.” Perhaps it’s a reflection of the Canadian way, finding a pragmatic compromise and widening the tent to include those who would be uncomfortable voting for a party with an old prairie socialist or Marxist Jedi type at the helm. Will the wayward Canadian Reds condemned to the fringe ever feel the urge to head home again? This could take a while…