At Christmas, Christians are invited to imagine a world transformed by the arrival of the infant Jesus into a realm of peace, benevolence and universal kindness. It’s fair to say that for many Labour Party members the New Testament is more of an influence on their thinking than the Communist Manifesto.
Godless he might be, but not even Jeremy Corbyn is immune to the attraction of Christ’s teaching. Andy Stowe shares his take on Corbyn’s latest project.
“Each and every one of us has a part to play in ensuring change, and we must continue to do everything we can to bring about a kinder and fairer world.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers…”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
The first of the four quotes is from Jeremy Corbyn’s website and the other three are from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Gospel language is more elegant, but the sentiments are all in the same vein.
Corbyn is launching The Project for Peace and Justice having taken a year to regroup since the election defeat. It’s a campaign against bad things like war, poverty and environmental crisis and for good things like international peace and climate justice. It has already had about 40 000 people sign up to it though this means little more than joining an email list with the promise of “access to news and new research, invitations to our events and campaigns, and opportunities to connect with leading campaigners across the world.”
The project was announced in a major interview with Jacobin which leaves the reader convinced that Corbyn is completely incapable of explaining to his supporters why his leadership was destroyed and what conclusions they should draw from it. He restates the same entirely reasonable points he’s been making for years about the importance of internationalism and the value of solidarity. Anyone who sat through Tony Benn’s speech about being on the troopship and the story with the “tie the ropes together” punchline on innumerable occasions will have an awful sense of déjà vu.
The Conservative think tank Onward published a piece of research in early December which found that “one in four (27%) of Labour voters in 2019 are defined by having strongly left-wing views on both social and economic axes”. That is about 15% of the electorate. If the European Research Group and Nigel Farage have taught the left anything in recent years, it should be that a minority which is clear about its ideas and is willing to fight for them organisationally and ideologically can transform a major party and radically shift large numbers of voters to its positions.
That 27% of Labour voters wants a political home with anti-racist, anti-austerity politics and is willing to fight for them. What Corbyn is offering instead is his version of the Sermon On the Mount delivered to a passive membership of an organisation which is based on his personal appeal. It’s just not enough. It looks too much like other sham left front organisations in which the major decisions are sorted out by a leadership clique and the membership is powerless.
Corbynism lost the Brexit culture war and a swathe of Labour voters were won over to English nationalist politics. Well-intentioned as Corbyn is as an individual, this project is doing nothing but clinging to the old certainties at a moment when what is needed is a left offensive in the culture war.
The obvious starting point for this is putting up a serious fight against Starmer’s embrace of English nationalism, an embrace so total he didn’t even bother challenging a proponent of bonkers racist conspiracy theories on national radio when he was talking to her. This is the toxic ideology which was the undoing of Corbynism and rendered it virtually defenceless when the baseless allegations of anti-semitism were slung around by the social forces determined to crush even his moderate leftism.
If your local party decides to affiliate, there’s no reason to oppose it. It will probably do some useful work on questions of climate justice, support for strikes and international solidarity. But what’s needed right now, and this is something our political opponents understand perfectly, is leadership on the Labour left willing to “to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” Matthew 10:35.