You can’t put a price on democracy right? Well, according to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party you can, and that price is £25; the cost of signing up as a ‘registered supporter’ to vote in the party’s forthcoming leadership election. Having been a member of the party for less than six months, I, like many other supporters, will now have to pay more than six times the amount I did to vote in last year’s leadership contest. I’m no economist, but I don’t think inflation has been that high in the last ten months, and as a socialist, I’m utterly disgusted.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out exactly why this extortionate fee has been introduced, and why the vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) do not oppose it. Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the party, enjoys huge levels of support from students, young people, the working class and some of the poorest people in society, and this decision (taken after Corbyn had left the meeting of the NEC having been informed he would be automatically put on the ballot for the contest) is nothing more than a sordid attempt to prevent his supporters from having their voices heard. It’s an affront to equality and to democracy, the very values that the Labour party is supposed to uphold. However, this is just the latest in a long list of ways in which the PLP have constantly tried to undermine their elected leader, and it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Right from the get-go, it has been apparent that the PLP have been determined to ensure that Corbyn’s leadership of the party is destined to fail. Openly criticising the MP for Islington on social media, national television and in Parliament, defying his authority at every step, and worst of all, orchestrating an attempted coup in the form of mass resignations from the shadow cabinet at the very moment this country needed effective and unified opposition the most, the PLP have betrayed the very people they claim to represent. They claim Corbyn is not capable of providing the leadership our party needs, whilst themselves quitting instead of trying to find ways to work with him to oppose the Tories. They claim he is unelectable, whilst doing their very best to ensure that this is the case by trashing his and the party’s reputation. They claim to be ‘Saving Labour’ when in fact, they’re doing the exact opposite.
For the record, I haven’t always been a devout Jeremy Corbyn fan. I voted for him in last year’s leadership contest because I was inspired by his honest politics and commitment to his principles. I liked his uncharismatic and unpolished approach and I wanted to see the party move in a different direction after drifting rightwards under Tony Blair and becoming little more than a Tory-lite. However, I found myself agreeing with him more and more as the months went by, and felt compelled to defend him against the constant barrage of attacks and insults thrown at him by the right-wing press, so called political ‘experts’ and members of his own party. It has seemed at times as though the PLP would sooner see the Tories succeed if it meant they had another stick with which they could beat their own leader with, and that has only made me more determined than ever to see him stay on and defy them.
It has been well reported that the PLP’s reasons for wanting to oust Corbyn as leader of the Labour party are a lack of faith in his ability to lead the party and engage with voters in key Labour seats. But can anyone honestly say that the two candidates seeking to replace Corbyn as leader, Owen Smith and Angela Eagle, are any more likely to inspire the confidence of Labour voters? Eagle in particular, has attempted to paint herself as a ‘unity’ candidate, but as a devout Europhile, would she be any more likely than Corbyn, a reluctant remainer, to win over voters in Labour heartlands who voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU?
Furthermore, the MPs who instigated this coup against Corbyn have been at pains to emphasise the fact that their reasons are political and not ideological, but if this were the case, they ought to have put forward a candidate who was similar to Corbyn in terms of policy and ideology, but who they believed stood a better chance of convincing the public to vote Labour. However, in backing Eagle, who voted in favour of the Iraq war, Syrian airstrikes and the introducation of Tuition Fees, and abstained on the Tory Welfare Bill, and Smith, who backs the renewal of the Trident weapon system, they have shown that their issue with Corbyn goes far deeper than simply believing his is not capable of providing an effective opposition. Eagle, in particular, appears about as charismatic and media savvy as a teaspoon, and I highly doubt she would be any better than Corbyn at persuading UK citizens to back Labour.
I accept that Corbyn has made some mistakes in his tenure as leader, and begrudgingly accept the party is now unlikely to win a parliamentary majority in The Commons under his leadership. It is also uncertain that he will be re-elected leader courtesy of the underhand and unjust tactics of the Labour NEC in pricing his supporters out of a vote. However, what he has achieved is to engage and mobilise tens of thousands of people like me; disillusioned, apathetic and pessimistic people who feel that they do not have a voice in Westminster, and unite them behind a common goal of changing the way politics is done in the hope that one day, maybe, we could have a political system that truly works for the people. We’ll never know exactly how successful his time as leader of the Labour party could have been, because in truth, he has never been given a chance.