Understanding Labour’s progressive Left

I remember Jeremy Corbyn from my childhood. He was one of the only MPs to support the campaign to free the Birmingham Six, a campaign whose London base was started by a small group of workers, mostly from Islington council, one of whom was my mother. The children of the campaigners lived and breathed that campaign with our parents, and it has definitely left us with an ingrained loyalty to those MPs who put their heads above the parapet on these cases long before their universal recognition as miscarriages of justice.

Yet now, two decades later, Jeremy is standing for the Labour Leadership, there is absolutely no way I could support him and I wanted to explain why. I see many lovely (and some not so lovely) people writing posts about how they will join the Labour Party if he was the Leader, that they would support his true socialist Labour Party and not the Blairite, careerist, neo liberal, capitalist shell of a Labour Party it has become. And so on. I think Jeremy is a good person, I think many of those who feel like this are good people, but when I see these posts I just want to rest my head on the table and give up on politics altogether. But I won’t.

Firstly, whether you like it or not Labour can’t win a General Election with Jeremy Corbyn’s traditional socialist policies and rhetoric. Secondly, if Labour wants to be a party of government, and rebalance the ethic of the county from the Right back to the Left, we have to understand that being given the immense privilege of governing a democratic country requires compromise, by everyone, politicians and the public alike, pretty much all of the time. And finally, and most importantly, I believe we do far more justice to the principles of the left if we look beyond our conventional ideas: the answers we rightly seek to poverty, alienation and war do not lie in 2015 in anti-capitalism, cultural relativism and pacifism.

Take a few key areas of politics: education, welfare and war and peace.

I would love a country where our state schools were able, without intervention, to teach all children to read, to write, to add up, where every single child was given the education they need to live the lives they deserve. But that just doesn’t happen, so yes I support high accountability for schools – tests, league tables, inspections. I support forced academisation where local authority schools are failing children, and I support forced removal of schools from academy chains if they go on to fail children. I support a high stakes challenge within public education because, as education can determine so much about life, the stakes for the children are so very high.

Having worked as a welfare rights worker for many years, I support a generous welfare system for those who are ill, vulnerable and who can’t work. I also support a system which compels those who can work, to work. People do get trapped in a cycle of not working and this is bad for them. There is nothing as debilitating as long-term unemployment for a person’s mental and physical health, for their children’s happiness, well-being and life chances, for development of low confidence, isolation, loneliness, family breakdown. When we condemn efforts to get people back to work, we are not helping them, we are writing them off. Labour needs to fight for these people by ensuring the public servants charged with helping them back to work have the skills that are needed, we need to make sure adult education is excellent and available to fill in the skills gaps prevalent in people who are long-term unemployed, and we need to make sure the education system stops failing poor children so we can break this cycle of unemployment and low self-confidence once and for all.

And on international relations, war and peace, well I would dearly love to be a pacifist in a peaceful world, in a world where no-one ever had to fight for the right to be who they were, in a world where there were no oppressed minorities, no Boko Haram, no Assads, no Al Queda, no Taliban, no totalitarian or theocratic dictatorships, a world where the Kurds hadn’t been gassed, where they weren’t being forced to kill or be killed by ISIS, where American airstrikes were not needed to defend women against mass rape, the removal of breasts, the gauging out of eyes. I would love to be a pacifist, but how can I possibly be against the principle of military intervention in a world where such inhumanity is perpetuated on a daily basis? Pacifism in today’s world is not an opponent of fascism, but an accomplice, and the sad truth is that this could very well be the case forever.

There is nothing left-wing about providing a poor education to poor children, about leaving people we have already failed once marooned in unemployment forever, and nothing left-wing about the world’s strongest nations refusing to intervene when they can to stop people being slaughtered by modern day fascists. So to all those who see Jeremy Corbyn as the only manifestation of principled Labour politics, I would ask you to just pause for a moment and see that those of us who don’t support him can also hold deep, unshakable principles and a desire for a better world. This is why I am so committed to progressive Labour politics. Not just because I believe they are the politics through which a left-wing party can win elections, but because I believe they are the politics worthy of winning elections, the politics which deliver a country where people don’t get written off or left behind, and the politics which enable us to be a force for humanitarianism and good in the world.

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