The current leadership battle within the Labour Party is about far more than who leads the Labour Party, it is about whether genuine democracy can ever be restored within the UK.
For decades the voters have only had the opportunity to choose between candidates that were largely imposed upon local constituencies by political elites. These elites shared virtually the same neo-liberal (greed is good) economic policies to the extent that Margaret Thatcher proudly claimed that Tony Blair was her greatest legacy. The difference between a Labour Government and a Tory Government was just a question of degree, not a serious questioning of the prevailing political dogma. Both parties were never going to challenge the establishment and the shameless extraction of wealth and resources that it has exacted upon the rest of our society.
This is fully understood by an increasingly disenfranchised electorate. It is reflected by ever diminishing numbers of voters at elections. It is reflected in the collapse of political party memberships and in the burgeoning growth in protest groups to fill the gap in progressive politics left by the political consensus in Westminster. Above all it was shown in Scotland where, after the referendum campaign reignited political interest and a sense of empowerment, there was a virtual complete meltdown of support for traditional parties aligned to the Westminster political establishment.
Jeremy Corbyn has always been fully aware that in order to restore democracy in Parliament he first had to restore democracy in the Labour Party. From the very start of his first leadership campaign he set empowering the membership and creating a new democratic political movement at the heart of his proposition for a new kind of politics.
The result has been simply astounding, the membership of the party has exploded as more and more people realised that for the first time in a generation they could really make a difference. In stark contrast the reaction by the traditional Labour party establishment has been largely outright hostility. They deeply resent being held to account by a membership that many of them hold in barely concealed contempt.
Some of these MPs argue that they have a bigger mandate from the electorate than they do from the Labour Party members that helped them get elected. This is very simple to prove; they can stand as an independent based on their personal mandate and see how well they do at the next election without the support of the local party members!
The way that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership rival Owen Smith reacted to a proposal for a compulsory re-selection process for all Labour MPs was particularly revealing. He said that proposing that MP’s were sacked was “not very friendly.” This process is not the sacking of MPs but just stating the obvious fact that Labour MPs should represent the values of Labour members in parliament. His statement showed his own recognition that a majority of the current MPs do not enjoy the confidence of local party members and would not survive a genuine democratic candidate selection process. The fact that he seems comfortable about this is perhaps the biggest revelation of where his own loyalties truly lie.
Another argument that is often flung back at the Labour membership is that their values will lead to an unelectable party. This is the “power is more important than values” argument. This holds no water if that power just maintains a highly corrupted status quo. It is no coincidence that wealthy “Labour” donors are flocking to this cause. Those seeking to bankroll the Labour PLP coup have no interest in genuinely progressive politics that would lead to the redistribution of the excesses of wealth. Once again an attempt is being made by a small wealthy elite to buy and corrupt the political process.
If genuine democracy is to be established in Parliament, it first has to be established in the political parties that are represented in the parliament. The Tories make no attempt to hide the fact that they are bought and paid for by wealthy donors, they seem to revel in it. The Labour party has to be different if it is to deliver the “new politics” that so many members and voters are desperate to see.
It may be that the electorate don’t initially respond to a democratic Labour Party. I personally think it will rapidly create an unstoppable dynamic in and angry and disillusioned electorate as we witnessed in Scotland. It may be that Labour don’t win a majority at the next election but the principle of restoring a real democracy to the UK is far more important than winning one election. Did Nelson Mandela settle for slightly less apartheid? Did Gandhi settle for slightly less colonialism in India? Then why should we settle for anything less than a fully democratic Labour Party whose MPs accurately reflect the values of the hundreds of thousands of members that helped to get them elected in the first place.