It’s hard to think of a better parliamentary member than Jeremy Corbyn to rally behind. That he has polled so well and campaigned so inclusively has turned many a head, and for good reason. Those of us used to disappointment are hard to instil hope in, especially in a country as trapped by finance as Britain is. But Corbyn is now one of the strongest rallying points of the left in my generation.
For those who are joining Labour to vote for him, something I cannot bring myself to do, it is important to consider your action as being a long-term commitment. In order for Corbyn to hold power and for the party to be rebuilt, a mass mobilisation is required. There is no way the establishment want Corbyn leading the country’s opposition party, especially if momentum continues to build. In simply holding his position, he sheds light on the continued credibility of the radical alternative that has been cloaked in Labour’s basement.
Corbyn entered parliament as Labour were obliterated in an election presenting the radical alternative to Thatcherism. Labour bitterly fought amongst itself, as much as with the Tories, before yielding to the onslaught of neo-liberalism as a consequence. That election determined both Corbyn’s trajectory and the Labour Party’s leadership. They cut radically different paths. Whereas for Labour the 1983 manifesto was the “longest suicide note in history,” necessitating Blairism, for Corbyn it was his mandate.
Over 30 years of time as an MP and Corbyn has campaigned consistently as an internationalist and a socialist. He has supported the rights of workers against finance and capital, been one of Labour’s most rebellious MPs and taken admirable positions on Palestine, Iraq, Venezuela, Mexico and Ireland (to name just a few). If Labour were filled with Corbyns, I’d be a paid up member already. However, the reality is that since 1983 the likes of Corbyn would never have been selected to hold a parliamentary seat.
Labour are no longer a left-wing party. Since scrapping clause IV (committing Labour “to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”), Labour have given up on the idea of piece-meal reform towards socialism. Labour are a party ensnared by the City of London, they are beholden to their whims and play by their rules. This, we are told, is a political reality that must be acknowledged. To modernise is to continue to push through reforms that destroy the welfare-state, to create the market state. A state where, as Arun Kundnani puts it,
“The well-being of social groups is no longer the responsibility of the state; its responsibility is to maximise the choices available to individuals. Market-states engage in a Dutch auction for foreign investment, offering ever-worsening protections for their populations in the name of ‘competitiveness’. Public services shift from welfare provision to a focus on ‘enabling’ individuals to re-enter the labour market, through ‘welfare to work’ programmes, such as those pioneered by Bill Clinton and imported to Britain in the mid-1990s. Welfare rights are diminished while the responsibiiity of welfare recipients to adapt themselves to market demands is increased. And if markets cannot find a use for an individual, then neither can society.” (2007, 57)
We are living in this political moment. We like to think of history as repeating, hence the references to neo-Victorianism, but things are very different now. For economies such as Britain, it is services (particularly financial) that predominate. Industry is offshored – globalised – and the political reality is shaped by the processes of financialisation. A reversal of these processes takes a hell of a lot. And yet, the struggle gets deeper. Labour are not just a party that implemented neo-liberal economic policies, they are a party that was on the front-line of modern imperialism, engaging in the warfare that is now ripping West Asia (the Middle East in colonial terminology) to pieces. Labour institutionalised Islamophobia. Corbyn was a rebellious MP amongst this, but to believe the politicians that fill Labour’s ranks will simply switch their allegiances is not just naïve, it is dangerous.
A Corbyn victory for Labour requires a radical move from below. If pressure is not applied in all areas, the fist of socialism will become a limp hand. Merely joining for the vote is not enough. Getting the voice of the radical alternative into the mainstream is hard. For the last two years, Britain’s populist leftism has found Russell Brand the centre piece; his inconsistency and embarrassingly naïve positions on key issues pushed him to the point of ridicule. Corbyn could be the real deal, but his party are not behind him. For Corbyn to achieve the ideal, a lot more is required than an online vote.
The position of Corbyn is not the position of Labour. The key unions back Corbyn, as, it seems, do the majority of Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs). The mood of the nation is ripe for a leftist push. Yet, with UKIP polling at 12.7% in the General Election, there is no time for complacency. The battle of finance against the interests of the nation favours the populist right, especially with the powerlessness felt as TTIP is implemented.
Corbyn’s power will be determined not only by the mobilisation of social movements in Britain, but across the continent. A push against neo-liberalism can only be made if an economic alternative can be practiced and implemented. The struggle is how to achieve social goals without driving the boot into the neck of the systematically underdeveloped countries. Freeing them is part of freeing ourselves. Corbyn knows this. To convince his electorate of it takes far more than £3 and an active social media account. If Labour be the vessel, it needs to be stripped, internationalised and re-energised. If that doesn’t happen, a split in the ranks will undermine Corbyn or a challenge from below will put another dent in the fight for a more egalitarian existence in Babylon. If this is seriously our greatest push, let us not engage in faith-based politics. If social justice can be realised in Britain, without mass exploitation domestically or in its periphery, wholly new political realities are needed and no one man can conjure them.
Moral indignation is in the air, and rightly so. At a time of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, when more migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean than any other time in recent history, the British government revoked funding for EU coastal ‘rescue’ services.Their reasoning – brutal in its intentionality – is that it encourages migrants to gamble their fates on the crossing. The UK government has decided that the greatest deterrent to migration is death itself. Lampedusa looms large over the hopes and prospects of the underdeveloped world. The dreams of a better life shall be crashed by the waves of the Med.
While this should morally outrage us, the situation is far more complex than it would first appear. With the unprecedented wave of migration that has hit the Italian coastline in the last year, a coastal service call ‘Mare Nostrum’ was formed. Mare Nostrum is an old Roman imperial and fascist term of Mussolini’s Italy, literally translated to ‘our sea.’ Funded through the European Commission, all European economies contribute to the service, accounting for around 90 percent of Mare Nostrum’s kitty. The rest, it seems, comes from Israel and Jordan. Mare Nostrum’s future seems uncertain with the EU’s FRONTEX agency taking more responsibility of policing the border.
Couched in the language of ‘search and rescue,’ the project polices the borders of Europe – already amongst the world’s most impenetrable. Throughout the EU and Israel, the position taken towards migrants is violent. Migrants represent an existential threat to the identities of the so-called ‘civilised world.’ Israel brazenly refers to African migrants seeking security in its territory as ‘infiltrators,’ threats to the purity of the settler-colonial state.
Migrants hoping for a better life across the sea find themselves on a perilous journey between Scylla and Charybdis. On the one hand, they face death at sea. On the other, they face the possibility of being picked up by border security services, detained indefinitely and in most cases deported back to their homeland. Those lucky enough to avoid capture or death enter into a world of uncertainty, where they are likely to work in unregulated labour, forming the under-class of Europe.
As European governments like the UK reduce their support for sea border control, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) forms. MOAS is a recognized foundation based in Malta and led by Martin Xuereb, a Sandhurst graduate with 26 years of military service throughout the EU to boast. The commander on the seas – or Onboard Operations Manager in bureaucratic parlance – is Marco Cauchi, an anti-terror expert coming from 20 years of service in the Maltese Army. Ostensibly set-up for saving migrants after the Lampedusa disaster, this foundation is now filling the gap left by the states of Europe, who have left Italy overburdened by the growing migration crisis.
Watching MOAS at work is telling. Kitted-up as if they are dealing with a biohazard, the staff treat migrants as walking vessels of disease. They jetty the boat to the side of their rescue ship, take the migrants to the nearest coast and go back to port. What happens to the migrants next is not a consideration, for at least they ‘saved’ them from the perilous sea.
The spectacle of the overcrowded boat is not what it seems. To us, they seem to be a daredevil mission, so overcrowded it is as if they are just jumped upon. To those on them they are a gamble of the highest order. Whereas we would not be paid to take the risk, they often pay upwards of $1,000 to smugglers to get them a space on the criminally overcrowded vessels. So, to them, being picked up by the benevolent MOAS is not being saved, it is like dropping to the bottom of a pinball machine. Another chance lost, an even more risky gambit to attain their hopes and dreams if they have the will or ability to ante up again.
The migration crisis is not going anywhere. In our lifetimes, it is only going to get worse. The people who fill the boats do so in the hope of having the agency that life in the centres of capital provide. The underdevelopment of Africa, the protracted warfare in the Middle East and the effects of climate change are all causal factors for the crisis. And all of them have their roots in Europe and its settler colonies.
The short-term solution is bleak. The people who will risk everything to find a better life than what they’ve been born into will not be assuaged by the threat of death or detention and deportation. They remain trapped between Scylla and Charybdis. In the long-term, if Europe does not want to accommodate the masses of people who knock upon its door, it must start to address the underlying causes of migration. That entails making our governments break-away from the imposition of neo-liberal orthodoxy through international financial institutions, an active mobilization against our governments’ open and proxy warfare in the Middle East and a real attempt to limit the effects of climate change, vastly cutting our emissions. Any other solution is no solution at all.
When parliament returns from recess on October 13th, you are faced with a vote of conscience: symbolic recognition of the statehood of Palestine. I ask that for this vote, you ignore vested interest and vote based upon reason, compassion and a sense of historic responsibility. As a backbench debate, this is a free vote and therefore how you vote will be taken account of as you seek re-election.
I am not going to condescend you. I assume you know of the inept administration of Palestine when it was mandated to Britain following the fall of the Ottomans. The mandate was hamstrung by the Balfour declaration; a promise to make Palestine a Jewish homeland that was made before WWI was even won. The long and short of Britain’s role in the historic land of Palestine is that it made incommensurable promises and in so doing stoked tensions that burn at this very moment. As Ernest Bevin acknowledged, the mandate of Palestine was the worst error of British de-colonisation as he foresaw the apartheid state-system that now determines the lives of Palestinians, whom Britain had a sacred vow to better under the mandate.
Over the summer, we witnessed the devastating human consequences: over 2,100 Palestinians killed, even Israeli data acknowledges the vast amount of those were civilians. Out of the 72 people killed on the Israeli side, 66 were soldiers – meaning 91 percent of Israeli fatalities came in the battlefield. The disparity of this conflict is stark. The Palestinian people must have a voice on the international stage and the occupation of their lands must come to an end. A huge step towards this is recognition of Palestinian statehood. Given Britain’s role in the conflict, the symbolic importance of recognition cannot be overstated.
The basis for statehood is no longer the partition agreement of 1947, but the pre-1967 borders. This represents a huge concession to the state of Israel that speaks volumes of the Palestinian will for peace. Israel refuse to return to their borders under international law and continue to seize further land, with 988 acres of land taken to global disapproval in August.
Britain is a minority within the global community in not recognising Palestine, with 134 out of 193 UN member states already conferring recognition. Britain have many times affirmed the inalienable right of Palestinians to self-determination, the time to back our words with deeds is now.
Recognition is the first step to ending the cycle of violence and the first rung of the ladder to end the occupation, militarisation and oppression of Palestine by Israeli forces. A failure to use your free vote towards peace will be interpreted as a violent act. The sun has now set on the British Empire, but the blood has yet to dry. I trust that you will take the necessary action to redress the grave historical wrongs of the past.