Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Jeremy Corbyn: History Man.

What a difference a year makes. This time last year I felt such a degree of despair about Labour I felt the party was incapable of renewing itself and was just going to slide into the dustbin of history.

Maybe it was time to think of creating a new party? Labour had lost the ability to think, to develop policies to address now rather than the situation it faced in 1992. It was in 1992 that Labour failed to win what looked like a certain victory against John Major. Blair and even more so Brown had been scared by this defeat and had like old generals had been fighting the same battle ever since.

The old adage that it is the winners who get to write the history seems to be true unless the “wrong” person wins the Labour Leadership. Since Jeremy Corbyn had the temerity not just to be a good chap and prove his unpopularity but to actually win the fight has not been about the future but about the past.

In the History Boys, Alan Bennett puts this into the mouth of Irwin the history teacher, “But this is History. Distance yourselves. Our perspective on the past alters. Looking back, immediately in front of us is dead ground. We don't see it, and because we don't see it this means that there is no period so remote as the recent past.”

The Observer ran a series of essays about Labour over the new year in his contribution, Peter Hyman, former Blair apparatchik, tripped headlong into this dead ground. It was his interpretation of the history of the Blair/Brown years that gave Corbyn his huge majority.

Hyman rightly dates the failure of New Labour from its second term in office.

Firstly what was New Labour - essentially it was a marketing tool. How do you sell someone who has risen without trace, has little life experience, none of high office or indeed any obvious qualifications for the job? Let us call them “New”. A new product has no past. This is the Year Zero Pol Pot School of politics.

The simple fact is that in 1997 Blair inherited a broadly social democratic policy platform from John Smith. Despite the New Labour rhetoric around the manifesto the core policies, the minimum wage, trade union recognition, signing up for the Social Chapter, Regional Economic Development, Devolution for Wales and Scotland, Lords reform, and the Human Rights Act, had come from Smith.

It was the second term that the problems began because once Blair and Brown where making the policy it was in an over centralised un-tested way free they where free ignore conference and members alike. Remember the clapathons after the leader’s speeches? What they said however absurd went.

Policies where shaped by their Atlanticist politics. They imported neo-conservative foreign policy ideas and neo-liberal economic ideas into British politics. Blair floated off into neo-con foreign policy land with his liberal interventionism and Brown began a love affair with Alan Greenspan - even seeing to it that Greenspan would receive an honorary knighthood!

Most of the things we campaign against now - they started, light touch city regulation, privatisation of education and health, their failure to invest in infrastructure particularly, green energy and broad band, the lack of new social housing and crazy PFI schemes.

Remember the way they where in thrall to the rich, their inability to tackle foot and mouth, the way they announced things as if they had actually DONE something and the bloody millennium dome!

This is what people remember it may not yet be in the history books but we know this is what happened because we where there!

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past,” says George Orwell in 1984. The establishment and the corporate media have always understood this.

From the true history of World War One, in which Britain was as much to blame as Germany, to the false history of the collapse of the Callaghan Government, to the Falklands war, from the Shrewsbury Pickets to Orgreave, from our role in Northern Ireland to the Iraq war.

The left have always understood the importance of understanding what really happened in the past and after a golden period when left historians where helping to put the record straight the right has made a comeback with celebrity TV historians. Now however the ability of the mainstream media to shape our understanding of our own history has been eroded by the internet.

I do not mean the crazies who think 9-11 was done by Mossad but by intelligent alternative voices to the mainstream narrative. Reading the mainstream press about Corbyn he is projected as being a throwback to a previous age but this only works if you can make people believe just how awful that age was.

In reality of course far from being hard left his policies are broadly social democratic ones that John Smith would recognise. Yet without the internet Jeremy Corbyn could not have been elected. Discovering that what you saw and felt was real and others felt the same way was so important in creating the campaigns momentum, in building the crowds for rallies and just letting people hear un mediated what he was actually saying!

We must not let up in this battle they will not stop trying to crush our hopes and real aspirations. Sadly even this great paper does not yet have the reach to get to hundreds of thousands of Labour members and supporters.  Let us make that our New Year resolution to build our reach using all the tools the internet has bought us including our e-edition  It is voices like the Star and its journalists writing that first draft of history that are so important in building that alternative future.

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