Corbyn supporters celebrate his victory in Labour leadership elections in September.
The media-backed attempted coup by right-wing Labour Party MPs against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has failed, amid large demonstrations and public meetings across Britain defending the left-wing leader.
“Labour rebels are in retreat after admitting that Jeremy Corbyn cannot be removed and would 'win easily' if a leadership election is triggered,” the Telegraph reported on July 6. The rebellion, headed by Angela Eagle, came after a June 28 vote of no confidence in Corbyn by the Parliamentary Labour Party, which was passed with 172 MPs voting in favour and only 40 against.
But in the face of what many derisively labelled a "chicken coup", Corbyn refused to resign — pointing out that in September he had been elected leader with the largest mandate of any leader in Labour history. Corbyn said if there was a new leadership election, he would stand. Polls indicated he would easily be re-elected.
This is in a context of rapidly growing Labour membership — with a huge 200,000 people reported to have joined in the past two weeks, as the coup unfolded. It takes Labour's membership to more than 600,000 — Europe's largest left-of-centre party.
These events have revealed a deep split between most of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party's members. It is clear the “New Labour” of ex-prime minister Tony Blair has been rejected by the ranks.
The coup was sparked by the outcome of Britain's referendum on leaving the European Union — with some Labour MPs accusing Corbyn of not campaigning hard enough for the “Remain” vote. However, many have suggested the aim was to remove the stridently anti-war leader before the Chilcot Report released its damning indictment of Blair's role in the Iraq War.
Corbyn also faced a sustained campaign against him in the media — from the right-wing Daily Mail (which ran an absurd tale that sought to discredit Corbyn by claiming he sat in meetings “silently munching noodles”) through to the BBC and the liberal Guardian.
However, he was backed by some of Britain's biggest trade unions. The International Business Times said on June 30: “Ten of the UK's largest trade unions have taken Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's corner, signing a joint statement giving their continued support to the embattled opposition leader.”
In a July 5 opinion piece in the Morning Star, the general secretary of transport union TSSA Manuel Cortes explained that, with British politics in disarray after the EU vote, the strong pro-worker vision put forward by Corbyn was needed more than ever.
“He and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell are the only leaders now capable of negotiating an exit settlement which works in the interest of ordinary people,” Cortes said.
“The real problem with the PLP is that far too many don't like what Jeremy represents. They hate the fact that Labour Party members overwhelmingly voted him leader against most of their wishes.
“Some also appear to dislike our newly swollen membership who share his socialist vision. They also don't get why Jeremy is of the membership and for the membership rather than PLP convenience.
“Jeremy stands for a fairer Britain — a properly funded NHS, publicly owned railways, free education and tax justice. He will put in place a national investment bank which will fund major public infrastructure programmes to create skilled jobs and brighten the prospects for all, but particularly our young.
“Jeremy is also the only political leader with the courage to say that we need to undo Thatcher's political settlement by building a new economy.”
In a July 5 Guardian op-ed, David Graeber explained the divergent visions at the heart of Labour's dispute: “[Corbyn's project represents] an attempt to change the rules of the game, and those who object most violently to the Labour leadership are precisely those who would lose the most personal power were it to be successful: sitting politicians and political commentators.
“If you talk to Corbyn's most ardent supporters, it's not the man himself but the project of democratising the party that really sets their eyes alight. The Labour Party, they emphasise, was founded not by politicians but by a social movement.
“Over the past century it has gradually become like all the other political parties — personality (and of course, money) based, but the Corbyn project is first and foremost to make the party a voice for social movements once again, dedicated to popular democracy (as trades unions themselves once were). This is the immediate aim.
“The ultimate aim is the democratisation not just of the party but of local government, workplaces, society itself.”
Graeber said: “The spearhead of the democratisation movement is Momentum”, the grassroots group set up to organise support for Corbyn's pro-people policies in and outside of the Labour Party. Momentum was central to organising the demonstrations and public meetings in defence of Corbyn in response to the recent coup attempt.
Graeber said the group “now boasts 130 chapters across the UK. In the mainstream press it usually gets attention only when some local activist is accused of 'bullying' or 'abuse' against their MP — or worse, suggests the possibility that an MP who systematically defies the views of membership might face de-selection.
“The real concern is not any justified fear among the Labour establishment of bullying and intimidation — the idea that the weak would bully the strong is absurd. It is that they fear being made truly accountable to those they represent.”
Momentum's objective, Graber said, “is to move from a politics of accountability to one of participation: to create forms of popular education and decision-making that allow community groups and local assemblies made up of citizens of all political stripes to make key decisions affecting their lives.
“There have already been local experiments: in Thanet, the council recently carried out an exercise in 'participatory economic planning' — devolving budgetary and strategic decisions to the community at large — which shadow chancellor John McDonnell has hailed as a potential model for the nation.
“There is talk of giving consultative assemblies real decision-making powers, of 'banks of radical ideas' to which anyone can propose policy initiatives and, especially in the wake of the coup, a major call to democratise the internal workings of the party itself.
“It may all seem mad. Perhaps it is. But more than 100,000 new Labour members are already, to one degree or another, committed to the project.”
Graeber said such divergent visions of politics between “business-as-usual” Labour MPs and those backing a new, radical vision helps explain the politics of the coup — as well as the hostility to Corbyn and his supporters shown by the media: “What all this suggests is the possibility that the remarkable hostility to Corbyn displayed by even the left-of-centre media is not due to the fact they don't understand what the movement that placed him in charge of the Labour Party is ultimately about, but because, on some level, they actually do.
“After all, insofar as politics is a game of personalities, of scandals, foibles and acts of 'leadership', political journalists are not just the referees — in a real sense they are the field on which the game is played.
“Democratisation would turn them into reporters once again, in much the same way as it would turn politicians into representatives.
“In either case, it would mark a dramatic decline in personal power and influence. It would mark an equally dramatic rise in power for unions, constituent councils, and local activists — the very people who have rallied to Corbyn's support.”