“It is a war between the majority of [Labour] MPs and the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members — hundreds and thousands of them,” says Kate Hudson, the national secretary of English party Left Unity, on the struggle over Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party.
Hudson, who is also general secretary for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, was speaking to Melbourne community radio station 3CR's Solidarity Breakfast show on July 23.
Hudson explained the backdrop to the attempt by right-wing MPs to remove Corbyn, who was elected leader on a strong anti-austerity platform last September with a record 59% mandate.
After 172 MPs passed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn in late June, a new leadership election has been called with the veteran left-wing activist to be challenged by former corporate lobbyist Owen Smith.
Hudson said that the moves against Corbyn came in the aftermath of the victory of the “Leave” campaign in June 23 referendum on British membership to the European Union.
“I can't describe to you how terrible it was,” Hudson said of the racist nature of the Brexit campaign.
“The decision by then-Prime Minister David Cameron to call the referendum was driven by pressure from the far right. It was driven by UKIP — the very far-right, nationalist, anti-immigration party.
“The whole referendum narrative was hinged around terrible, often extreme, opposition to immigration.
“Being part of the EU, we have free movement of people for EU citizens.
“There are millions of British people who live and work elsewhere in Europe. There are millions of European citizens who come and live and work in Britain — it's a fair exchange. Immigrants, if you look at the actual facts and figures, hugely benefit our economy and make a huge contribution to our society.
“But the far right developed this narrative that too many immigrants were responsible for our failing National Health Service, not enough houses, not enough jobs — all these sort of things.
“Of course, those problems result from decades of austerity policies. Not just the recent austerity policies, but the neoliberal policies pursued by the Labour government under Tony Blair. It is nothing to do with migrants.”
Hudson said many of the people who voted Leave “were what we describe as 'little Englanders' — people who think we'll be much 'greater' again if we're out of Europe, if we don't have to deal with these Brussels bureaucrats — people who're against regulation”.
“There's a lot of protective regulation that we have in Britain because we are in Europe. They want to have a sort of 'bonfire of the regulations' — so there'll be no protection for people in the workplace, women's right protection, all those kinds of things.
“People who are in communities that have been ignored and disregarded by governments for a long time, where big industries have closed down and no money's been invested for a long time, the only message they were hearing was 'It's migrants that are to blame'.
“So we had a terrible reactionary racist campaign imposed upon us. Since then, there has been an upsurge in racist attacks, anti-immigrant violence, setting fire to immigrants' shops, people being attacked and spat on the streets. It is a distressing situation.”
Hudson said the new prime minister, Theresa May, is a right-wing Tory who has given prominent positions in her government to leading “Brexiters”, noting: “We have a political situation where things have moved to the right.”
“Corbyn and the Labour Party campaigned for Remain and 60% of Labour member voted Remain, so he did a good job with that,” Hudson said. “But because Remain lost, people in his party who wished to attack him — the right and the Parliamentary Labour Party who've been looking for an excuse to try and get rid of him from the day he came in — they said he didn't fight hard enough for Remain.
“They used the vote as an excuse to try to remove Corbyn and move the Labour Party back to the right.”
On Corbyn's challenger for Labour leader, she said: “Owen Smith is not someone from the left. He's presenting himself as a sort of soft left unity candidate, but on Monday he voted for Trident [nuclear weapon] replacement. He said: 'I used to be a member of CND but…'
“He thinks he can win over members, but to be honest, for everyone who thinks Smith is needed for unity because all the MPs are against Corbyn, there are probably 100, or even 1000, people who say we've got to stick with Jeremy because he's got the policies, he got the support among the membership. And in all the by-elections and votes that have happened since Jeremy came in, Labour has done very well, so what's the problem?”
Hudson pointed to the huge surge of membership since Corbyn became leader — with hundreds of thousands joining to take the party above the 600,000 mark. “The Labour Party hasn't been so big since the early part of the 20th century,” she noted. “It's the biggest party in Britain now. It may even be the biggest social democratic party in Europe.
“It's a huge surge, but instead of embracing a success, these MPs say he's unelectable.”
She said it was actually “a question of the policies. The reason is he has socialist values. He wants to reintroduce social democratic policies into the Labour Party, which has been a neoliberal party since the 1990s under Blair.
“The party has made the same shift all the social democratic parties have made. They've embraced neoliberal economic policies and rejected social democracy over the past 20 years and it's led to crisis for virtually all of them.
“Because they've all moved to the right, you've got a big space to the left, some of which has now been sucked up by the far right because there's a vacuum where the interests of working people aren't being defended by traditional social democratic parties.
“So there's a huge problem. But instead of recognising that and saying now we need policies in the interests of ordinary working people, they seek to kick Corbyn out and replace him with someone who will repeat the failed policies of the leaders over the last few years.”
Despite the hostility from most MPs and the party establishment towards Corbyn, Hudson noted: “The trade unions support him and, of course, that's really popular with the ordinary Labour Party members because many of them are trade unionists and unions founded the Labour Party a century ago.
“Through Jeremy, there's been a re-coalescing of the interests of ordinary people and the labour movement. That's a very important and powerful thing.”
It has raised interest across Europe, Hudson said, noting: “It's seen as the first really significant challenge to the way the social democratic parties in Europe have embraced neoliberalism since the 1990s. This the first time it's been challenged by an elected leader who is attempting to reverse it.
“Corbyn calls himself a socialist. He's not a Marxist, he doesn't come from the revolutionary left — he's a solid left social-democratic socialist, very much in the British tradition of [late left-wing Labour MP] Tony Benn.
“He's very wedded to the Labour Party and those English working class traditions — with inputs of non-conformist religion and big respect for parliamentarianism.
“He's courageous, personally decent and morally upright. And strong on solidarity campaigns — a strong internationalist. So for someone like him to take the leadership, that's something being very closely watched.”
Hudson noted it comes at the same time that there has been an upsurge for forces of the radical left in several European countries — parties like Podemos in Portugal and Syriza in Greece — that have been situated to the left of social democracy and grown out of mass anti-austerity struggles.
“They've faced difficulties — like Syriza in Greece — trying to actually enact their policies because of such hostility at an EU level, from the financial institutions, from the ruling class and so on.
“In Britain, we have this first-past-the-post-system, so it's very difficult for small parties to come up as they have in the other European countries. So it's as if the kind of radicalism we've seen coming through in radical left parties in Europe has burst through in Britain via the Corbyn movement in the Labour Party.
“It's a very interesting political dynamic that is unique in Europe: that a radical surge has found reflection in the neoliberal former social democratic party. That's why this huge tension is there now within Labour. There are two completely different political perspectives challenging each other within the same party.
“I think there is this strong feeling for many of these MPs that Blair brought them out of the political wilderness in the 1990s with his repositioning of the Labour Party in the centre.
“Many thought that Blairism was the way for Labour to be successful. And it was successful — for a period, when Labour came to power in 1997 under Tony Blair and they won another two elections after that. But every time it was with a decreasing majority because the impact of their policies was felt by working people — not to mention the impact of Tony Blair's illegal war on Iraq in 2003.
“The Blairite approach does not bring the party success anymore. And they don't do anything to support, include and re-enfranchise those communities that feel left behind economically.
“That kind of Labour politics can't offer a future.”