On 12 September we will find out if Jeremy Corbyn is the Labour Party leader, though any optimism is still cautious.
Whatever the result it is already clear that the Labour Party has changed. There has been a mass influx of 400,000 new members and supporters, of which 60% are thought to be “youth”. But at the same time the situation is precarious: we urgently need to come together to ensure that these hundreds of thousands of new members and supporters do not vanish as quickly as they appeared.
If Corbyn wins he will hopefully move quickly to politically reposition the Party on the left and to introduce long-needed internal democratic reforms to empower members. However, while the Party rulebook gives plenty of authority to the Leader, the Parliamentary Labour Party will still wield a number of significant weapons. As has already been announced in the press, some MPs will launch a public coup against the new leader. Others will undermine him in more subtle ways: leaking criticism to the press and finding excuses to not co-operate.
Even with a huge mandate behind him, the balance of power will be against Corbyn. He will only be able to drive through his policies and reforms, and maintain control of the party, if the membership is sufficiently mobilised. Huge pressure will be put on him to capitulate or to resign. No matter how principled, he will only avoid this fate if there is sufficient counter-pressure.
The Labour left is, as it stands, weak. There are plenty of existing groups – Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Red Labour, Labour Representative Committee, Campaign for Socialism, Labour Campaign for Free Education — and many more talented individuals. But on their own they are not enough. We do not currently have the infrastructure to support and channel the momentum and huge numbers that the Corbyn campaign has created.
The Labour left must be relaunched, bringing together the different groups, activists and strengths that already exist to create something bigger.
All the relevant groups should come together to launch a new Left. Exactly how this is done, or what it looks like, is up for debate.
However we can start with two broad principles:
It must be democratic. This does not just mean policy conferences, elections and rules — although these are important. It means a culture of inclusiveness and accessibility where everyone shares responsibility and no one individual or group is in charge, where disagreements are had out in the open, and where everyone is prepared, on occasion, to lose the argument.
It must be outward facing and campaigning. We do not need just another left-wing Labour Party faction. It is necessary but not enough to get left-wingers elected onto Party committees, or even into Parliament. We need a mobilised membership which campaigns on the issues that matter: education, the environment, housing, pay and working conditions, trade union rights, migration, discrimination and oppression. If we want to implement the policies for which we have spent the past months arguing, then we will need to go up against powerful vested interests. We can only take on these interests with an active and mobilised population behind us.
Throughout history, youth and students have often played a transformative role in times of social upheaval.
Today we must play this role in transforming the Labour Party and the Labour left. We must lead by example, in a spirit of co-operation and comradeship, and relaunch the left in Young Labour and Labour Students. In Scotland this is already happening with the launch of Scottish Labour Young Socialists. Hopefully we can do the same for the youth and students across the UK and contribute to a reinvigoration of the left in the Party in general.
The Labour Campaign for Free Education (LCFE) is calling a meeting in London of youth and students for the 20 September — a week after the election result — to begin discussions for a new youth and student Labour left on the basis of the two principles above.
LCFE does not pretend to represent everyone. Other groups like Red Labour Youth, LRC Youth, Scottish Labour Young Socialists and the Labour Young Trade Unionist Network should co-sponsor and throw their organisational strength behind it.
There is great potential ahead of us. Let’s not squander it.
• Originally posted on Left Futures