Britain is fated for an Attlee moment

  • Farrukh Dhondy, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 15, 2015 22:45 IST
Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of Britain's opposition Labour party. (Reuters Photo)

Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington, was on Saturday elected by an overwhelming 60% vote to be the leader of the Labour party. He assumes the role of the leader of the opposition in the Westminster parliament and will be prospective prime minister of Britain if his party wins the 2020 election.

But then even a week in politics is a long time and his many opponents, fellow Labour MPs are even now talking of opposing and removing him before that election.

A day before Corbyn’s elevation a Labour vote chose Sadiq Khan, the present MP for Tooting, as the party’s candidate for London mayor in the May 2016 election.

Khan doesn’t have the distinction of ever having served in a tea-stall, but he is the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus conductor. He grew up on a council estate, studied and got to law school, worked as a human rights lawyer and worked his way through the Labour party to become an inner London MP.

Corbyn dropped out of university. After school he worked for charities and trade unions and then offered himself through rank and file work in the Labour party as a local councillor and subsequently as MP for Islington.

At dinner with friends last night, all ageing Lefties of one sort or the other, I raised several glasses to the nomination of both.

The nominations were, to begin with, unlikely. When Labour lost the election in May and their leader Ed Milliband resigned, the procedure to nominate a new one began. This entails nomination by 20 MPs of the party supporting one of their number. Three candidates duly came forward and won the support of 20 followers. It was then noted that there was no Left-wing representation on the ballot and that would deprive the Labour party of a wide debate about fundamental policies for its future and that of the nation. And so began a move to nominate renowned Left-winger and dissident Corbyn.

Several of the 20 MPs who signed his nomination paper declared before the ballot that they didn’t intend to vote for him. They had signed his nomination to secure that wider debate.

These fools had obviously not consulted their local astrologers and I regret to say that neither did I, because when Corbyn indicated that he would join the race the bookies offered 500 to 1 odds on his winning. I should have put five pounds on him then and could now be in possession of a brand new Nano.

As soon as his nomination was official something remarkable happened. Corbyn has always been a maverick in the Labour party. He has voted repeatedly against the whip of his party. He opposed the Iraq war and has been known to support platforms on which speakers from Hamas are represented. The Right-wing newspapers, picking up any dirt they could find on him, even quoted him as saying “the death of Osama bin Laden was a tragedy”.

The newspapers, mostly the Right-wing ones, play the game of distorting everything he says and running headlines to marginalise him as a loony.

What Corbyn said about Osama was that the US marines should have captured him and put him on trial so the world could debate his crimes.

What Jeremy (‘Jez we can!’) has done is fundamentally challenge the stance of the present Conservative government and consequently the ideology of New Labour, which says that the only way to win elections is to compromise in very serious ways with capitalist reality. However Left-wing he is reputed to be, Corbyn can’t credibly challenge the fact that the world is (as Karl Marx predicted) dominated by global capitalist structures that can’t be dismantled through parliamentary processes.

What he has said is that the British railways ought to be renationalised so as to serve its passengers rather than the shareholders of a Byzantine if not Kafkaesque structure of competing privatised companies.

He is for eliminating tax-dodging and stopping the fat-cats of Britain’s financial institutions from taking huge salaries and bonuses for gambling with and losing the public’s money through risky banking.

He wants to abolish student university fees and to build affordable houses. Corbyn and his economic advisers have outlined Keynesian schemes to stimulate the economy through what is called Quantitative Easing. It’s the policy his opponents in the Labour party and in the government most fear.

He has also said he wants the Labour to adopt a policy of abolishing Britain’s submarine nuclear deterrent, which has given his opponents the opportunity to say he intends to endanger the safety of the country.

Ten members of the Labour front bench, spokesmen and women for the party’s policies, have resigned as a consequence of Corbyn’s victory. The symptoms point to a split in the Labour party but already, a day after his assuming the leadership, Corbyn has begun to invite MPs from even opposing ideological sections of the party into his shadow Cabinet.

My prediction is that Britain is fated for an Attlee moment when, after it was led to victory in the World War II by Winston Churchill, the nation voted for a quiet and modest leader of the party that opposed him and promised them universal healthcare, free education and opportunities for the working classes.

(Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London. The views expressed are personal.)

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