In praise of Corbyn and McDonnell

JVL Introduction

In the aftermath of the general election, following the most dreadful, vituperative and dishonest, personal attacks, on Corbyn in particular, it is comforting to read Andrew Fisher’s short and heartfelt appreciation of what has been achieved.

He speaks for all of us in saying, “I just want to say thank you to two of the most principled people I know – Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.”

This article was originally published by Guardian on Tue 17 Dec 2019. Read the original here.

There is a lot to criticise. But Corbyn and McDonnell have transformed Labour

I saw firsthand how it became a mass membership party – and brought in thousands of bright and talented young people who will shape its future

In the coming days and weeks, Labour and the left must reflect on why we lost; on our failures, the challenges that we must face to renew, and the opportunities that we must seize. Simplistic single reasons for the defeat are not credible – Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit, the media – and those peddling them already are interested only in political point-scoring, not rebuilding.

While it is only right that we now focus on the future and learn the right lessons from defeat, it is vital that we also remember the inspirational role that Corbyn and John McDonnell played – not just at the top of the party but before 2015. Like so many Labour activists, trade unionists and peace campaigners, I have long been inspired by Corbyn and McDonnell – by their bloody hard work and resilient political principles. For years, they were there: on picket lines, at protests and at political discussions – when the organised left was little more than a dozen people in a room above a pub.

In 2017, Labour won 40% of the popular vote, and its largest increase in vote share in postwar history

As backbenchers, they fought not for position within the party but for what they believed in – because they hated injustice and because they saw it as their responsibility as MPs to give a platform to those marginalised from power. They didn’t care if that meant they were blackballed by the party leadership or vilified by the press. They were there in solidarity, because that’s what their political principles demanded.

That’s why Corbyn won that transformative, historic leadership campaign in 2015. Because hundreds of thousands of party members respected his integrity, and all those trade unionists, peace campaigners and activists who had campaigned with him in the face of the powerful and been dismissed, were now inspired that one of their own could be Labour leader.

But without the apparatus to wield power in our hands, the Labour left was nowhere near ready for that – let alone to operate in an environment that was intensely hostile and actively trying to displace us. We didn’t have enough MPs we could rely on, or enough bureaucrats (I don’t mean the term pejoratively) capable of effectively running an organisation as large and complex as the Labour party – or even just the leader’s office.

Nonetheless, in the time since Corbyn won the Labour leadership and appointed McDonnell as shadow chancellor, they have changed Labour. It became a party comfortable with public ownership and redistributive taxation, and one that spoke confidently about ending austerity, tackling climate change, raising wages and living standards, and investing in public services. It stopped aping the divisive rhetoric of “skivers and strivers” and started talking about social security.

The party became a mass organisation – with membership trebled to over half a million. In 2017, Labour won 40% of the popular vote, and its largest increase in vote share in postwar history. The manifesto, For the Many Not the Few, which I had co-ordinated, managed to unify a Labour party that only a year earlier had been tearing itself apart in a divisive and unnecessary second leadership election.

I am so sorry we weren’t able to get into government. We came so close in 2017, and I really believed we could do it this time. We will all live with that sense of failure. I could hear it in the silence in the office at 10:01pm on Thursday, and I could hear it in the tone of McDonnell’s interview with Andrew Neil shortly after.

Although so many people feel despair, I am convinced that the future is brighter. I looked around me at Labour headquarters in the early hours of Friday morning, and again when I dragged myself back in on Friday afternoon after a quick nap. The people I put an arm around – some metaphorically, some because they were inconsolable – are all brilliant, talented young people, who are not just the future of our movement, but the talented present on which a revival will be based.

It’s worth thinking about what’s changed for the better since 2015. Before Jeremy became leader I would often be the youngest person at sparsely attended Labour meetings. As I turn 40, it’s reassuring that at the now considerably larger meetings, the median age is often below my own.

The left now has thousands of talented organisers, policy people, creatives and yes, bureaucrats who can run things. Jeremy and John made that happen.

There’s plenty of time to analyse the structural problems, the personal failures and, more positively, the road to recovery. My own pretty brutal criticisms, which I shared internally in September, were leaked to the Sunday Times. The fact that among a close group of comrades someone shared that memo with the Murdoch press tells its own story of dysfunction.

But for now, I just want to say thank you to two of the most principled people I know – Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. They have endured unprecedented attacks, but inspired so many.

Andrew Fisher was the Labour party’s executive director of policy from 2016 to 2019

Comments (7)

  • Rita Craft says:

    I am so glad someone has written publicly in a grateful and positive tone about Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonell. This issue of our leading politicians being people of principle, demonstrated over many years, is seldom referred to, even though we can all see what happens when politicians of limited or no integrity become President and Prime Minister.
    I add my thanks to our departing Labour Party leader.

  • Bobby Keegan says:

    McDonnell is my hero.

    Corbyn is not !!

  • TM says:

    I want to thank Jeremy Corbyn for what he has brought to politics: kindness, honesty and a genuine desire to defend the oppressed. He has taken us further along the road towards socialism. It is up to us, the membership, to learn from 2019 and go forward. I want to thank him for not crumbling under the onslaught of attacks from both the Media and from within our Party. And I want to thank him for his generosity in staying as Leader until a new one is elected. The attacks go on because to crush Corbynism is to crush the Left and any semblance of Socialist Policy in the LP. We don’t have to make heroes of anyone; just recognize what they have given.

  • Sarah Perrigo says:

    Very brave and very moving. Thank you

  • Margaret Spector says:

    Brexit blinded the people. How could they not look past Brexit and consider the suffering which they had been subjected to under the Conservative Government. I firmly believe that it was the constant barrage of lies brainwashing people. The constant repetition that Corbyn was Antisemitic , a poor Leader, an IRA sympathiser etc.etc. Eventually these headlines were embedded into the minds of the people. Free newspapers were abundant and were just a source of repetitive lies. It was the fear from the FEW that JC would stop Corruption from which they thrive. This Tory government will sell us out to the US despite Johnson’s promises. He will be proved a liar and voters will regret the choice they made when Austerity hits them even more. Unfortunately they made that choice and forfeited the chance to change to a fairer society.

  • Julie Hope says:

    I, like millions of others was totally gutted at the result. Having been the candidate in one of the safest Tory seats in the country, I battled the weather day after day to knock on doors, trying to persuade people that this election really was their last chance for a better life. The reason was, of course, the Corbyn Dream. We will keep fighting and keep the hope alive but the struggle now, will be harder. The Tories have absolute power and use their corruption, as they have tried to do for the past ten years, to turn us into a dystopian society, where the gap between the richest and poorest grows wider every day. The dream has become a nightmare, but one day we will be awoken. Corbynism will live on in our hearts forever.

  • Billie Dale Wakefield says:

    Jeremy, John and all Socialists my thanks to you all. Lets go on and win in 2024, I will very probably not live to see it, but I hope my children and grandchildren will have a wonderful Socialist future. Thankyou Andrew

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