By Sada Reddi —
Neither the media nor money can decide elections once the electorate is convinced of the genuineness of a party programme which seeks to safeguard national interests, improve our standard of living
Anyone who stands on the side of the progressives must have been jubilant at the British Labour Party’s victory in the June 8 elections. Although Labour did not win the majority to form the government, it increased its share of votes to 40% — a little less than what the Party obtained under Tony Blair in 1997, and increased its Commons members by 32. The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell thinks that if the election campaign had been two weeks longer, Labour would have been voted to power.
Labour’s victory is a personal triumph for Jeremy Corbyn — for the man, his principles, commitment, leadership, and the way he conducted the election campaign. There is a lot we can learn about politics under Corbyn.
Only twelve months back, he reluctantly entered the bid for leadership of the Labour Party, and those who supported him thought of him more as a token candidate of the left rather than one who could lead the party to victory. His close friends consider him a lovely man who never showed any interest in being a leader.
Finally, when Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership with the massive support of Labour party members, many concluded that he was unelectable and the 232 Labour MPs did not support him. Several Blairites chose to resign from Labour’s frontbench than to serve under him. Yet the Guardian warned ‘that it was wrong to see this victory as a victory for the old left.’ It was rather ‘a grassroots revolt against politics-as-usual.’ The guardian added that it would be wise for all politicians to reflect on the outcome with ‘care and humility’.
Perhaps we had already gone through a similar experience in the December 2014 elections and several countries such as the US and France have had similar experiences too. In both the US and Mauritius, disillusionment and disappointment have become patent. But one hopes that our politicians have taken stock of the changing political situation and can offer something better.
The results of the 2017 British elections have proved many observers wrong as Corbyn defied pollsters and even the vilification campaigns led by the right wing newspapers and social media. Dismissed by many who saw in Corbyn an old fashioned leftist who would take Labour back to the 1980s, he has proved that he was the leader who brought Labour back to its roots and its undying values of social justice, fairness and solidarity.
Corbyn is a high-principled leftist who had campaigned for nuclear disarmament, volunteered to work in Jamaica and has been a trade union official. He was arrested for campaigning against apartheid in South Africa. His opposition to grammar school cost him his first marriage because his wife hoped to send their son to a grammar school, and a second marriage because his wife was opposed to sending their child to a comprehensive school.
He is also a man who would not sacrifice his own personal principles. He was opposed to war on Iraq and in favour of allowing more refugees into the UK as asylum seekers. In the House of Commons he was a rebel in his own party and voted against the party whip over 400 times while Labour was in power – between 1997 and 2010. In 2004 he attended the World Social Forum in Mumbai and showed sympathy and support for the Dalits, and back in Britain he took up their cause in the British Parliament and chaired the UK-based Dalit Solidarity network.
During the electoral campaign, whether in daily door-to-door canvassing when he met the electorate or in his interviews, he came out as a honest politician with firm principles and democratic in his attitudes. He defended some of the ideas set out in his party’s electoral manifesto that he was personally against on the ground that the Labour programme represented the party programme and not his own ideas. He has been elected leader of the party to reflect the views of the party and not his personal wishes.
The Labour programme was a turning point in the campaign for it reconnected the Labour Party with its electorate. It advocated nationalization of some key industries, promising to scrap tuition fees and restoring maintenance grant. He believes that education is a public good. He said he would outlaw zero hour contracts and support a number of issues which are in the interests of ‘the many, not the few’ as was the tagline of his programme. It was a “fully costed” programme reflecting the ideology of the Labour Party — not a series of populist measures for the sake of winning elections. Now in Parliament he has expressed the determination to press for Labour’s ideas to be implemented.
The labour programme enthused the young and pensioners. For the first time the young came out to vote, and voted massively for the Labour party. After the victory in the elections, Corbyn himself believed that he had changed British politics. Other observers see in the election of Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party and the party’s triumph in elections part of a broader movement in Britain and in other countries, which is turning leftward and this restores hope that truth must and can be an effective force in politics.
In Mauritius, the triumph of the British Labour party should provide food for thought and as well as guidelines for action to many. We had thought at one time that left wing politics had become obsolete, but there is now hope for a radical programme not to be put before the electorate but to be worked out with the electorate and which reflects the people’s wishes and aspirations. One hopes to see the regional party organizations pressing for a radical programme in the coming weeks or months.
There are lots of issues which need urgent consideration. Many have already been mooted by regional organizations, small planters associations, Ngos and trade unions as well as local and village organisations. The latter organisations have to come out and press forward their ideas.
We have also seen that the Corbyn-type campaign was based on a programme and not on personal insults and vilification of adversaries. He refused to pursue a negative campaign and that too is a model worthy of emulation. We often hear that elections are expensive and many young people are afraid to take the plunge because of the financial implications. Yet in our own history parties have succeeded with very little money and won elections and seats in the Assembly, whether in 1967 or even 1976. People may argue that the times have changed. It is true, but people today are more educated and they need to be approached and be motivated to participate democratically in the electoral process.
Those who are determined to serve the people and who will dedicate their time to work with the electorate will eventually succeed. Neither the media nor money can decide elections once the electorate is convinced of the genuineness of a party programme which seeks to safeguard national interests, improve our standard of living and foster economic growth for all.