The recent by-elections in Stoke and Copeland have sent the mainstream media and it’s political allies in Westminster into orbit with their attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and the current direction of the Labour Party. It’s true that Labour lost Copeland and it’s always disappointing to lose a seat in any election, but contrast the media coverage of the loss of a seat with a 2,500 majority with the complete lack of hysteria around the Tories losing the safe seat of Richmond last year, defending a majority of 23,000. The media have also been quiet about the Conservatives being pushed into third place in Stoke. As yet, I can’t recall any news reporter asking Theresa May if she’s going to resign.
The Stoke by-election was quickly disregarded by the media and enemies of Corbyn once Labour held the seat, beating UKIP in the process. That’s despite the Stoke constituency voting in favour of Brexit. To report even the merest whiff of a Corbyn triumph goes against the media narrative and subsequently, the agenda.
In reality, there were a number of factors that led to Labour losing the Copeland by-election. Boundary changes in the area had already benefitted the Conservatives before a vote was cast and it’s clear that UKIP voters in that constituency, switched back to the Tories and enabled them to win the seat. In addition to that, Labour’s majority in Copeland had been falling significantly since 1997 and the Labour candidate that stood for the election, wasn’t even Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred choice. If that wasn’t enough, wheeling out Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair to attack the party and it’s leader during the week leading up to the elections, whether it was by accident or design, didn’t help matters. Each of those factors might not look like that big a deal taken in isolation but collectively, they all contributed massively to the defeat and looking at it rationally, it’s ridiculous to ask Jeremy Corbyn to take sole responsibility for it.
It’s interesting that independent polling shows the policies being offered by Corbyn’s Labour have huge support among large sections of the public. However, when people realise that they are Corbyn’s policies, the reaction is often surprise because they tend to refer to the media’s narrative in terms of what he stands for. Our Union (the BFAWU) backed Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the Labour Party in both elections and continues to support his efforts. This isn't because we’re a ‘hard-left’ cult that sees Jeremy Corbyn as a messiah who can do no wrong. It’s because we know that his intentions towards the people that we represent are genuine. Our members will have a far better, fairer chance both in life and in the workplace with common-sense policies being offered by an honest and decent man, with a proven track record of being in their corner and very often, on the right side of history.
Today's Labour Party is more in tune with the needs of our communities than ever before, with a shadow cabinet full of young talent who are connected to the aspirations of ordinary people in a way that we haven’t seen for decades. The media just don't want them to see it. Supporting a living wage of £10 an hour, stopping the privatisation of our NHS, introducing a national investment bank, building affordable homes, re-nationalising railways, ending zero-hours contracts, scrapping the bedroom tax, scrapping the work capability assessment and strengthening workers’ rights are all policies worth getting behind. Jeremy Corbyn’s vision brings young people into the equation for once, and offers them a future (particularly in education), rather than uncertainty, exploitation and subsequently, lost generations. A Corbyn-led Labour Party will challenge the government’s failure to ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share and will address the grotesque gulf between executive pay and the wages of those at the bottom.
All this can be achieved. The Labour government that so many of Corbyn’s detractors in the party claim to want so much, can be realised if personalities are put to one side and everyone unites behind the twice elected leader, in order to give him the fair wind that he deserves. An vibrant shadow cabinet, a supportive Parliamentary Labour Party, a huge membership with active branches, along with continued Trade Union support and exciting ideas would be more than enough to crush the Conservatives in a general election.
Our decision to support Corbyn in 2015 was the right one and our continued support for his leadership remains exactly the same in 2017. As one of the Labour Party’s longest affiliated organisations, we’ve seen many changes and stood firm in the face of those who would take away our rights. Today's Labour Party represents us in a way we haven’t seen for a very long time and make no mistake; we will fight to get it into government, whenever that election is called.
Yours in solidarity
Ian Hodson (BFAWU National President)