When the leader of the opposition pledges to bring the railways and energy giants under public control, you know this is no ordinary election. Joe Larkin, a member of the Portsmouth branch of the Socialist Party, explains why he is voting for Labour this election.
There is no doubt that the Labour Party’s manifesto – with calls to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour, abolish zero hour contracts and halt the carve up of our NHS – is the party’s boldest programme in decades.
These ideas represent a welcome step forward by Jeremy Corbyn, who is finally reflecting the popular thirst for change that propelled him so unexpectedly into the leader’s office. In response, the polls are tightening, the rallies are growing and there’s a chance, a real fighting chance, that the Tories’ years of misrule can be ended. For socialists this is a moment we can only embrace.
In recognition of this chance the Socialist Party in Portsmouth has announced that we will not be fielding our own candidates, but will join the campaign to support Corbyn where we can, and push for the popular socialist policies needed to kick out the Tories.
The Socialist Party is unashamedly revolutionary in our ambitions – we believe in the need for a democratic society run for the needs of all and not the profits of the few. In Portsmouth we have contested elections since 2010 under the banner of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), an anti-austerity campaign led by the RMT trade union. In 2014, TUSC fielded candidates in every seat in the city, part of the largest left-of-Labour challenge since 1945, with hundreds of candidates across the UK. In 2015 we stood RMT President Sean Hoyle in Portsmouth South. In 2016 TUSC stood against then Labour Councillor John Ferrett in Paulsgrove, whose shameful support for cuts over the past year had kept Donna Jones’ Tory minority council untroubled by opposition.
In each of these elections our priority has been to represent a clear alternative to austerity. Portsmouth’s Lib Dem and Tory councils have axed millions of pounds from vital public services – which include the running down of domestic abuse crisis centres and children’s social care. In challenging austerity our ambition has been to unite all those who believe that we, the working class, the 99%, need an independent political party of our own that fights for us in the Council chamber and in Westminster. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader changed neither ambition, but it may have offered a new way of achieving them.
As socialists we recognise that since day one Corbyn’s Labour Party has in truth been two parties in one. There is the Left, which counts Corbyn, the grass roots campaign group Momentum and the half a million new members who have joined to support Corbyn in its number. Then there are the remnants of Tony Blair’s New Labour, represented by figures like Tom Watson in Parliament and, until recently, John Ferrett in Portsmouth.
If the bold ideas in Corbyn’s manifesto are to be realised then this civil war must end with an open and democratic Labour Party controlled by its members. In this general election we say a vote for Labour must be a vote to strengthen Corbyn’s project to turn Labour into a social movement.
As welcome as Labour’s manifesto is, socialists are not simply calling for support for Corbyn or his party as it is now. We are supporting what Corbyn could achieve if pushed forward by a popular movement from below. To see the potential for that we need only look to the US, where Bernie Sanders was a little known Vermont senator before the 2016 election. Similarly across the channel socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon was on the political sidelines before this year’s French election.
Both campaigns became about more than just the election of one man. Both became movements that brought together all those who saw the need for real change, rejected austerity and opposed the bigotry peddled by Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen. In this election Jeremy Corbyn has the chance to do the same.
A vote for Labour must be a vote to transform the party from an electoral machine into a movement that hands real power to local supporters. They can kick out the Blairite MPs who would rather see a Tory victory than a democratic Labour Party led from below, and replace them with genuine working people who represent and answer to their communities. If Corbyn does that the Labour Party could fulfil that historic ambition of becoming a true party for the 99% that fights for real change. If we can achieve that, those manifesto pledges are but a glimpse of what is possible.
If there’s a chance of that, even just a fighting chance, it’s one we must all take.
Photography by Moshe Tasky.