Jeremy Corbyn: The Third Act?
Written by Matthew Oulton
In just a few short years, Jeremy Corbyn went from insurgent Leader of the Opposition to political pariah. From hearing his name sung at Glastonbury to being forgotten by even his closest allies. From seeming one last push from the premiership to a sad virtual launch of a fringe think tank. On January 17th, he launched his next venture – the Peace and Justice Project, dedicated to furthering the policy goals that Corbyn has advocated for his entire career.
Is this a noble attempt to stand up for what he believes in? Or the frantic final kick at a horse that’s long since died?
Firstly, it’s not really unusual to do something of this sort after a leader leaves office. Tony Blair established the humbly-named Tony Blair Institute for Global Change shortly after ceasing to be both Prime Minister and Labour leader, Gordon Brown established a charitable foundation, and Ed Milliband began his podcast, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’, designed to be a ‘think-tank for a modern age.’
Jeremy Corbyn, though he would no doubt baulk at the comparison, is just following in the footsteps of these previous leaders. He’s always advocated for these issues – it’s not surprising that he’s now setting up an organisation to campaign for them. Whether or not it’ll be successful, is a different issue.
What the Peace and Justice Project certainly lacks is a clear set of goals. It almost feels as though Corbyn conceived this idea before he knew he was going to be kicked out of the Labour Party. As an affiliate of Labour, it would have fitted in with the Fabian Society and other Labour-associated think tanks, filling a natural role in providing ideas and policies for the party. Since Corbyn was expelled, it’s now unclear whether this is intended to be a political movement in its own right, or a rebel offshoot of the Labour Party.
Assuming that the intention is the former, Corbyn’s goal is laudable. Ed Milliband has mentioned, since leaving the leadership, that he struggled to find good ideas for policies. Indeed, whilst the right has an extensive network of friendly newspapers, well-funded think tanks, and corporate lobbyists to provide radical policy and political ideas, the left has always struggled a little. At times, the Fabian Society or other think tanks have filled this role, but these have tended to be much more moderate organisations than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. As a result, widening the debate, especially when it comes to challenging the media, is no bad thing.
The Peace and Justice project has explicitly set its sights on the Murdoch press. The media attracted a lot of vitriol from Corbyn’s supporters for years, with claims of unbalanced coverage very common. Regardless of your opinion of individual media outlets, there is clearly a huge problem with the way that both social and traditional media are regulated in the UK, and it will require radical policymaking to fix it. That sort of thinking is often difficult for political parties to coordinate, given their obvious need to keep the media onside, but the Peace and Justice Project could definitely fill that gap.
However, if Corbyn’s aim is to form a meaningful faction or even political party to challenge Starmer either within or without the Labour Party, he’s doomed to fail. Firstly, his own position, having had the whip withdrawn, will make garnering institutional support in the Labour Party difficult. Momentum, a faction in the Labour Party which was founded to support his campaign for the Labour leadership, has lost control of many parts of the Labour Party since the 2019 General Election. Likewise, Corbyn himself is a divisive issue in the Labour Party. Many, including some of those from his wing of the party, are wary of associating themselves too closely with him now. Whilst Corbynism is very much alive and well in the Labour Party, it cannot survive if Corbyn is to be its leader. Secondly, the British people have clearly demonstrated that, at least at the moment, it doesn’t have an appetite for Corbyn’s policies. Having been rejected at the ballot box twice, the Labour Party is unlikely, and indeed would be unwise, to revert to Jeremy Corbyn’s policies and political messaging.
Anti-Semitism aside, people like Jeremy Corbyn do have a place in the Labour Party. It’s a testament to the broad-church ideology that he was elected in the same election as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Likewise, that he was able to co-exist, albeit not always amicably, with each of them as leader. Keir Starmer was right to remove the whip – Corbyn’s response to the condemnation of the Labour Party under his leadership made it both ethically and politically necessary. However, the left of the Labour movement has a valid and important contribution to make to broader progressive politics. If the Peace and Justice Project is to be a conduit for this, that’s no bad thing.
Those from Corbyn’s wing of the Labour Party should be pleased at the prospect of a think tank and campaigning group being established for his ideas. Likewise, those from the centre of politics should be glad that this sort of radicalism is pushed out to protest groups, rather than the leading opposition party. Far left intellectuals and activists have often contributed positively to the Labour Party, bringing ideas, rhetoric, and energy. However, they have rarely succeeded in winning elections.
Will Jeremy Corbyn change the world through the Peace and Justice Project? I’m doubtful. Nevertheless, Corbyn managed to shock the country before, when he transformed from pacifist protestor to leader of a youth movement. Perhaps he’ll now manage the transition to socialist intellectual as well. If not, there’s always the allotment…
Photo source - Flickr (Garry Knight)