The main room at the The World Transformed was packed with hundreds of people. The event was called by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to run alongside the official Labour Party conference, providing a forum to discuss and debate ways forward for the left. Crammed into the room was a heady mix of long time radicals and younger people new to politics. Even a smattering of parents, with kids in tow, were dotted through the crowd. All eyes were on the screen at the front of the room, waiting patiently for the BBC presenters to cut to the announcement of Labour’s leadership election results.
Below us, two overflow rooms were also full, and a line of people going down the block waited outside, unable to get in. The organisers had expected a good response, but even they were surprised by the overwhelming turnout.
When the announcement finally came that Jeremy Corbyn had again won the Labour leadership, the room almost exploded; long, hard work had paid off again. People screamed and chanted. Some people cried. For a left that has gone so long without many wins, a moment like this was worth enjoying.
And it wasn’t just a win, it was a landslide. Corbyn had actually increased his lead, this time winning 61% of the vote. Despite the entire Labour establishment uniting behind one candidate, despite the media attacks, despite the purging of thousands of new and old Labour members, the Corbyn moment continues to grow.
Within the Labour Party machine, the fight will have to continue. Despite the obvious and unquestionable mandate that Corbyn now has as leader, the party’s right wing will continue to disrupt attempts to build the new left politics. Before the results had even been announced, a number of Labour MPs came forward to say they would not serve in a Corbyn cabinet, and there were reports that some more centrist MPs were being threatened with retribution if they were willing to work with the left.
While the road forward will be difficult, the Corbyn leadership appears up to this challenge. In his acceptance speech Jeremy made the obvious and essential appeals to party unity. He has no option but to again extend the olive branch, or else face a damaging split which would distract from building the movement on the left.
What he said next was extraordinary.
Corbyn used his acceptance speech to not just thank supporters and appeal for unity. Corbyn used the platform, and the live TV audience, to call for a national day of protests against Tory education reform in one weeks’ time.
This willingness to call for mobilisation has the potential to radically reshape the Labour Party, and politics itself. Ultimately, the party establishment can deal with left ideas. Party professionals can adapt to new rhetoric, and if ever in government the right can water down progressive policies to a level acceptable to business. But if the leadership of the Labour party encourages and develops a new mass politics it can become a force outside of the control of even the most adept party bureaucrat.
Calling people to the streets in protest can build the confidence of new activists in every community and union branch throughout the country.
This mass politics is what the managerial political establishment is (or should be) most afraid of. If each of the half million new Labour members become a local activist, the neoliberal attacks on health and education will face renewed resistance. Work practices such as zero hour contracts and starvation wages will be in danger if there is a sudden and radical influx into unions. The threat to the establishment is real. While right now they are dancing to celebrate Corbyn’s victory, tomorrow they are meeting to plan how to change this world.