A quarter of a million voices for change

Jeremy Corbyn has been elected by a quarter of a million people – but the Labour right is already on the attack. How do we defend Corbyn and seize this opportunity for the left?

An era has ended, and I can actually remember how it began, or at least the moment when I first noticed Tony Blair. “Who” is asked my flatmate as we watched the TV news “is this pompous little shit who’s Shadow Home Secretary now?” This would have been in 1992. I don’t need to recount the later career of the pompous little shit. It’s summed up, I think, by a comment Margaret Thatcher made in 2002: asked what her greatest achievement had been, she replied “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.” Blair created a political world in which all the major parties supported basically the same things – which in the context of the time meant privatisation and war. It’s a joy to see that particular world come to an end.

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Refugees, Corbyn and the death of Blairism

The last month has seen extraordinary shifts in two areas of public opinion where it was assumed – including by those of us on the left – that the right had established domination. First, migration. It seems clear that the photo of Aylan Kurdi that appeared in the media at the end of last week has prompted a major shift in the coverage of the current crisis. As late as Thursday evening, the front page headline in the London Evening Standard focussed on the “13-hour Eurostar ordeal” of British travellers inconvenienced by refugees in Calais. This angle – British people have their summer holiday ruined by refugees – had been playing in the right-wing press through the summer. Attacks on migrants had included a Daily Mail cartoon based on the “joke” that “illegals” were even besieging heaven, and another – blatantly racist, in this case – depicting a white couple whose hotel room had been taken over by Sudanese people. When London2Calais first took clothes and food to the Calais camp in mid-August, they were one of few groups doing anything like this. Last weekend, when returning to Britain, they were harassed by the authorities.

The coverage now is completely different. On Friday the Guardian reported that people across Britain were acting in support of refugees, from a travel agency in London to a parish councillor in Yorkshire. A petition to parliament to accept more asylum seekers has gained over 400,000 signatures. Even the Daily Mail is leading on refugee human interest stories.

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