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Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and the UK’s Socialist Surge

Great news when Theresa May’s Conservative Party lost their Parliamentary majority in the UK’s June 8 snap election and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party surged, adding 30 seats to their total. Pollsters, who predicted a Conservative Party victory, were way off, but for what it’s worth, they’ve since reported that Corbyn’s popularity continues to rise.

Then came the horrifying news that London’s Grenfell Tower inferno had consumed 79 people, at latest count, mostly Black and other minorities. Grenfell Tower was “council housing,” the British equivalent of public housing. After the fire, Corbyn actually called for empty homes held as speculative investments to be used to house the survivors:

“Occupy it, compulsory purchase it, requisition it – there’s a lot of things you can do.

“But can’t we as a society just think all of us? It’s all very well putting our arms around people during the crisis, but homelessness is rising, the housing crisis getting worse, and my point was quite a simple one: In an emergency you have to bring all assets to the table in order to deal with that crisis, and that is what I think we should be doing in this case.”

The Labour Party is membership based

Labour Party membership is defined by dues, which start as low as 3 pounds, the rough equivalent of $5. Dues paying members elect the party leader in a model similar to that Bruce Dixon and Howie Hawkins advocate for the Green Party. In 2015, Labour Party membership tripled, to 550,000, largely due to new members who paid three pounds to join and vote for its leader. This is a good part of the reason Corbyn surprised himself and everyone else with his hugely successful campaign to lead the party.

His victory was also made possible by the elimination of Labour’s variation on the Democratic Party’s super-delegates, elected officials and party big wigs who are free to vote for whatever presidential candidate they prefer at the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention, regardless of how their constituents have voted in the primary. Prior to 2015, the votes cast by sitting members of Parliament had greater weight than those of rank and file members, but in 2015, the party adopted a one member-one vote system. Fifty-one Members of Parliament and/or Members of the European Parliament still have to sign to put a candidate on the ballot for the party’s leadership—unless the candidate is incumbent—but the system is far more populist than before.

Northern Ireland becomes a central issue in the new UK government

The only party that may be willing to strike a deal with Theresa May’s Conservatives that allows them to stay in power is the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, which won 10 seats in Parliament.

The DUP is a Protestant, pro-UK unionist party whose defining issue is keeping Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. British comedian Jonathan Pie—whose comic persona is that of a British television reporter making offhand conversation with his producer just before going on air—summed up the DUP platform on the morning after the election:

“Oh God, the DUP? I don’t know anything about the DUP, Tim. I’m a Westminster correspondent. I don’t know anything about Northern Irish politics. Northern Ireland? It may as well be fuckin’ Scotland how much I give a fuck. But I have been reading up about the DUP and they seem like quite a lot of fun. Barrel of laughs. From what I can make out, they have strong connections to paramilitary organizations, they’re anti-abortion, pro-apartheid, anti-gay rights, so they sound nice. I mean what a fuck up, what a fuck up.

“My question is how can the UK government continue to act as a power broker in Northern Ireland when it’s done a deal with one of the two parties? Northern Ireland hasn’t exactly been politically stable of late.”

Sinn Fein, a leftwing, Catholic, republican party whose defining issue is the unification of Ireland as a republic independent of the UK, won 7 seats in Parliament, but since Sinn Fein’s core principle is independence from the UK, its members always refuse to validate UK control over Northern Ireland by refusing to take their seats and swear oath to the queen. They do, however, take up their Parliamentary offices in London and use them to lobby for their cause.

Labour, in turn, would not ask Sinn Fein to join a coalition because that would run the same risk that Theresa May runs—putting them on one side of the Northern Irish conflict in violation of the Good Friday Agreement. According to that agreement, codified by referendums in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland remains part of the UK but will become part of a unified, independent Ireland if referendums are held and both parts of Ireland vote for independence. The agreement transfers agency to the Irish people and obliges the UK government to act as an impartial broker between the pro-independence and pro-unionist sides.

The Conservatives have not yet been able to finalize a deal with the DUP, and many have warned that any such deal will not only violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement but almost certainly lead to instability in Northern Ireland. With a hung Parliament—meaning no overall majority elected—the UK government is expected to be fragile no matter what deals are struck, and it’s very likely that another election will have to be held before the end of this year, which raises the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister sooner rather than later. Whether this story gets that good or not, we can all celebrate that Tony Blair’s “New Labour,” the British equivalent of Bill Clinton’s corporate, neoliberal Democrats, is dead in Britain and support for real socialism is surging.

Could it happen here?

Could anything like this be duplicated here, eliminating the super-delegates and otherwise claiming the Democratic Party machinery in the name of the people? No way. The Democratic Party cannot be reformed. The only question is can it be replaced? And, after so many years of voter suppression, ballot access barriers, electronic voting machine tampering, DNC manipulations, and everything else except Russian interference, will the U.S. ever have an honest presidential election? The British system is radically different, for one, in that they use hand-counted paper ballots. See Explainer: how Britain counts its votes to learn how carefully they’re counted. With a hung Parliament, UK citizens are still waiting for a clear outcome, but no one’s demanding investigations or filing lawsuits because they think their election was stolen.

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Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who also contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, the Black Agenda Report and the Black Star News, and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.  In 2014, she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize by the Womens International Network for Democracy and Peace.  She can be reached at ann@afrobeatradio.com.

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