“The media attacks on us are huge & personally unpleasant, [but] are designed to distract away from the issues of unemployment, poverty & injustice in our society, especially at this time of crisis.”Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn spoke to Labour Outlook on lessons from the pandemic and the recovery we need, the books he’s currently reading, why socialists should stay in Labour and our movement’s future in this in-depth, hard-hitting interview with Laura McAlpine,.
“We are now looking enormous stress and chaos for many people.” These were Jeremy Corbyn’s words when asked by Laura McAlpine about the main lessons of how the Coronavirus crisis has been handled and how we move forward, including in terms of supporting jobs and livelihoods.
In relaxed yet combative mood, Jeremy was quick to explain how things could have been done differently and how the Government had been found wanting from the beginning, lurching from crisis to crisis.
To take two examples, the World Health Organisation had recommended heavy testing which the Tories failed to do, and then PPE quickly became in short supply. These are still big issues now as we approach the second wave.
In contract to the Tories failure to get a grip, he praised those working in the health sector, care sector and mutual volunteers across the country for helping people throughout the crisis so far.
It is his film belief that there are also political lessons to be taken from the crisis in terms of how it has “illustrated the problems inherent with underfunding the health service and privatising care,” and showing that the World Health Organisation’s demands of global universal healthcare aren’t just important for those who need it.
Turning to the current situation, he praised the work earlier this year of trade unions in pushing the Government into the furlough scheme but expressed concern at the scheme’s upcoming end, saying “We are now looking at enormous stress and chaos for many people,” and that “The Government needs to recognise that having put money into local government and into industry in order to keep jobs going, it’s got to continue doing that as the economy continues to rebuild.” If it does not change direction, we are looking at a deep recession.
In terms of immediate campaigning, Jeremy explained that it is vital to get behind union demands for an extension of the furlough scheme, and for investment in the economy to protect and create jobs, including through a Green New Deal.
Moving the conversation on further, Laura asked about the ongoing Tory attacks on refugees and migrants, and whether Jeremy saw that as being about divide and rule.
Jeremy slammed both right-wing politicians and Tories for their demonisation of refugees, and said that anti-refugee publications such as the ‘Daily Mail’ need to ask why someone would risk getting in a rubber dinghy to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes if they weren’t so desperate, commenting that “In a hundred years from now, if it still exists, the Booker Prize will be the diaries of refugees trying to get to a place of safety during the Coronavirus crisis.”
A lifelong peace campaigner, he added that we need to recognise our support for aggressive US-led wars as being a factor behind the global refugee crisis.
Laura then continued on the issue of the media shaping our attitudes and asked why the media was still making regular attacks on both Jeremy and the Left.
In response, Jeremy said “they attack us for a reason [and] the reason is that they are afraid of our message and the popularity of it,” adding that “the media attacks on us are huge and personally unpleasant and are designed to distract away from the issues of unemployment, poverty [and] injustice in our society, especially at this time of crisis.”
As Laura draws attention to, this latter point is crucial. Never have socialist policies and ideas that put people, health and planet first been more needed.
As the Left, it is imperative that we should act and do better. This means remembering politics should never be about personal gossip, but about positive policies and strategies for change.
Laura said that in her local area, Harlow, Labour had been doing work in the community with charity groups and food banks, but there were many people who weren’t affected by that work, and wondered if whether there were other means we should utilise to engage in working class communities, if Labour is to win again and effect real change.
Jeremy felt that as part of this there was a huge need for community organising and perhaps even a role for ‘Labour cafes’ as place people could come and support each other and listen to each other’s ideas. He said there was an old Working Mans Cub on the border of his constituency called The Railway Club which has now become a foodbank and has a theatre space – a great example of regeneration for the many, not the few.
Laura recalled when she had received a Dance and Drama award from a Labour Government, which had allowed her to go to a professional dance school. She described the prejudice she faced due to her working-class background and the need to change her accent to be successful in auditions. She hated doing that, but felt it necessary to get into shows.
They agreed that the way it often works is that it is about who you know, and what school you went to, rather than your actual talents.
In light of the Labour leaks and other developments, Jeremy also had a clear message to those thinking about leaving the Party. He made it clear he thinks the place for socialists is both in the Labour Party and being central to campaigns on key issues at this time of health, environmental and economic crises.
Jeremy pointed out that he himself was still in the Party and that his “message was to stay active in the Party, but above all campaign” against the Tories and for socialist solutions– adding that as part of this, we need to campaign for all those at risk of unemployment, eviction and homelessness.
On a lighter note, Laura asked what political books he would recommend. Jeremy said he’d just finished “Against the Loveless World” by Susan Abulhawa. Susan is a Palestinian writer who wrote the book about her own experiences being born in a refugee camp, and who spent time in Kuwait, Jordan, Palestine and prison. “It’s pretty heavy in places but it’s brilliant.” The other book he’d started to read was Rachel Holmes’ biography of the socialist suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. He spoke of his admiration of her, in particular her uncompromising efforts for class equality as well as suffrage.
Laura’s final question asked what was the best piece of advice Tony Benn gave to him. Jeremy recalled that when Tony had planned to step down as an MP, he rang Jeremy, and mentioned how he was going to say “I’m leaving Parliament to devote more time to politics”.
Jeremy believed that this was a brilliant lesson in how you should always make time to speak to people who wouldn’t otherwise get a say, adding that “everybody I meet knows something I don’t know. Some of the wisest people are those who sweep our streets, because they think all day when they push the broom around.”
As the interview came to an end Jeremy said his role in the future would be going around the country to support all those inspired by the possibility of a better society and that we are not alone in this struggle – “there are millions around the world who have come to understand things something differently as a result of the crisis,” and “wish to see a different world because of it.”