In 1997, Labour brought this Clintonista turnout expert across the pond to the East Midlands, because Labour had a turnout problem. A Trotsky bust staring me in the face at the Luton Labour Club concentrated the mind.
East Midlands Labour Party Regional Director Roy Kennedy wanted to show me the remnants of Old Labour that New Labour had just defeated, and Luton Labour Club was a stop on my museum tour. Bookshelves filled with Marxist-Leninist volumes floor to ceiling. Dust aroma. Piles of unread treatises. The works. (A nice preview to my next stop in 1997 right after the election, Armenia, but that’s another story…). New Labour derided the likes of Luton Labour Club as “the Trots”, and there was really nothing to rebut that slur in their musty attic.
Labour had a key seat to win in Luton North in 1997, which we did, where Kelvin Hopkins still sits. Luton North is now a safe Labour seat, which Hopkins will win again this June, twenty years later. Hopkins was one of the barely achieved 35 votes that first placed Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot in 2015 to be Labour Leader. Hopkins is now one of Corbyn’s closest allies. Kelvin Hopkins also campaigned for Brexit. For this political moment, it’s hard to find a better Labour candidate than Kelvin Hopkins, who first arrived at Westminster in 1997 because Luton’s “Trots” stayed on side, and voted New Labour.
Trots staying home was the only way Tony Blair could fail to win Downing Street in 1997. Today, New Labour staying home is starting to feel like the most shameful way Jeremy Corbyn fails to win Number 10. History may have passed them by, but “Trots” certainly knew New Labour was Thatcherism’s greatest achievement, and the disaster that would ensue. Old Labour voted New Labour anyway, because even a neoliberal surrendering to the market like Tony Blair in 1997 was better than a Tory.
Jeremy Corbyn was one of those “Trots” in 1997, and in 2017 has survived two vicious leadership elections to seize Labour by both landslides. When New Labour stood this victorious over Old Labour in 1997, the “Trots” came along. Reluctantly, yes. Many of them today say “I told you so,” very loudly.
What is New Labour doing now? They must seize this moment and make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister. In these anti-establishment times, there is no one on earth more loathed by the establishment than Corbyn, except perhaps Bernie Sanders. Trump, Brexit, LePen, are the negative sides of the current movement. Corbyn, as Labour Leader, can prove there’s a positive side to the world’s frisky mood. Britain, for the next 5 weeks, is now the tip of that anti-establishment wave. Will it crest and fall the way Hunter S. Thompson saw the 60’s roll back from his Las Vegas hotel room? Or will it roll on? That is New Labour’s decision.
Despite the Tory press (which now apparently includes even the Guardian) painting him uncompromising, Corbyn has indeed compromised toward New Labour, just as Blair did toward the Trots. John McDonnell announced he would “come friendly” to the City of London, which Clement Attlee himself promised to abolish in a Labour manifesto not too long ago. New Labour came to the City a bit too friendly, we’ve now learned, but it appears Corbyn and McDonnell (and probably Kelvin Hopkins) have decided the City can be more useful alive rather than dead. The tax haven driven systemic financial risk the City erupts on the world like Vesuvius every decade or so, like clockwork, should be eliminated. Corbyn’s manifesto will let the City live, probably to use the City’s unique power against its own tax havens. Thus, New Labour can keep their Worshipful Company of Twats parading about in their fuzzy hats, just as Luton Labour Club got to keep its Trotsky bust to show off to a visiting Yank.
Theresa May is a sitting Tory duck. This appears to have concentrated minds. A lot of water is under these 20 year old bridges, but signs are emerging New Labour is starting to make nice with Old Labour once more. The polls have already begun tightening, as the contrast sharpens between Corbyn himself and the establishment’s dowager Queen Her Majesty of the Vampire Squid. Uniting Labour against this establishment, at this moment, should go smoothly, not least since the younger generation’s movement that put Corbyn in this position has built a massive machine ready to march. They’ve even got a good meme game.
Win or lose in June, Corbyn’s Labour is the farthest the anti-establishment left has gotten against power. Labour now stands in its moment. The future of this movement is in Labour’s hands, both Old and New. I’m glad to see Kelvin Hopkins right there in front.