Jeremy Corbyn addresses a ‘Keep Corbyn’ rally at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Before Jeremy Corbyn, I would never have dreamed of joining a mainstream political party. Brought up in Wales in a progressive humanist family, my politics was totally alien to the endless parade of shiny careerist politicians who ran the show. My parents had long since torn up their Labour membership over the Iraq war and I was resigned to a political identity on the left without a party. To me and many of my contemporaries Labour was a party without a soul, whose leadership had poisoned the party with its blinkered pro-business dogma and their illegal wars.
But Corbyn changed all that: his distinctly socialist approach based on principled politics inspired me and thousands of others to come in from the political wilderness and join a party that we previously distrusted. I found myself and many members of my family, friends and colleagues suddenly enthusiastic and full of hope for the future. There was still the huge challenge of defeating the Tories ahead of us, but at least that challenge finally meant something. No more putting a cross in a box next to the lesser of two evils.
And, yes, the last nine months have been bumpy. Corbyn’s leadership has been undermined from the start by an influential ring of MPs on the right of the party who were never going to accept his mandate. His team had to make a fresh start, isolated in Westminster away from the social movements that backed him and without the polished political machine that had furnished the previous leadership. And yet despite this, we have seen a whole number of successes: a huge rise in membership, four mayoral posts, the victory in the Lords on tax credits and defending disabled people against cuts to PIP payments, to name a few.
But instead of focusing on his policies, the leaders of the recent Labour coup want to attack Corbyn’s personal qualities. They say that he doesn’t have what it takes to lead the party. But I disagree. While his speech-making abilities are not perfect and he’s far from the machiavellian politician that we have grown accustomed to, Corbyn is a man of ideas – something that the party up until now has been lacking. And what actually is leadership? Because if leadership means being a person of integrity who makes time for the marginalised, who inspires those alienated from the political process, and who isn’t afraid to speak uncomfortable truths, then Corbyn shows leadership in bucketloads.
I come at this from a standpoint of someone who voted remain. Corbyn was right to take a nuanced approach on the EU referendum. I believe Corbyn persuaded 60% of Labour’s supporters to vote remain because he didn’t ignore people’s concerns with the EU. By admitting that the EU is not without its faults and then demanding that we should stay in to reform it (from the left) he was able to bypass the binary claims of the two main referendum campaigns. People voted leave because they felt abandoned by politics and scared about immigration.
These structural issues haven’t just appeared in the last nine months of Corbyn’s leadership. But I think many felt his defence of immigration and his determination to turn the debate towards austerity was refreshing at a time when the leave campaign was openly whipping up racism and xenophobia.
If Corbyn resigns, a move to the right in Labour is inevitable. And the left will be locked out of the party for a decade as the centre of the party pulls up the drawbridge to parliamentary nominations. With this I not only lose a party (so soon after finding it) but the left will lose a strong agent in the fight for a progressive exit of the EU. The UK faces a bonfire of workers’ rights, financial regulation and environmental protections as it’s torn from Europe. Without Corbyn we face being locked into neoliberal rules for the next century.
But this isn’t about Corbyn. Nine months ago I and so many others were inspired back into a party that had refound its soul. Labour cannot be a party of airbrushed professionals. If it has any hope of achieving power it needs to be linked to a mass movement. The membership and unions are where the Labour party gets its strength. They are what sets them apart from the Tories. And for MPs to choose to ignore them now could be one of the biggest mistakes in the party’s history.