Yesterday I attended one of the many local Q and A events that Jeremy Corbyn is holding in his bid for election as the Labour Party Leader. I have to give him his dues; he was positive and inspiring in real life. However, he comes across on TV, in person he is impressive. Corbyn is genuine, reflective and consistent. Winning or losing this leadership election will not make him revise his opinions, as he is not interested in being elected for the sake of it. That much I am convinced of.
He does understand that repeating the mistakes of the Labour Party under Blair is not what most people are seeking, something the other candidates might wish to think about. Neither is presenting oneself as Tory-lite actually a sure-fire strategy for winning the next election. Instead of seeking those voters in the middle who are undecided, he is setting store by tapping into those who chose to vote for the Greens and to some extent UKIP, instead of Labour. He has made efforts already to reach out and understand their specific concerns – not assuming they are crazies or bigots to be ignored or whose votes he needs to compromise himself for. He knows that many younger voters, for example, preferred the Greens to Labour in the last election. Is he wrong in this strategy? I am not sure. He has to win voters from other parties in order to ever be a PM, who’s to say this is the wrong strategy in the end? Certainly of all the candidates, despite being part of the London elite, he may actually have a chance of winning back support in Scotland – if that is indeed winnable. I can see him going down well.
Why is he persuasive? Because he is genuine and because I don’t think he is really trying to persuade at all. Yet I am not going to vote for him.
I was able to ask him the question I wanted on education (he was asked several at the same time, which he noted down and then answered, rather than a back and forth Question Time style questioning). I explained that I was a primary teacher and blogger on Labour Teachers, that there are teachers who were not happy about Tristam Hunt’s education policy and its adherence to progressivism. I then asked if he would listen to those of us who dissent in forming his education policy, especially in light of the links that the Conservatives are making with social mobility.
To say the question was met with a stony response in the audience was an understatement. These were the middle class left wing supporters, plus TUSC and Green voters who had turned up to see whether he could be their man. Jeremy himself looked at me incredibly quizzically at the mention of Hunt and did not seem to really be expecting such a question. Fair enough I guess.
His response consisted of the following:
- He believed that educational markets do not work and that he would bring both Free Schools and Academies back into Local Authority control.
- He wanted all schools to teach the national curriculum.
- He believed there was too much testing and that learning was a goal in itself (which I agree with but simply don’t see progressivism as the means to achieve this).
- He wanted the damage done to FE colleges reversed and for a greater emphasis to be placed on adult learning.
So he didn’t really answer the main thrust of my question about listening to all voices. I tried. He obviously is inclined to believe that LA will do the right thing in a way a Secretary of State can’t and is convinced by the narrative that left wing equals progressive education.
So where does this leave the Gramscians amongst us Labour supporters? Well it would appear out in the cold, whichever candidate is elected. So the real question is, is there anything we can do to register our position within the Labour Party more clearly – to get our concerns based on our experience and practices across? Blogging is necessary, but even here it is the Conservatives who are paying the most heed to us. Yet, like Corbyn, my values have not changed over time. It is simply that the political party that is expressing them is not the party I am a member of.
This post was originally published on the Labour Teachers website.