by Lucy Auger
Battle lines were drawn and war was declared on Jeremy Corbyn when soft left political heavyweight Hillary Benn kick-started a coup within the Labour Party. Consisting of organised resignations by many Shadow Government Ministers on the hour, every hour, the last fortnight’s developments risk leaving Labour permanently cracked down the middle.
The factional war that has been brewing in Labour for so long has now reached a dramatic climax, and responsibility lies with all students to defend all that Corbyn represents for our movement. By attacking Jeremy Corbyn, the Parliamentary Labour Party seeks to destroy more than just the reputation of one man – this is an attack on everything he represents. For students, that means free education, it means the long overdue acknowledgment of a crisis in student mental health. If the student movement fails to unite behind Corbyn’s leadership, we risk losing any hope of a Labour party that truly believes in a fair education system and we risk losing the best chance we have of seeing that system become a reality.
If the student movement fails to unite behind Corbyn’s leadership, we risk losing any hope of a Labour party that truly believes in a fair education system
Jeremy Corbyn has always defended students and now we must do the same for him. At a rally in February, he urged the Tory government to ‘invest the money now’ in student mental health, noting the rising numbers of students seeking help for mental health difficulties and drawing attention to the disastrous effects of underfunding and cuts to mental health services. Of course, the rise in students facing mental health problems is not without a cause. With students being faced with more debt than ever, coupled with the threat of rising rent and yet more cuts to vital services, our poorest students are beginning to feel the effects of austerity.
But after having been let down by the Labour Party for so long, the student vote is no longer being taken for granted. In the wake of Corbyn’s leadership victory, his first major policy announcement was the complete abolition of tuition fees, to be paid for through higher corporation tax and an increase in national insurance contributions from top earners. This is not an empty promise. Corbyn has always supported free education, opposing the implementation of fees and the replacement of grants with loans. From his opposition to the Higher Education White Paper, to his unwavering support for NUS, Corbyn has always supported students.
The opposition of Labour MPs to free education is well known. After all, it was the Labour Party that first introduced tuition fees. But in seeking to overthrow the first Labour leader to support a system of free University education, they undermine the struggle and the values of the tide of students who joined the Labour Party under its new leadership, which is why this coup is not only an attack on Corbyn, but an attack on us too. At a time when the movement for a progressive education system has gained momentum since the last Labour Leadership election, the establishment backlash is as inevitable as it is terrifying.
Through Labour, we have the opportunity to put free education back on the agenda.
Jeremy Corbyn’s project of reforming the Labour Party is therefore central to our struggle. Through Labour, we have the opportunity to put free education back on the agenda. Students must unite around Corbyn now, because the stakes are so high. This coup will either eliminate the progressive left in the Labour Party, or result in a dramatic shift to the left, a rebalancing of power the likes of which we have not seen since the rise of New Labour. It is our responsibility to defend and fight back, or we risk losing everything that makes Labour a credible choice for students.
Though many are cynical of what a post-coup Labour Party will like, there is room for optimism. Jeremy Corbyn continues to hold rallies and public meetings that draw thousands of people, and our Shadow Cabinet is now more radical than it has been in years. In the coming weeks and months, media and Parliamentary Labour Party attacks on the left of Labour will be more brutal than we have ever seen and we must be prepared.
Labour under Jeremy Corbyn offers hope for the student movement, and so now is the time for students to get behind the Labour Party, to get behind Jeremy Corbyn as the next battle in the fight for free education plays out. The fight will take place in the streets, but it will also take place within Labout. Realistically, that means joining the Labour Party if you haven’t already, and it means relentless campaigning in the run up to Labour’s leadership election. So brace yourselves, and prepare to defend Corbyn, or risk witnessing the final purge of socialists from the Labour Party, and the setback for the momentum of the student movement.
See you on the doorstep.
Featured image via independent.co.uk