Sunday 26 July 2015

Is Jeremy Corbyn Labour’s Bill Brand? Can A Socialist Become The British Labour Party’s Next Leader?

Uncanny Resemblance: British actor, Jack Shepherd (left) played the role of a firebrand socialist Labour MP in the 1976 series, Bill Brand. Nearly 40 years later, a real firebrand socialist, Jeremy Corbyn (right) is leading the race to replace Ed Miliband as Leader of the British Labour Party. The question posed by Bill Brand, and now by Jeremy Corbyn, is: "Are Socialism and Labour compatible?"
WAY BACK IN THE 1970s there was a red-hot political drama series called Bill Brand. Produced by Thames Television, it starred a (very young) Jack Shepherd (more familiar to today’s Sky subscribers for his lead role in the Wycliffe TV series). Back in 1976, however, he was Bill Brand, a young socialist firebrand elected, almost accidentally, to the House of Commons in a run-of-the-mill by-election in a safe Labour seat. Written by Trevor Griffiths, the 11-episode series explored the question of whether or not it was possible to be both a socialist and a Labour Party MP. The answer, at least as far as Griffiths was concerned, appeared to be – “No.”
I raise the ghost of the long-forgotten Bill Brand only because Griffiths’ question about socialism and Labour is being tested again. This time, however, the stakes are much higher. This time the question is: Can a socialist become the Leader of the Labour Party? The man who may yet provide an affirmative answer to that question is Jeremy Corbyn.
A man of the 1980s, rather than the 1970s, Corbyn’s record, in just about every other respect, marks him out as a sort of real-life Bill Brand. (Amazingly, he even looks like Jack Shepherd!) A supporter of just about every radical cause that has emerged over the past 35 years – from Anti-Apartheid to Animal Rights – Corbyn is among the most rebellious of Labour’s back-benchers. He is, however, much more than a mere darling of the NGOs. Corbyn is also a self-proclaimed socialist, and former trade unionist, who does not shrink from advocating swingeing tax rises for the rich, abolishing student fees, or renationalising the railways. (All extremely popular policies with British voters BTW.)
If Corbyn sounds a bit like a square left-wing peg in round Blairite hole, it’s because that is exactly what he has been for practically the whole time he’s been the MP for Islington North. And it was only as a forlorn standard-bearer for Labour’s long-abandoned socialist ideals that he put himself forward as a candidate to fill the vacancy created by Ed Miliband’s resignation. Indeed, most of the 35 MPs who signed his nomination form did so in the spirit of political charity. Why? Because everybody “knew” that Corbyn didn’t stand a chance.
And then something very strange began to happen. One after another Labour’s constituency organisations began declaring for Corbyn. By the end of the nominating process, to the abject horror of the Labour Party leadership, Corbyn had amassed 70 constituency nominations to the erstwhile (and very moderate) front-runner, Andy Burnham’s, 68. And, as if that wasn’t enough bad news for the Blairite establishment, the polling agency, YouGov, put Corbyn well ahead of his rivals Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper.
Talk about putting a very red cat among a whole coop-full of pink and blue pigeons! Almost immediately, Blairite MPs were threatening to organise a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in Corbyn should the membership of the party do anything so utterly irresponsible as electing a left-winger leader of the Labour Party. Others called for an ABC campaign (remind you of anything, Kiwis?) to unite the anti-Corbyn vote behind Burnham. Chiming in to the furore, in reflexive support of the Labour Right, came the lofty pundits of the Guardian and the Observer. “Surely,” they exclaimed to their shuddering keyboards, “Labour could not be that suicidal!
It is all so reminiscent of Bill Brand. The sheer madness of attempting to storm the ramparts of The City of London; of believing, even for a moment, that the news media might give you a fair shake; or assuming that your colleagues harboured the slightest respect for the wishes of the Labour members and supporters who sent them to Parliament.
And yet, Jeremy Corbyn is in the lead. He is winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the British Labour Party. Socialism may be dead in the committee rooms of Westminster, but in the suburbs of London, in the green valleys of Wales and in the grim post-industrial cities of the angry North, it still lives. And to the shock and horror of the entire British Establishment, the socialists have found themselves a champion.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 25 July 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I think there is a phenomenon at work in Britain and more so in the US, where people on the right and the left have lost all confidence in – not sure government exactly, but certainly the way politicians if we want to call them that. After all, the Donald is the lead clown in the clown limousine that's the Republican nomination fight, and a self-proclaimed socialist is doing very well against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. I must say though I'm not at all sure that Bernie Sanders is actually a socialist, because on the whole I think Americans wouldn't know socialism if it bit them in the bum. Most of what they consider socialism, the rest of the world considers common sense. But I wouldn't be surprised if this is the same phenomenon. Politicians in the US and Britain are regarded with a great deal of cynicism these days. People want someone if not exactly fresh, then who isn't perceived as corrupt and venal. Personally I think it's great.

Anonymous said...

If Corbyn wins, John O'Farrell can start writing his sequel to 'Things Can Only Get Better' to be published in 15-20 years time!

Jigsaw said...

It is possible he will get elected as the leader of the UK Labour party? I suppose so - but electable as the leader of that party? I very much doubt it. I think that you could easily see the party split with him in the lead. I doubt if anybody cares very much what Tony Blair thinks about anything anymore. Perhaps you can see a likeness to Jack Shepherd but I certainly can't.

Anonymous said...

Good on him.

I'd note, of course, that in the UK there is a false dichotomy between Blairism and "Old Labour". The latter is a tricky beast, and the Blairites have managed to lump 1980s Bennite radicals in with the more staid pre-1980s party.

Anonymous said...

Its a lacklustre group of candidates, Jeremy Corbyn who has proved himself by winning his seat 8 times shines. In my opinion he is far better him than anyone lined up against him. His policies will moderate in the coming years though some, like a future high tech society will grow. Let me remind NZ that our labour leader does not shine nor has he ever won a seat in Parliament.

Anonymous said...

Marxism Leninism is the only true socialism, a socialism with a glorious revolutionary heritage, defeating fascism and imperialism, liberating hundreds of millions all over the globe, producing industrial, scientific, and economic superpowers and improving the lives of more people than any other system in world history.

All other 'socialisms' are claytons socialisms and doomed to fail - they are the 'socialisms' of sharing the ill gotten gains of imperialism

Anonymous said...

Another messiah, Chris?
What happened to the Greek PM?
(Didn't he know you can't bluff if everyone knows you hand is empty?)
Mind you, I respect Corbyn much more than say Miliband.
Wouldn't vote for him though.
If Cameron is too far to the individualist right, Corbyn is too far to the collectivist left - which history has shown is worse.

Grant said...

Too bad Corbyn can be so very easily (and correctly) attacked for his nut-bar attitudes to homeopathy. He has a soft underbelly on this issue in exactly the way that the Green's Stephan Browning does. Remember him?

Unknown said...

Socialism has never faced a bigger hurdle with the shift in both power and income to a smaller and smaller but very ideologically driven group. Where the change will come is when the masses understand that while these people have the money and influence the one thing they are lacking in is numbers. No matter whether you have one dollar or one million dollars you still have an equal vote of one.
The greedy have failed to understand that greed needs to be sustainable and to achieve that they need to keep the ones under them well enough off that they can support them by either buying what they supply or paying the loans they control. Its no good just accumulating wealth for the sake of it, they must figure out how they can create something that sustains their greed.
Socialism will return once a critical mass is reached of people who see their futures being little more than survival. Take away peoples dreams and there will be a lurch to the left that could last as long as the Rogernomics we are finally starting to see has unravelled most of what was good and unique about our Kiwi way of life.
The media has a lot to answer for such as sitting back and watching the CEO of Fonterra continue to take his multi million dollar salary as the business disintegrates around him. The socalled farmers cooperative that has become a personal fiefdom of a very greedy group who cant see as far as the farmers milking sheds

Wayne Mapp said...


I have been following this whole contest with bemusement. British socialists may well have found their champion.

However, I think it is pretty unlikely that the British electorate will vote for Corbyn to be PM. Put it this way; why would someone who has just voted for Cameron's conservatives, suddenly vote for Corbyn"s Labour? And is it really likely Corbyn will appeal to UKIP voters?

Because in my view the next British election can only be won by the Labour and its allies by peeling votes off either the Conservatives or UKIP.

Unless UK Labour is also counting on the "missing million." But in 2014 an increased turnout actually boosted National.

pat said...

a question for Wayne the goal to develop policies that are for the good of the society you are elected to represent or is it to present an image that is most likely to receive enough votes to control the treasury benches?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Marxism Leninism is the only true socialism, a socialism with a glorious revolutionary heritage, defeating fascism and imperialism, liberating hundreds of millions all over the globe, producing industrial, scientific, and economic superpowers and improving the lives of more people than any other system in world history."
Oh fuck, echoes of the 60s. It's that sort of attitude that fucked socialism then and still plagues it today. The "I've got the only true solution." Attitude and the rest of you are heretics. Might as well be Isis.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Yes, the homeopathy thing is bad. But let's not forget that homoeopathy has a huge support base in Britain, including the royal family. So it's not as if he's out on his own there.

Anonymous said...

I liked your comment about tax rises for the rich and renationalising somehow being seen as popular with the voters, yet somehow Labour (or some other "workers party") havent been voted into power and created a workers paradise in the UK! Why isnt a Socialist party in power despite your perception that such policies are so popular yet when the funny thing called elections come around the voters arent voting for parties that support such policies!

Jigsaw said...

As many people claiming to know which is the path to true socialism as there are parts of the true cross. Some things never change. Looks like Labour may have another Foote - and about as successful.

greywarbler said...

Why can't a politician have a bias towards homeopathy? What has it ever done to you! Thalidomide bias would be understandable, but homeopathy as it is explained to people, can be recognised as a placebo. Yet people scorn it and clutch dangerous drugs to their bosom. Indeed people seize on any difference from their own deeply held biases, as an excuse to pass a supposedly rational judgment on any candidate.

The Royal Family probably liked homeopathy as it gave them a shield against their phalanx of doctors stifling the Royal patient, bleeding him or her to test whether they had enough life force to resist and live. The royals must have seized on homeopathy as a boon.

Victor said...

"Yes, the homeopathy thing is bad. But let's not forget that homoeopathy has a huge support base in Britain, including the royal family. So it's not as if he's out on his own there."

That must have been a bitter pill to swallow, GS!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Yes. But I consoled myself with a 12 C dilution of alcohol and got totally pissed.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Luckily, everyone knows the true path to capitalism is sheer greed. :-) That's why you never get any dissenters.

Wayne Mapp said...


In answer to your question (as I am sure you know), those of us on the centre-right generally believe that free enterprise and choice leads to better "policies that are for the good of society." Apparently those of the Left believe that governments alone can do things for the good of society.

Of course there no absolutes. There is a general consensus on state education, health and welfare support.

For the present, I see TPP as a litmus test as to whether a person is Left or Right. The Right will always favor lower trade barriers as being good for society. The Left believe otherwise. For instance Jane Kelsey has never seen a trade agreement she could support. She was wrong on the China FTA and she is wrong on TPP.

Clearly there are people/parties in the middle such as Labour!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Homeopathy became popular at a time when medicine didn't work. And in fact most of the time actively contributed towards worsening the condition. James I for instance was probably finished off by doctors, who bled him and gave him coffee enemas. Homeopathy essentially did nothing, so you probably stood a better chance of survival if you used it. But it doesn't work. It's a placebo, but placebos just make you feel better, they don't make you better. I must confess I am disappointed that a so-called rational socialist would adopt a positive position towards homeopathy. I took the same position on the Greens and their possum peppering. But homeopathy isn't going away unfortunately, and the good that the man might do in government probably outweighs whatever good he might do if he was against homeopathy, because being against it is sometimes like pushing shit uphill.

Nick J said...

Read latest column re US politics. It backs your assertion.

pat said...

I had addressed the question in respect of the selection and electability of the British Labour leader but thank you for your reply regardless....your litmus test would indeed be a useful tool if it wasnt fundamentally flawed...were you perhaps facing a mirror when you contemplated it?
To state those of the right always favour lower trade barriers as good for society is misguided to say the least as is easily demonstrated by the briefest examination of late 19th early 20th century US politics (Republican and protectionist) and the National (Conservative led) response to conditions in 1930s Britain and the political persuasion of those that reversed these policies
The reality is that so called free trade agreements NEVER provide for free trade as is amply evidenced by the conditions in any agreement and the latest reasoning from some on the right that we can always leave if it proves detrimental ignores the sense of ensuring we dont join unless convinced it is on balance beneficial....difficult to do blindfolded and with both hands tied behind your back....thoughts of Greece trying to extract itself from a bad deal in joining the euro spring to mind.
As a final request I wonder if you can point me to any scholarly article on the net benefits to Australia with regard to its FTA with the US?

Davo Stevens said...

Pat: Here's one site that gives some of the info you were asking about. (pdf)

pat said...

Thanks Davo....I have no problem finding information on the negative impacts for Australia with regard to their FTA with the US (funny that) was articles outlining a positive net gain I was seeking (i suspect forlornly)

aberfoyle said...

Go Corbyn.Anyone who ever doubted Blair!s political centrist leanings only has to listen to his rhetoric when speaking about New Labours new leader,don!t vote for the socialist.