Oh Come All Ye Faithful: How can Jeremy Corbyn possibly be in the lead? After all, the man is an open and unashamed socialist – an affliction which should have ruled him out of serious contention immediately. Even worse, Corbyn’s clothes look like they were bought at a jumble sale – and he has a beard!
POLITICS CAN BE HARD on friendships. Radically diverging views on the nature and worth of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Greece’s Syriza-led government recently ended a relationship of more than 20 years. What student politics and the Labour-Alliance split could not break, was destroyed by my friend’s extraordinary, and, from a distance of 18,000 kilometres, utterly inexplicable, animosity towards any left-wing iteration more exciting that Gordon Brown’s watered-down Blairism. Ending the friendship was made easier, I suppose, by the fact that he has, for many years, lived in Scotland, while I’ve been here in New Zealand. Had I been there, or he here, I suspect things would have come to a head a lot sooner – and it would have been a lot nastier.
My own personal setback has, however, made it a lot easier to understand the rapidly rising level of aggro afflicting the British Labour Party’s leadership election.
The rise and rise of Jeremy Corbyn is threatening to split the party asunder. The Blairite Right, like my former pal, simply cannot understand the 60-year-old backbench MP for the London suburb of Islington North’s burgeoning popularity. After all, the man is openly and unashamedly left-wing – an affliction which should have ruled him out of serious contention immediately. Even worse, Corbyn’s clothes look like they were bought at a jumble sale – and he has a beard! So why have upwards of 20,000 people joined the Labour Party on the strength of his candidacy? Why have his younger followers taken to chanting “Jez we can!”? And why, oh why, do people insist on abbreviating his name to “JC”?
The simple answer is that the Corbyn Campaign is offering people hope. It’s what the SNP offered the Scots, and Syriza the Greeks: a sense that, actually, something can be done; a better tomorrow is possible. Significantly, hope was the attribute most conspicuous by its absence from Ed Miliband’s appeal to the British electorate. That’s because, if my ex-mate is anything to go by, the Labour Right treats hope as the political equivalent of nitro-glycerine – useful in small amounts, and in strictly-controlled settings, but potentially devastating if tossed about all over the place. Labour must be very careful not to raise people’s hopes too high. Why? Because then they’d have to fulfil them!
The so-called “left-wing” British commentariat are, for the most part, marching in lock-step with the Blairite Right. Their argument against Corbyn boils down to: He’s going to win, therefore he must not win.
That the MP for Islington North is filling halls from Manchester to Luton is, according to the pundits, the best reason for not voting for him. The people turning out for Corbyn, they insist, are nothing like the rest of Britain. The latter know nothing about him, and care even less. Apparently, the only sort of person who can lead Labour to victory, is the sort of person who knows how to woo these know-nothing/care-even-less voters.
That sort of leader will, of course, be given his lines by professional political consultants, who will, in turn, have plucked them out of focus groups – filled with, you guessed it, know-nothing/care-even-less voters. The idea that a candidate like Corbyn might, if elected, be able to generate the same sort of hope and enthusiasm among know-nothing/care-even-less voters as he is currently generating among Labour’s rank-and-file, is dismissed out of hand. And yet, all that really distinguishes the people who are turning out in the hundreds to hear Corbyn, from the know-nothing/care-even-less voters, is that somewhere along the line someone gave them enough knowledge to make them care.
It’s what lay at the heart of the falling-out between me and my old friend: how we viewed the electorate.
To him, the voting public are nothing more than an abstract electoral resource – something to be tapped. They cannot be entrusted with important decisions because they lack the knowledge and experience required to make them. Political power properly belongs to those with the best understanding of how the game is played. The rest of us are merely punters to be convinced.
To me, there is always much more that unites the voting public than divides them. This is because, when all is said and done, they are human-beings with human needs. Left-wing politics should be about uniting the electorate around these most basic needs, and then allowing the resulting political energy to change society in ways that allow them to be met.
Corbyn’s speeches are not examples of great oratory, but they are peppered with collective pronouns. He talks about “we”, and “us”, and the things that are “ours”. And in the surge of solidarity such language inevitably generates, his listeners catch a glimpse of an alternative future. In Luton, it brought them to their feet. The youngsters chanted “Jez we can!” And their parents reached for Labour Party membership forms.
Such is the contagion of hope.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 6 August 2015.
You are right hat he is no great orator. But he speaks plainly and fluently enough. Mostly he radiates decency. You could imagine him as a friend - saying "Hello Jeremy what's up?" to him. Very interesting.
I helped out on Corbyn's campaign in 1997. He always referred to himself as a 'socialist'. Islington people didn't seem to mind.
I should imagine that the Tories are delighted to see Corbyn in the lead. His election would almost guarantee that they would win the next election. Michael Foot anyone?
A good and insightful article. I am picking what will bring him down is his support for illegal immigrants to receive "as right" all the support services that Britain gives to its citizens. This matter is becoming a political nightmare in Brit politics and Jeremy Corbyn is stating in no uncertain terms his support for benefits and services for every-one.
I entirely agree with you, Chris, about the significance of Corbyn's sudden and extraordinary ascendance.
I notice one UK commentator saying that this might inspire disaffected votes in Australia and NZ to similarly take a public stand against the bipartisan neo-liberal consensus. Sadly, I can't see anyone in our Parliament, or even outside it, who could rally the left the way Corbyn is doing.
Can you? (See anyone, I mean, not rally them yourself of course.)
It's not my business, Chris, but I'm sad to learn you've sundered a friendship over a political disagreement. By the time you reach our advanced ages, you're likely to have changed your mind multiple times over all manner of issues. But friendships can normally survive such twists and turns. But, as I say, it's not my business.
Wow, no comments so far! I'd read about a paragraph and it got me thinking of 'How on earth did Roger Douglas contemplate joining the the then Labour Party and then implement what he did?"
Did we see it coming?
I certainly didn't see it coming or I wouldn't have voted for the buggers. I mean there may have been indications, but if there were I missed them. Or foolishly thought that there was actually another way short of fucking up the country for years. There was certainly no inkling of the EXTREME right wing social engineering that was about to take place as I remember it. It was probably the most unethical political action in years.
Did anybody at the time consider that the actions of the Labour !!! Government might have been unconstitutional as per the party's rules?
What I think is going on everywhere to some extent is that people who don't normally take any interest in politics , are seeing that their economies are not working for the vast majority of them, but only and massively, for a few. Its the public searching in a political desert for fairer system that is seeking out Syrisa the SNP and Corbyn that has brought them to notice rather than that they are offering something different to what they offered in the past.
Cheers David J S
Actually, who knows what Corbyn would be like given power and responsibility. But still, the whole thing can't be any worse than that Republican clown car – oops, sorry, now that Trump's in it of course it's the clown limousine – going on in the US :-).
Corbynism and the rising left tide in other parts of Europe should give us all hope that the capitalist nightmare may have a happy ending.
Kezia Dugdale is tipped to be the new leader of the Scottish Labour party. She recently publically railed against support for Jeremy Corbyan by saying he could relegate Labour to "carping on the sidelines" for years "...but I want there to be a Labour government; otherwise I'm wasting my time. I don't want to spend my whole life just carping from the sidelines." Reading between the lines, for Kezia, representing any particular political principles is of secondary importance to the goal of (presumably Kezia) sitting on the government benches.
It's no doubt, a sentiment shared by many members of the Labour ancillary. Such criticism is the unchallenged acceptance that core labour movement principles, of which the party was founded upon, are unsupportable and render the organisation unelectable.
Harriet Harman, the current leader of British Labour caused headlines last month by refusing to oppose the Conservative Party's new Welfare Bill (which aimed to slash state assistance to the unemployed). "The party simply could not tell the public they were wrong after two general election defeats in a row, she said, adding it had been defeated because it had not been trusted on the economy or benefits". “What we’ve got to do is listen to what people around the country said to us and recognise that we didn’t get elected again.”
The clear message coming from grandees is that to be electable, the once revered party must become even more indistinguishable from the Tory government they oppose. With the Welfare Bill, all of the hopeful Labour leadership hopefuls (apart from Corbyn) aligned with Harmans lead in refusing to vote against the current round of Conservative Party inspired benefit cuts.
Jeremy Corban rebuked “If it is proposed that Labour MPs are being asked to vote for the government’s plans to cut benefits to families, I am not willing to vote for policies that will push more children into poverty. Families are suffering enough. We shouldn’t play the government’s political games when the welfare of children is at stake.” This is why Corbyn is providing hope to Labour's heartland while the consummate Blairite, focus-group-studying politicians do not.
The phenomenal juggernaut of support behind Corbyan shows a real desire from within a considerable section of the public for a rejection of the neoliberal consensus. In spite of such energised and broad support it would seem that many in the Labour party are simply more comfortable with Toryism than they are representing a movement of labour and the disaffected. At best it's a disgraceful paternalist condescension that ordinary plebs of society don't understand what's good for them. These functionaries simultaneously demonstrate their contempt for labour principles and for those they claim to represent.
The hope for Labour is not that Jeremy Corbyn can be leader. It's a demonstration that with Labour providing a consistent opposition to neoliberalism that the party can be reinvigorated as a dynamic movement.
No I read that Labour's five biggest donors say that they will withdraw funding if 'financially illiterate' Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership.
Well with a bit of luck, he will energise the members so much that the donors won't be missed. Barack Obama allegedly raised funds from the grassroots, and apparently Ron Paul is also very good at it.The proportion of private money going to Labour's falling anyway since they got rid of that evil lying bastard Blair. And there's always the unions :-). Though of course the enemies of democracy are trying to stop them doing that.Funny how the right have conniptions about union donations to political parties, when large corporations do this all the time without any protest from them at all.
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