Wednesday 2 September 2015

Leaving Babylon: The Effect Of A Jeremy Corbyn Victory.

Jeremy Corbyn Makes His Case: Some will argue that the events of the past 30 years, in both the UK and New Zealand, have so eroded the electoral support for democratic socialist principles and policies that any Labour manifesto based upon them is bound to fail. And yet, opinion polling in both countries shows solid majorities in favour of the public ownership and/or provision of those utilities and services considered essential to a wholesome and inclusive society.
ON 12 SEPTEMBER, the world will learn if the British Labour Party has opted to move sharply to the left. If that is the result, and, as the polls suggest, Jeremy Corbyn is decisively elected Leader of the Opposition, then the impact of the Labour membership’s decision will reverberate around the English-speaking world.
The reverberations of a Corbyn win will be especially loud here, in New Zealand. Not only because of the very strong personal links between the British and New Zealand labour parties, but also because of their very similar experiences vis-à-vis the policy aggression of their parliamentary wings, and its consequences for internal party democracy.
The year 1983 figures very prominently in the stories of both parties – and not only because that was the year Jeremy Corbyn entered the British Parliament. The British Labour Party ran for office in 1983 on a frankly socialist manifesto and were soundly defeated – receiving just 28 percent of the popular vote. This defeat prompted Labour’s critics to describe the party’s pitch to the voters as “the longest suicide note in history” – implying that an open appeal to vote for socialism was pure electoral poison.
This was certainly the lesson that the right-wing of the New Zealand Labour Party was to draw from the British Labour Party’s electoral drubbing. Labour MPs Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble argued strongly that their own party must, at all costs, avoid its British counterpart’s disastrous example. Very few New Zealanders, however, were aware that even as Douglas and Prebble were denouncing the policies of the Labour Left, they were eagerly imbibing far-right economic and social theories from selected Treasury officials.
The other factors leading to Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 victory were, naturally enough, downplayed (or not mentioned at all) by Labour’s right-wing faction. The effect of her stunning victory over Argentina in the Falklands War was conveniently ignored – as was the defection of British Labour’s leading right-wing MPs. These turncoats set up the Social Democratic Party to prevent a Labour victory, and, by forming an electoral alliance with the Liberal Party, that’s exactly what they did. Though the Conservative Party’s support fell by 700,000 votes in 1983, it was able, thanks to the vagaries of Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, to celebrate a landslide victory.
The full-scale assault on Labour’s core values, unleashed by Douglas and his faction, following the party’s 1984 general election victory, both demoralised and divided its supporters. Membership of the party shrank dramatically (from 85,000 to less than 10,000) and its outraged left-wing, frustrated at every turn in its efforts to wrest back control of the party, eventually split away to form the NewLabour Party (later the Alliance) in 1989.
Accordingly, it is possible to argue that, in the charismatic figure of the principled left-wing maverick, Jim Anderton, New Zealand has already had its Jeremy Corbyn. Certainly, Anderton played a crucial role in hauling Labour back from its “free-market” apostasy under David Lange, Geoffrey Palmer and Mike Moore. By the time Helen Clark (in coalition with Anderton) led Labour back to power in 1999, most of its far-right deformities had long since been lopped-off.
In Britain, however, Labour first had to endure the rise and rise of the man who, with the benefit of hindsight, might be called its “Anti-Corbyn” – Tony Blair. Rather than lead his party back to its ideological roots, Blair and his “modernisers” persuaded it to embrace what might best be called “Thatcherism-Lite”. In doing so, however, Labour effectively capitulated to an unforgiving coalition of the Left’s most effective opponents: the right-wing tabloids; the right-wing electoral spoilers in what was now calling itself the Liberal-Democrat Party; and that implacable enemy of all forces hostile to the claims of untrammelled greed – the City of London.
It is, however, a common feature of both the British and the New Zealand labour parties that, for the duration of their Babylonian captivity, by the waters of Neoliberalism, neither of their respective memberships ever forgot, or gave up hope of returning to, the Zion of democratic socialism, from which they’d been so ruthlessly uprooted.
Some will argue that the events of the past 30 years, in both the UK and New Zealand, have so eroded the electoral support for democratic socialist principles and policies that any Labour manifesto based upon them is bound to fail. And yet, opinion polling in both countries shows solid majorities in favour of the public ownership and/or provision of those utilities and services considered essential to a wholesome and inclusive society.
If Corbyn wins on 12 September, many political commentators are convinced that the reaction of left-wing voters, across the English-speaking world, will mirror the reaction of the French to their liberation by the Allies in 1944. Flags will be waved, and kisses freely exchanged, as the people welcome themselves back home.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 1 September 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Key the usual right wing trolls "this is really great for the Conservatives. I'm going to vote for Corbyn."

David Stone said...

At last a "Left Turn" ?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you it will be momentous, but not as big or as joyful as the allies landing in France. I wait with bated breath.

Brendan McNeill said...

Jeremy’s promise of ‘free leaks and onions’ may well be enough to lure sufficient voters out of Babylonian captivity, and back into Egypt’s welfare state where everyone is treated to ‘wholesome and inclusive’ slavery.

If the British voters prefer captivity to liberty, there are worse options than Babylon as Daniel, Shadrach Meshach and Abednego can attest - they all prospered there.

If they must embrace captivity, surely it’s better to choose an expression that provides reward for effort rather than go with Jeremy's Egypt with its forced equality and daily quota of bricks.

Wayne Mapp said...


Given your view that there is a strong majority against privitisation in New Zealand, how come John Key keep getting re-elected, with nearly 50% of all the votes cast? After three elections it is not as if New Zealanders have no idea what he stands for, including the partial sell down of SOE's, charter schools and other forms of contracting out of social services.

You could, if your lobbying is successful, persuade NZ Labour to put up a Corbyn style platform for the 2017 election. Then we would all know its actual electoral appeal.

peteswriteplace said...

We wait in anticipation of a return to the future.

Anonymous said...

Of course, France then had de Gaulle for decades, and wars in most of its colonies.

A comparison with Iain Duncan smith seems more appropriate.

Chris Trotter said...

Good Lord, Brendan! I thought you were a better biblical scholar than this comment reveals you to be.

Moses led his people out of Egypt to the Promised Land.

Eventually, the Children of Zion were released from their Babylonian captivity and returned to the Promised Land.

When I was a lad, messing with the content of The Holy Bible was called blasphemy.

Don Robertson said...

The problem with Corben is all those unanswered questions - will he destroy Britain or just the Labour party? Can the Tories govern without an effective opposition? Will his leadership be safe without the confidence of the parliamentary party? Does he have a nice kitchen? Not to mention the questions that haven't been asked yet.

I'm sure that when the media focus on these - the real issues - he won't be so popular. And when lefties like that nice Mr Blair question his suitability ... well, it makes you wonder. Now Mr Blair is no longer one of the horsemen - oops, I mean, the quartet, he'll be able to take more time out from his charitable endeavours and focus on domestic politics. He'll set us - er - right.

And I've heard some really bad things about him. Not just he wants separate trains for women, but he wants to make same-sex marriage compulsory and allow school children to use heroin in class. It sounds bizarre, but I'm sure that the media will report the existence these rumours fairly and in a balanced manner, and give him time to deny them.

It is early to say definitively yet - we still have to see if he can eat a bacon sandwich - but he needs to be clear about his plans to collectivise farming and establish gulags. Until he does so, I remain sceptical.

Jigsaw said...

If Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership of the Labour Party in the UK that will cement in the Conservatives for at least until after the next election and probably well beyond (assuming of course that he actually stays there and the party doesn't split). Just wishing something doesn't make it happen. I recall how TIME magazine proclaimed Jim Anderton as the furture PM of this country-look what happened to that idea.

Anonymous said...

Chris I agree that Jeeza is a return to the heady days long forgotten, I love him for his lack of pretentsions - the man is genuine and truly believes in what he says, I also agree strongly with your view that he will galvanise and energise the left, who have been scorned and ignored and have no voice under FPP in Britain.

I cannot however see how he can grow the parties support. Where are the votes coming from, you can't honestly believe Conservative or UKIP supporters will muster under the scarlet banner of Corbyn socialism, do you still honestly believe in the gimcrack "missing million".

Ive been reading a lot about Jeeza and I think hes in for a horror few years, firstly the Conservatives are planning to change the law so members of affiliated unions have to write written consent to have part of theyre dues funneled to labour - effectively bankrupting the party.

Secondly the Conservatives are changing the electoral boundaries in a way which technically is fairer as it leads to similar sized electorates, but which hugely advantages the conservatives.

Thirdly the Conservatives are lining up policies in a way that when he first goes to question time he will have to take positions on NATO, housing, welfare etc which will make him look far to the left of the median voter - a horrific start for a new leader.

Finally and most fearsome will be the almost certain revolt by conservative cuckoos from within the labour party, some of it will be overt contempt and disloyalty, the more dangerous will be the leaks and covert operations to white ant and destroy him.

If and when he falls there will be a complete purge of the labour left wing and Im sure the labour party will resist any attempts at electoral reform to eliminate the left from the halls of political power completely - annihilation in other words.

pat said...

speaking of the quality of politicians.....

greywarbler said...

I liked your analogies Chris. Oh Lordy Lordy lead us to the Promised Land.
I'll listen to the clip of As I went down to the river to pray with Alison Krauss - there are two versions - (O Brother Where Art Thou.)

It sounds as if Jeremy Corbyn is pulling them in like a modern Billy Graham and with more sincerity. I hope the media pile it on, he will get a sympathy vote and deserve it too.

Anonymous said...

For a non hysterical opinion piece comparing the radical Corbyn to an equally Radical Lady who came from the wilderness and won 4 elections in the UK quite a few years ago, the lady wasn't for turning and whatever your politics you've gotta respect Corbyn - he's not for turning either.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Brendan, given that poverty – especially child poverty – is rising in Britain, and that the Tories are trying to redefine it so as to look as if it isn't, I think a lot of people might prefer a decent social welfare system rather than your wacky idea of relying on family and friends to see them through.Particularly those who are feckless enough to make bad decisions.Incidentally Brendan, still waiting for your Islamic theological qualifications. Are you ever going to provide them? Don't tell me the delays are because you have joined a madrassa and are taking religious instruction? Or begun a course on comparative theology? If this is the case, I will grant you the time to catch up :-).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Wayne, you of all people should know that what the public wants and what the politicians give it are often two different things. For instance, over 80% of Americans want some reasonable form of gun control. Are they going to get it?
And you should know why we're stuck with this situation, because you lot began to introduce personality politics. People take a damn sight less notice of policy now than they used to that's for sure.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

One thing you can say about Corbyn – he's dragged the conversation to the left. Similarly with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. (Actually that woman is so bright I'd like to have her babies :-).) After years of whack jobs like Trump and Farage dragging it to the right. I notice the Tories are beginning to talk slightly more left-wing even if they don't walk the walk. Opposite reaction in the US of course but then all the Republicans are trying to out-Trump Trump. Good luck with that :-).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Incidentally guys his name is at the top of the page. Do you think you could spell it right?

Bushbaptist said...

I can smell the sweet stench of fear in the Rightwingers here! I wonder why they are so afraid of Jeremy?

Are they so afraid of the Corbyn Contagion spreading here?

Heck! They can't allow true democracy to take root here and unset their fantasyland.


Gerrit said...

One of the problems a socialist government will face is the interwoven private ownership of assets it will want to nationalise without compensation.

For example a proper socialist government will nationalise all electric power generation and distribution systems.

Great yell the workers, their red flags a waving like the liberation of France all over again.

Until they realise their KiwiSaver account will take a haircut if their investors has included those publicly owned shares in their portfolio.

Similarly Auckland workers will find the annual AECT dividend is no longer being paid and their $2B joint ownership has reverted back to the state.

So yes sing the song and wave the red flag but lets see the policies and how the people will measure the consequences before inviting everyone to the circus.

For when the policies are announced and the tax hikes allocated, lets see if the Labour party is still electable.

Am actually really looking forward to the leftward positioning of the Labour party and what the policies will be, plus the reaction to those policies by the voters.

Anonymous said...


"how come John Key keep getting re-elected, with nearly 50% of all the votes cast?"

Because most NZers are venal and ignorant, as a five minute conversation with any voter would show you. Next question.

Anthon said...


Interesting level of fear mongering you put in there.

A left wing government 'will nationalise without compensation', will it?

Perhaps. Or perhaps it will return to people what they paid for it. Or some other deal that people find acceptable.

Taxes will go up, will they? On everyone, will they?

Perhaps. Or perhaps there will be a wide ranging conversation that focuses on those who gain the most and earn the most paying more. Which even my conservative friends say is what should be happening.

So yes: perhaps a left wing government will "impose, tax and burn". That is obviously your hope/ fantasy. Or perhaps - and this is FAR more likely - they will govern responsibly, consulting people on more significant issues than the colour and style of the flag.

Gerrit said...

Anthony Rimell,

I guess I did not myself clear enough. The thrust of my argument is that the election of a Labour government depends upon the policies it espouses.

Now if some of the socialist polices are to be enacted, there will be multiple levels of conflicts such as I have outlined.

Today's worker has much higher financial stakes in all manner of property such as KiwiSaver funds, personal retirement saving, residential housing, etc. Something my cloth cap wearing grandfather never ever had when he based his socialist policies on collective ownership and profit sharing.

Why is it called "fear mongering" when asking quite simple questions and proposing a conversation on projected policy direction?

One starting point is just the one I raised, nationalisation with or without compensation? Is it that hard a question to ask? If it is to be without, there are is large block of worker voters that have "skin" in that scenario and as such the policy may prove un-electable.

I guess am looking past the euphoria of the victory and seeing what will be in store for the worker.

Biggest problem I see for the left is trying to win a victory without policy *the right's spin doctors will have a field day!!).

Never going to happen if the Labour party cannot do better then the sales message on its CGT proposal it tried to get voters to buy into (with disastrous results) it will never sell any other left wing policy.

Bushbaptist said...

Let's have a real look at those bad old Socialist days here.

From 1945 to about 1084 NZ had the wealthiest middle class in the history of the country, The Working Class had really full employment and those few who didn't work were really un-employable. Workers wages for 40hr weeks was sufficient to live on and still have some to save or spend. Shops were closed on Sundays so at least the workers in them had a day off with their families.

Cars were noisy, cranky, smelly monstrosities but one could fix them with a few spanners and screwdrivers. Even an ordinary working man could save up and buy his own house. Public transport was a service and anyone could afford to travel anywhere in the country. Govt. bureaucrats would actually help people not hinder them.

Taxation was much fairer with those who made the most from our society paying more for the privilege, Managers got 30 times the workers income, today it's close to 380 times! And inflation was something that only happened to car tyres.

Local Councils employed their own workers to do the maintenance, now there are too many chiefs and not enough indians in our councils.

We have more regulations controlling our lives today than we ever had in those "Bad Ole Daze".

Don Robertson said...

Bushbaptist said...

Correction: 'From 1945 to 1984' is what it should read. Sticky keyboard!