I’ve had quite a few messages in recent weeks asking me about my thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to become Labour leader. Most of them have basically been recruitment pleas from his supporters trying to get me to either publicly ‘declare’ for Corbyn or to sign up as a ‘three quidder’ and vote for him.
If you are following me on Twitter, you’ll appreciate that this is not an unreasonable request. I’ve been sharing a fair few pro-Corbyn pieces and sniping viciously at the other contenders in the race. I’ve also had a couple of (deserved) barbs reminding me that when the broad Labour left announced that Corbyn would be their candidate, I issued a plaintive sigh that there wasn’t anyone who felt a bit more current and relevant. I compared the Labour left to the bearded old men sitting muttering into their pints in one corner of a pub that has been gentrified all around them.
On that point I can only hold up my hands and confess the whole ‘Corbynmania’ phenomenon has startled and astonished me. I did not remotely see it coming, a failure of judgement I shared with pretty much all observers and commentators, not least Jeremy Corbyn and most of those who nominated him.
With four holiday weeks to go until the election, it now looks more likely than not that Corbyn will become the next leader of the Labour party. I will not be signing up to vote for him, but i will cheer loudly if he wins. Allow me to explain.
As I see it, our so-called parliamentary democracy is a fraud. It is not a system that allows the populace to control the mechanisms of multinational capitalism, it is a system that allows the mechanisms of multinational capitalism to control the populace. Any illusions to the contrary should have been blown away by the ideological triumph of neoliberalism in the 1980s and 90s. Margaret Thatcher seldom said a truer word than when she declared that New Labour was her greatest achievement. Since 1994 Britain, like the US, has been choosing between political options which are barely a few degrees apart on the political spectrum. I am not saying there is no difference between Labour and Tories – Labour do show a genuine compassion and concern in place of avarice and self-interest – but the key point is that neither party in any way threatens or disturbs the oligarchical power of the corporate executives, the money-changers and the moguls.
I honestly do not know if Jeremy Corbyn could ever win a general election. My gut says no, but then my gut said he could never even get close to winning the leadership, so what do I know? Where I would be certain is that if he did one day become PM, he would be unable to implement any genuinely socialist reforms. Leaving aside the ever-increasing web of international law and treaties which cement governments into neoliberal economic policies (of which the approaching TTIP is but the latest example) there is a more brutal, less subtle outcome on the horizon – the corporations, the bankers, the traders could and would simply pack up the bulk of the nation’s wealth and up sticks to a more “conducive” market and bankrupt the country in a retributive act of grand larceny.
A Corbyn-led government in 2020 would therefore be a bitter disappointment at best and economic calamity at worst – not because Corbyn would be running the country, but precisely because he wouldn’t be. And all of that is why I cannot in good conscience make myself part of an internal, Labour party leadership election, it would help to dignify a process in which I have no faith.
So why, for all that, will I cheer and celebrate wildly if Corbyn wins? It will not be because I believe in Corbyn, but because I believe in Corbynmania. The sudden outpouring of radicalism, the wave of hope, the demands for a different kind of politics all add up to one of the most inspiring moments in recent political history. With hindsight, the near-total devastation of the Labour party in Scotland three months ago was not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a much wider existential crisis within a Labour party that is now almost entirely adrift from its origins, its natural grassroots and even its very raison d’etre.
The most grotesque spectacle thrown up by the leadership race has been the cabal of ex-Blairite centrists within the media-Westminster establishment who have been openly mocking any expression of idealism, especially that of younger generationx. Owen Jones yesterday accurately described how: “Some of these commentators huddle together on social media, competing over how snarky and belittling they can be towards those oh-so-childish/unhinged/ridiculous (delete as applicable) Corbynites, unable to understand that rare thing, the birth of a genuinely grassroots political movement. And that’s the problem: this snarkiness is all some seem to have left. “
Today those people have been in near-hysterics because last night Brian Eno said, at at a Corbyn rally, that “electability isn’t the most important thing.” The condoscenti have been hooting and howling, entirely oblivious to the patent truth that it has been the cynical pursuit of electability at all costs which has made the modern Labour party all but unelectable. Just look at the pathetic platitudes spouted by Kendall, Burnham and Cooper in lieu of a policy platform, transparently terrified of actually presenting concrete policies which could perhaps be debated or disputed.
Amongst all the commentary, perhaps the most astute and incisive analysis has come not from Blairites or the Labour left but from a Tory. A couple of weeks ago, Matthew D’Ancona explained why the Conservatives should not celebrate the rise of the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn, but should be deeply fearful. Whatever Corbyn might achieve in government is a distant question, but what he might achieve in opposition is a different prospect.
As D’Ancona notes, Corbyn’s successful leadership bid and then his presence at the dispatch box and in the media would inevitably drag the whole terms of debate to the left. Assumptions which go unquestioned with a neoliberal New Labourite leading the opposition would suddenly be up for challenge, up for debate. For many years now, distinguished economists, including many Nobel-prize winners and voices of similar renown, have been pointing out the broad idiocy of austerity policies. A Corbyn leadership would surely bring those debates into the mainstream.
I genuinely do not know what a Corbyn victory in September might achieve, but I do know it would act as an earthquake under the complacency and stasis of contemporary Westminster politics. Nothing could ever be the same again. It might be the beginnings of a genuine new left movement, which would be long overdue. It could spark all kinds of rifts and schisms in the Labour party, which may well also be long overdue.
There are those who imagine the Corbyn phenomena to represent a sudden reawakening of the radical left in Britain. There’s a little bit of that, I am sure, but there is something bigger going on. This is a sudden reawakening of the democratic left. People, first in Scotland, now elsewhere, came to a collective moment of realisation that the system no longer represents them and their values. They felt alienated and detached from political power. Rallying to an alternative – whether the soft left, nationalist alternative of the SNP or the socialist alternative here – is not really an endorsement of a specific agenda or policy platform, but an assertion of democratic power. It may be ill-fated, it may be unrealistically romantic, but it is real, it is important and it is happening right now.
So I’m still not signing up to vote for Corbyn, but Corbynmaniacs? You have my unwavering support.