The attitude of Tories towards Jeremy Corbyn ranges from amused condescension to an unseemly childlike and profoundly undemocratic glee as they dream of a country with no serious political opposition to hinder them . Blairites respond with poorly disguised incredulity to the probability that a man who does not buy into the NuLabour credo will become the next Labour leader and gnash their teeth and wail that a Corbyn led Labour Party will be at best cast into the wilderness of opposition for a decade or more and at worst rent asunder never to be a serious political force again. In the mainstream media, most of whom have sold their souls to the idea of free markets, free trade and the general paraphernalia of globalism, articles and editorials forecast the end of days if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister.
Interestingly, this hysteria has not diminished Corbyn’s popularity one whit and will probably help fuel his rise to what promises to be victory in the leadership race without the second preferences being counted. Why has Corbyn garnered so much support? The quick answer is he offers an alternative to the free market, free trade religion which has been fed incessantly to the public for decades as the only possible economic system for a modern state.
This immediately gives the man pull with those who have old Labour values, but he has attracted a much wider range of support. The young have flocked to his meetings. Surprising at first glance in view of Corbyn’s age, but readily understandable when it is remembered that British politicians generally have either failed to comprehend or refused to admit that the world they have created over the past 30-40 years is much tougher and more uncertain for today’s young than it was for them when they were young, with housing now hideously expensive, well paid jobs difficult to come by and university education leaving graduates with a debt of £40,000 or more and no suitable jobs to go to. Corbyn is offering concrete policies to help them, not least a huge social housing programme.
But it is not just the young who are suffering. There are millions of older people of working age through to those in retirement who no longer live a life with any real security, as they struggle with ever increasing private rents and zero-hours contracts. Corbyn speaks to them as he speaks to the young.
Finally, there are the huge numbers of people from across the political spectrum who detested the wars which Blair dragged Britain into and have a strong animus towards Blair himself. Corbyn shares their views, going so far as to state that Blair should be tried for war crimes.
Why did the British political class so misread Corbyn’s potential? The Tories as a breed are simply insensitive in their approach to the poorer sections of society. This is epitomised by their inability to understand that to those living lives of great economic uncertainty there is nothing more enraging than to be constantly told the colossal lie “We are all in this together” by rich politicians, as happened in so often Britain after the Lehmann crash in 2008. They simply assumed that those who were not comfortably off and secure in their jobs and housing could be ignored.
The most striking thing about the Corbyn phenomenon is not that he looks as though he will win the leadership election with policies which bear some resemblance to Labour’s old core values. No, the real eye-opener is how out of touch the Labour elite have become with the lives of ordinary people. They either believed they could manipulate the vote to get the result they wanted no matter what the electoral process was or so believed the Blairite gospel of free markets and globalisation that they simply could not conceive of people voting for someone who had the audacity to suggest that Old Labour ideas of state ownership and a disengagement from military adventures were the way forward. Whichever reason it was, the Labour leadership was willing to agree to a new electoral process which chooses the party leader on the basis of a one man one vote with the vote granted to not only existing party members , but also to affiliated union members and every Tom, Dick and Harry who coughed up £3 to register as a supporter..
The potential dangers for the Blairites in such a system (entryism from the left, enemies of the Labour Party voting and so on) should have been obvious, but they would have remained unimportant had Corbyn been unable to get sufficient support from Labour MPs to go on the ballot form. If there was no Corbyn in the race all that would have been left were varieties of Blairite to choose between. The Labour elite’s blind belief in the unshakable dominance of Blairism is shown in the readiness of Labour MPs to give Corbyn enough votes to put him on the ballot. Many who gave him their vote admitted it was simply to ensure there was a left wing candidate in the leadership, race much as Diane Abbott was placed on the ballot for the previous leadership election. When Corbyn entered the race his candidature was treated as a joke by the Tories and as of no more than a sentimental wave to Labour’s past.
In summary Corbyn is running rings around the other candidates because:
1) He offers something different. With him there is an alternative. The Blairites have been so feeble because like all dominant politicians they have not had to argue their case within Labour for a very long time. They ended up believing their own propaganda. Moreover, their case was never strong because Blairism is essentially Tory-lite plus political correctness writ large.
Blair hollowed out the Labour Party of all its core values: Thatcher did the same for the Tory Party. All we are left with are two neo-liberal internationalist parties wedded to globalism and political correctness. Corbyn is offering the chance of restoring some of those lost values to Labour.
2) Blairites and Tories are portraying Corbyn as a member of the extreme left. This is objectively wrong. Had Corbyn been putting forward his present ideas thirty years ago as Labour MP he would have faced accusations of being a centrist sell-out. Worse for the Blairites they do not understand that many people who are not rabidly left wing would welcome the energy companies, water companies, the Royal Mail and British Rail being returned to public ownership because they understand instinctively that absolutely essential aspects of the economy should be in public hands. For such people this does not seem like leftwingery but a government just looking after the national interest. Ditto protectionist measures to protect British industry.
3) The people who attack him including the other candidates and many Labour MPs offer no real argument against him. All they do is point at him and say either that he is absurd or is living in the past. They offer no real argument against what he proposes. On economics his opponents simply assume that anyone who does not unreservedly buy into the laissez faire religion is either mad or bad. The Tories and the Blairites are both making the mistake of imagining that pointing at Corbyn and shouting “socialist”, “looney left”, “nationalisations”, “unions” will make him profoundly politically toxic to the British electorate.
4) When he is attacked over potentially seriously damaging issues such as being rather too eager to sup with terrorists or the anti-semitic, his accusers go way over the top. For example, on his supposed equivalence between Isis and the USA in Iraq, Corbyn has condemned Isis pretty emphatically and simply said that where the USA has behaved badly it is reasonable to say that should be condemned as well. Or take his wish to see the railways renationalised by letting the licenses run out. All the laissez faire gentry are saying it cannot be done because of the cost and legal quibbles over ownership of assets such as rolling stock. This is obvious nonsense because the East Coast line was taken back into public ownership without any cost or difficulty and run efficiently. The effect of such exaggeration negates the criticism which could reasonably be put on Corbyn.
5) In the present circumstances Corbyn has the priceless asset of not having an aggressive personality. That makes the increasingly angry attacks on him seem absurd.
6) Corbyn actually answers questions rather than trotting out soundbites. Moreover, his answers mostly show he has been well prepared on anything which is likely to crop up. You may not agree with his policies – I disagree with many of them – but at least Corbyn presents a coherent plan of action for this policies.
7) He doesn’t panic when asked awkward questions.
8) Unlike the three other candidates Corbyn is a recognisable human being, someone untrammelled by focus groups and advisers or years in office being controlled by the party elite
- The other candidates haven’t got an ounce of personal authority between them. You watch them robotically trot out the NuLabour mantras and think, God, is this the best the Labour Party can do for a leader?
All that Corbyn promises may well turn out to be pie-in-the-sky. But that is to miss the valuable public service the man is doing. If Corbyn becomes leader, and perhaps even if he does not but makes a strong showing, the timeworn consensus between the Tory and Labour Parties will be broken. That alone would be a healthy development because it would force not merely the Labour Party to develop and justify its ideological position but also shift the Tory Party from a blind belief in laissez faire economics.
Corbyn, although a strange bedfellow, also has great utility for those who wish to leave the EU. He has given strong indications that he might well move to the OUT camp. To have the leader of one of our two major parties campaigning to come out would be a massive boost to the OUT campaign.