Corbyn, The Peril of Principles And The Start of Labour's Wilderness Years
So this is what the wilderness looks like. On Saturday 12th September Labour will become unelectable as members, affiliates, registered supporters choose the least experienced, least popular, least plausible candidate as leader. We are in unprecedented territory. Turkeys are not just voting for a Christmas slaughter, they are voting for Boxing Day seconds as well.
Despite this I cannot quite condemn those who support Jeremy Corbyn. They have every right to vote for policy positions they believe are just or moral. However, every poll I have seen shows him to be an unpopular choice; all the research I have read indicates that Labour failed in May because it was not credible on the economy and too left-wing. Corbyn is less credible and is more left-wing. By making a Tory victory in 2020 more likely, their principles will cause distress to the most vulnerable. That is the peril of principles. It is certainly not a rational choice.
The paradox of Corbynmania is that it is a grassroots movement voting for centralised solutionsCorbyn was nominated by MPs to keep the other candidates honest. Some of his analysis is fair. Not all of his proposals are ridiculous. The things he is against are things which it is good to be against: war, poverty, inequality. But the totality of his economic policies would probably hurt those they intend to help. His public service plans are grounded in a lost world. Economic drivers are different. Demographics have changed. The way we relate to institutions and authority has altered. Were Herbert Morrison to want greater public control over utilities today, I doubt he would nationalise them as he did in reality. Were Aneurin Bevan to devise a socialised health service today, I doubt he would create the same structures as he did in 1948. The paradox of Corbynmania is that it is a grassroots movement voting for centralised solutions.
Maybe the world Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters want would be fairer, more peaceful, more just. I do not have a monopoly on truth. But when I talk to a Corbynista I sense a lot of chance and obligation in their arguments: anything could happen before the next election; voters have to be less selfish; people should want to pay more tax. You cannot create Elysian Fields by treating people like pieces on a chessboard. It is the cult of idealism. Yet idealism that has no grounding in reality is merely intellectual cowardice.
He was not supposed to be elected. He has virtually no genuine parliamentary support. He may gain an electoral mandate, but his MPs have a greater one from 9 million general election voters. Leaving aside the absurd irony of calls for unity for the most rebellious MP, who gratuitously implied that Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes, it is faintly ridiculous for those who flirted with or even consummated relations with rival parties to expect others to fall into line now. Meanwhile, these converts to harmony rage against the “failure” of New Labour. Admittedly, as I grow older my memory gets worse, but I seem to remember ten years of economic growth, tax credits, the largest investment in public services in history, inequality falling, the Social Chapter, devolution in Wales and Scotland, peace in Northern Ireland, international aid increased, improved race relations, Section 28 repealed, civil partnerships introduced, Sure Start, the Equality Act... Do I need to go on?
New Labour had failures but it was not a failure. Over the last few weeks Corbynistas have called for unity (with a disingenuous “whoever wins”) but they expect it on their terms. It is rather like being given an etiquette lesson from Katie Hopkins. His supporters act as if their principles are somehow more valid than anyone else’s. It is rank and hubristic hypocrisy.
Corbyn should be allowed a fair hearing, if not unity, but he will face an onslaught from the mediaI doubt Jeremy Corbyn will last as leader. He should be allowed a fair hearing, if not unity, but he will face an onslaught from the media. Those who decry this should remember that they voted for him in full knowledge that The Daily Mail exists. They should remember that such attacks only work when they reflect pre-existing misgivings. When The Sun attacked Gordon Brown for carelessness in his condolence letters to the families of fallen soldiers, its mean-spiritedness backfired because Brown was a palpably decent, though flawed, man.
Faced with dismal polls and the prospect of electoral defeat, maybe Corbyn’s supporters will say that people do not really understand what he stands for. But you can bet if he struggles to articulate his message, David Cameron and George Osborne will help him. Usually Labour waits until the messenger has shot himself before it loads its guns. This time the public will not forgive the party for supporting a man so unsuited to leadership. If he is replaced, I expect those who ask for unity this week to repeat their calls.
Jeremy Corbyn could surprise me. Maybe he will build a reasonable programme for government. Should he do so I will happily admit my error. I chose Labour, I was not born into it. I swallowed doubts at the last three elections before voting. I do not know if I can choose to support so reckless a party at the next. I am aware that this would mean a Tory re-election becomes a little bit more likely. It is not an entirely comfortable position. Having observed politics all my life, detachment comes easily but, if anything, I am a democrat. I love its values. I love its complexities and imperfections. We are better people for living in a free society. There seems something morally perverse about accepting its bounties while excusing the iniquities of its enemies. It is not only distasteful it is dangerous. Such a man is Jeremy Corbyn.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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