The Political Battle Between Principles and Power

by Charlie_East_West on July 27, 2015


What would you rather have? A political party in opposition that believes in something or a political party in government that believes in nothing?

For me – principles must come first, ideally then followed by power. We have seen too many political parties completely ignoring principles for power.

The current surge towards Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest is now framed by a debate between those who want Corbyn to lead Labour towards a defining core set of ideological principles verses Blairites who claim that this path is out of date and out of tune with the mood in the country.

Corbyn is dismissed by Blairites and the vested interests of the right wing media as an analogue politician in a digital age. I beg to differ. Those who are against Crobyn or worry about the electability of Corbyn are the ones out of date. They are missing the whole point of Corbyn’s surge in popularity.

The surge in Corbyn’s support is due to him having the thing that should matter most in politics – principles. What on earth is the point in voting for a candidate or party that you are not sure what the fuck they actually stand for? After listening to Yvette Cooper & Andy Burnham try and sell their credentials to lead the Labour Party, I am still completely unclear what they are offering in terms of the direction of the Labour Party and the country. As for Liz Kendall – this is Blairism on stilts. Her policy on immigration appears to be more UKIP than Labour, and smacks of opportunism rather than belief.

Corbyn’s surge ahead in the leadership polling is not surprising, simply because he appears to be offering a set of policies that reasonate with many Labour supporters. Blairites and the right-wing media continue to lazily rationalise Labour’s general election defeat as the result of Ed Miliband taking the party too far to the left. In fact the opposite occurred. Labour lost Scotland because it was seen as losing its left-wing credentials by becoming a pro trident, pro austerity party. Labour also wobbled in the North of England and Wales because they failed to embrace communities that expected a clear and concise progressive message from Labour about providing an alternative path away from Tory-led neoliberalism. This message failed to materialise and as a result Labour became tarnished with a Red-Tories moniker.

Corbyn has recognised all of this. The media and Blairites have reacted to this outburst of popular anti-austerity Corbyn sentiment with horror and scaremongering – “Corbyn supporters are morons” | “Corbyn will make Labour unelectable” | “outdated protest politics” etc etc etc. This is profoundly wrong and comes spiked with the vested interests from Blairites and those within the Labour establishment who seek to protect their own power base – even if their own message is ideologically bankrupt and vacuous.

The problem with the Labour leadership in opposition is that it has failed to be a party of protest. As such, they have failed to be an effective opposition. Surely one of the key components of any “opposition” party is to oppose the government? When the likes of Cooper, Kendall and Burnham decide to abstain from the brutal Welfare Bill, this doesn’t exactly bode well for any of these three leadership candidates to provide effective opposition to the Tory government.

Labour’s lack of opposition since 2010 has cost them. It has destroyed their credibility. It has probably cost them votes. They probably lost the election because they became scared of their own shadows. Cutting to the chase – their lack of core defining principles and a lack of effective protest cost them power.

Corbyn’s appeal lies in the simple fact that being principled has a real appeal. His anti austerity message can work – if communicated in the right way. In Scotland, Greece and Spain, we have seen genuine anti-austerity parties having huge mainstream success. What Corbyn is advocating, is not some bat-shit crazy naive idealist rantings. What he is advocating is a well structured opposition to the Tories. An alternative path based on his own set of beliefs. And in this age and age, that is a pretty compelling proposition. His message has clarity, consistency and weight. The idea that most voters want to vote themselves into smashed public services and welfare through endless austerity is a delusion that the likes of the Daily Mail are desperate to manufacture.

Corbyn’s path also opens up the gateway to a big tent of anti austerity, anti Tory alliances – which could spread across the Lib Dems under Tim Farron, the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. Under a Corbyn leadership, the parliamentary alignment between all of these parties becomes more feasible and considering the Tories wafer thin majority (likely to reduce even further in parliamentary term by-elections) it would ensure that Tory Whips would have their work cut out to ensure legislative success against an widespread opposition cross-party block vote. That is effective opposition. Abstaining against a Welfare Bill isn’t. For Corbyn (as leader) to withstand the unleashing of hell from right wing media, big business and also Blairites, such wider alliances across the progressive party political spectrum would be almost essential for him to survive the onslaught.

Opponents of Corbyn continue to insist that the voters will never vote for his set of principles. Again, this is completely missing the point. Politics is changing fast. Voters are increasingly turned off by robotic political machine men and women dodging the answers, summarising in threes and offering no clarity about what they hell they stand for. I suspect that gets to the nub of Corbyn’s appeal. For a lot of those taking part or even spectating with interest in politics, choosing a party leader is not about assembling a governing majority and winning power at all costs. It is about chosing a leader or party that reflects their own set of values. It is about being true to yourself. It is about having principles. It is about having a set of beliefs that can then be communicated. If that then leads to power, then great. But even if it doesn’t, then at least some integrity has been maintained despite defeat. Just look at what the pursuit of power over principles did to the Lib Dems between 2010-2015. That didn’t exactly end well, did it?

Supporting Corbyn is about supporting a set of clarified principles. I tend to agree with this. I would rather support this than selling out towards arguments about electability and winning at a cost to principles – an approach that cynically requires a huge ideological compromise on what you believe in and about who you are.

This is why Corbyn is doing rather well. It is refreshing and heartening to witness that a man who cannot be bought by the establishment and with a set of principles still creating waves in the upper echelons of politics.

I leave you with this question: do you want a political party that prioritises power without principles or one that is intent on abiding by core principles? Cooper/Burnham/Kendall = former.
Corbyn = latter.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Fionauk512 July 27, 2015 at 3:00 pm

I’m for Corbyn, and I reject wholeheartedly the patronising view that I am either stupid, naive or a rabid lefty communist. You are so right about people in desperate need of something real and meaningful to vote for. hopefully people will see the press howlings for what they are and also see off the ‘more of the same’ candidates on offer. Corbyn represents hope and that’s a powerful motivator.


Charlie_East_West July 27, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Completely agree. Britain has lurched so far to the right that anyone who offers an alternative and well thought out vision of a progressive society is now seen as a left-wing extremist.

But, we now have extremism in capitalism. – which caused a huge financial crisis and the subsequent brutality of austerity.

All Corbyn is offering is a well thought out alternative to the busted flush of neoliberalism. It appears that a lot of people are listening/endorsing to what he is saying. This threatens both right wing media and power brokers in the Labour Party.

The fact that Corbyn is now seen as a threat, shows that he must be doing something right.


Pam July 28, 2015 at 4:16 am

Corbyn speaks honestly, clearly, sensible, pragmatic and socially desirable, socialist principles and is a breath of fresh air. Jeremy Corbyn has my vote. I I hope he does it. Labour can change.


Mike Killingworth July 31, 2015 at 11:42 am

JC is not a saint – he’s a politician. Evidence? Well, he let McDonnell and Abbott fly the “Campaign” flag in previous elections and has been rewarded with the most promising one himself. That isn’t only luck – judgment is involved too.

Still, I can assure you all (I knew him fairly well 30-odd years ago when we briefly sat on the Haringey Labour Group together) that he would almost certainly prefer to be diagnosed with an extremely painful illness than to be presented with the keys to No. 10 🙂


Fionauk512 July 31, 2015 at 7:56 pm

I don’t think there is a suggestion that he’s a saint, and wouldn’t it be great to have someone capable of good judgement? Hasn’t that been part of Labour’s problem, a severe deficit in good judgement? People know what he stands for, he has held consistent views over a long time in public service and is the antidote to the slippery wait to see how the wind blows appearance of the other candidates. What have we got to lose?


Chris August 15, 2015 at 12:16 pm

The reason so many old Labour defected to UKIP is Blairism, started by Kinnock and after Blair mindless slaves of fashion. There is no point having a Labour party devoid of redistribution, caring and compassion. Equally Labour now must think hard over its relationship with the unions who were really responsible for their demise with unrealistic demands and far too many strikes. God bless Jeremy!


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