The Corbyn Conundrum

by Ray_North on August 4, 2015

imagesI go away for two weeks to Greece and when I come back Cilla Black is no longer with us, and Jeremy Corbyn is about to be elected leader of the Labour Party.

I have to confess that I saw neither of those things coming.

Putting Cilla aside. Let’s look at Corbyn, because his surge in popularity amongst the Labour rank and file and Trade Unions has provoked something amazing and almost unique in British politics – a debate.

Sadly, the debate doesn’t appear to be on the merits or otherwise of what Corbyn stands for, but whether the Labour Party would be foolhardy enough to elect as its leader a man who has ‘dangerously left wing views,’ and no obvious ‘sex appeal’.

In the couple of days since I came home, I’ve heard the likes of Neil Kinnock describe Corbyn as a dangerous Trotskyist, and the likes of Derek Hatton, describe him as the best thing since the invention of synthetic balalaika strings. I can tell you that the writers of this blog are split, and interestingly, those who are more dedicated in their support for the Labour Party are the most dedicated in their opposition to Corbyn.

And, I get that. It must be right that if Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party then the chances of Labour being elected in 2020 automatically become more difficult. Corbyn will be lampooned as a dinosaur, a man in hoc to the Unions, a Marxist, an apologist for just about every bleeding heart cause and sandal wearing beardy. The right-wing press will have a field day, and, alas, many will be put off voting Labour.

But, that argument cannot and should not be decisive – because, Politics surely, isn’t about abandoning your principles and beliefs and replacing them with the slick PR, media friendly, focus group dominated vacuity that has been the way for the last twenty years.

When I picked up my pencil in the polling booth in May, it hovered over the Labour candidate, but came down for the Greens. Why? Why couldn’t I vote for the putative Social Democract alternative? Why couldn’t I vote for the party who nominally believe what I believe? Why, because the modern Labour Party, the party of Blair and Brown and Mandelsohn bores and irritates me in equal measure. I remember listening to one of the Leaders debates on the radio in the week before polling – one very forceful member of the audience accused Labour of having no economic plan and of getting the country into an economic mess. I know Ed Miliband is a clever man, I know that he knows that the economic mess of 2008 onwards, wasn’t the fault of Labour spending, but on other factors such as their inability to regulate the City, the total incompetence of the banks, the rise of global financial markets and two really fucking stupid wars. Building schools and hospitals didn’t cause the collapse of Lehman Brothers, nor did it lead to a recession – but, alas, Ed Miliband failed to make any of these points, because the most important thing for him was to stick to the New Labour script which was in favour of austerity and cuts in fiscal expenditure. As a result the Labour leader sounded ineffective and confused – the biggest clap went to the questioner.

I can’t imagine Jeremy Corbyn making the same mistake. He is a man who actually believes in something. He would answer that question and other similar questions in an honest way, a way that perhaps Labour have not managed since John Smith was the leader.

Of course, I’m not saying that his answer would necessarily be correct (I don’t believe in the divine right of all things left), but it would be coherent and it would be honest, and that, I can assure those in the Labour Party who are understandably scared of electoral meltdown under Corbyn, will appeal to many voters in a far more profound way than the rehearsed, slick, safe, innocuous platitudes that we will get from Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper.

Labour must now realize that not many people care about the terms left or right anymore – indeed, I would wager that many of those who voted UKIP in May would be appalled at being described as right-wing. They voted for authenticity (though I accept that it is easy to sound authentic when your whole reason for being a political party is based around a single issue that polarizes opinion as deeply as Europe). Labour must also realize that they do not exist simply and solely to obtain and retain power – I’m not interested in a political culture where we have two main parties both wholly signed up to a neo-liberal economic theory, both claiming to dominate an increasingly right-shifting centre ground. Nor am I interested in a political culture where policies are determined by the doctrine of ‘let’s offend the fewest people’ and debate is discouraged. Jeremy Corbyn may, and I stress may, be a remedy for these concerns and failings.

Sure, some will say that I don’t care about the Labour party, and that if I did, I wouldn’t be advocating such a risky step, and, yes, I get that, it’s true, I don’t really care about the Labour Party as an entity in itself – but, I do care about the people who are being let down by an inadequate and unimaginative Labour Party and whose lives are being destroyed by a heartless government pursuing flawed socio-economic policies that only serve their rich friends.

And, yep, I understand that some will respond, fairly, to my last point, by saying that it is at odds with my concession that electing Jeremy Corbyn will make it harder for Labour to win an election. But, we are living in very turbulent times: in the UK, and elsewhere the right wing are leading us merrily into a dark, unhappy, unequal world – and they are doing it because there is an absence of dissenting voices an absence of individuals (with the honourable exception of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP and a few others) who are able to say, hold on, there is a better way.

I am not wholly convinced that Jeremy Corbyn is capable of providing that voice. But, I am convinced that someone needs to try, someone needs to be honest and principled and brave, and, thus far, whatever anyone says about his electoral capabilities, Corbyn has demonstrated those attributes far better than anyone else.

It’s a conundrum, but at the moment, I’d be inclined towards Corbyn – in fact I’ll go as far to say, that if he is elected, i’ll re-join the Labour Party – because, then i’ll know that it is, at least, trying to speak for what I believe in.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick August 5, 2015 at 6:16 pm

I find it interesting that many of those who are saying Labour will be unelectable under Corbyn are the same voices that predicted Ed Miliband would be our PM last election. We desperately need a progressive socialist option that Corbyn`s Labour would & the Greens do, offer. I actually think the British are finally waking up & ready to embrace this injection of sanity into our politics…really hope so anyway.


Charlie East West August 5, 2015 at 11:17 pm

I agree. It is a zeitgeist thing. There is something in the wind. Similar to Scotland last Autumn.

England finally has its independence referendum moment. Jeremy Corbyn just happens to be the Trojan horse. Right place. Right time.

“Win or lose, Jeremy Corbyn has already changed the rules of the game”


Hugo Shepherd August 6, 2015 at 7:13 pm

I’ve been Labour all of my life – following my Parents and my Craft teachers. There seems to be no end of calamities, with Tony Blair declaring weapons of Mass Destruction when in fact there were none there! Gordon Brown didn’t help, nor did Ed Milliband, although his Brother, David (MP for South Shield) I think would have been a better option for Prime Minister! It seems as though the comedy is hotting up with a Comunist in the wings ready to dance on Stage with a Kaleshnikov in one hand and new Powers to control the country! Hugo


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