It has been with some interest that I have viewed, as an outsider, the Labour leadership contest. One name has been spoken of far more than any other: Jeremy Corbyn. It seems quite possible, as is often the way by self-fulfilling prophetic medium that is the media, the attention paid to him may result in the success of his leadership bid.
Because the media has, under the direction of a small number of men, moved to the political right, that which is reasonable and formerly regarded as “centrist” is now called ‘the left’, often with a pejorative overtone. After all, how often do we hear of politicians or political commentators being introduced as ‘right wing’? The reason they’re not is that it is the assumed position. It is only those who differ from the prescribed political view who need to be labelled as different, as an outsider, as a threat.
It is precisely in this role that the media has cast Jeremy Corbyn, which has certainly gone some way to dilute attention paid to the campaigns of Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall. As has been evidenced by the ‘Tories for Corbyn’ campaign, the Conservatives are taking a risk that the media on whom they have been able to count for faithful support (in return for certain favours) will be able to cast such aspersions upon Corbyn that he will be seen as unelectable. And if anyone is seen to be unelectable, then they become unelectable.
Yet it is a gamble.
If it doesn’t come off then we will have, for the first time in many decades, a prime minister who doesn’t kowtow to the god of neoliberalism. What support Corbyn has is strong, but is it widespread? For a widespread but half-hearted support will always win an election against a fervent minority. For an example of this, I would point you to the result of last year’s Scottish independence referendum.
Corbyn’s campaign has undoubtedly stirred up the imaginations of those on the fringes of the party whose views have been marginalised in the last 20 years. But is he likely to win over the floating voters in the marginal constituencies in England and Wales that Labour would need, as well as win back the voters of Scotland who voted SNP in May?
The idea that Corbyn would be unable to do so is the main argument used against his leadership bid. There are some within the Labour party who think it is better to choose someone who could win an election; so long as they are in charge of a party called Labour, it doesn’t matter what their principles are. The idea being that a party called Labour is better in charge than the Conservative party, regardless of whether or not their policies are indistinguishable. Such a view is indicative of the collective move to the political right where power is the end goal, not service to society.
So for some, there is little good about Corbyn. To some in the Labour party, he must be stopped as he represents a possible hindrance to regaining power. To this end, he ought to be demonised and every flaw pointed out and made known so as to dissuade people from voting for him. Appeals are made back to Tony Blair, the only leader of a party called Labour who has won any general in the last 30+ years. The argument goes roughly like this: people may have hated Thatcher but she won elections; people may hate Blair but he won elections; people hate Cameron and he’s won an election; so it doesn’t matter what your policies are – so long as you have a good PR machine you can win power. That is far more important than having The Other Party in power.
It is partly because Corbyn represents a break from this hegemony that he is so popular, though one would be naive to think that he doesn’t have some advisors in his ear, telling him what to wear, how to make sure he is listened to and how to combat any negativity he may face.
Yet there is a danger inherent in choosing someone who makes a break from the norm. That is, that the reason they get chosen is because they are the only alternative. This can foster the belief that they are the best person for the job, when in fact they may not be, but the novelty factor may supersede any scrutiny that they may be placed under. With Corbyn, one factor that has been brought up is his unwillingness to condemn some terrorist organisations such the IRA and Hamas.
That said, the ‘Friends with Terrorists’ label never did Thatcher too much harm, given her support for Pinochet’s reign of terror in Argentina or Blair’s endorsement and participation in the illegal war against Iraq.
Still, the fact that he represents something different, could attract those who want ‘just anything different’. i.e. that people are so fed up with the norm that they accept the first new thing that comes along.
Whoever does win the Labour leadership (and at this point, my expectation is that Corbyn will win), they will not be perfect. They’ll make errors of judgement both in matters of policy and of PR. They are not the person who will be able to undo the Conservatives’ legacy of public sector cuts, underfunded services, selling off government property to the private sector at cut prices and a massive increase in the use of foodbanks.
The only advice I have is to beware of those who speak uncritically of Corbyn or any other candidate. If they portray their chosen candidate as the person to solve all of Labour’s ills, then they are not a person to listen to. For support is not the same as sycophancy and no one is perfect.