Michael Foot campaigns in 1983
I’m a leftie.
It’s something I’m proud of, and it is a core part of my identity. I come from the northern tundra of leftieland, raised on a diet of despising Tories and taking turns on Night Watch looking out for fascists on the horizon. My parents were trade unionists and I have been elected as a representative at school, university and at work. I am an attack dog serving to savage those who seek to increase inequality across sex, class, disability, gender, nationality and race. I am forever suspicious of nationalism, I believe in the binding unity of globalization and commerce. I hold precious the notion of essential public services being run specifically in the best interests of the public. My mantra is, was and will always be ‘From each according to his or her ability, to each according to their needs’.
While my chief concerns revolve around making society fairer and protecting the vulnerable, many of my colleagues on the left have more powerful ideological dogmas to follow. I am not a Marxist; I find Marx to be better understood as a critic of capitalism and a keen analyst of history up to his own time. I am not a Trotskyite, although were I ever to indulge in real radicalism I feel that I’d probably be best placed under Trotsky, given that he is almost certainly my favourite Communist. I find myself more in the vein of Rousseau than that of Robespierre. I have no time for Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Chavez or Castro, the idea of the vanguard party and dictatorship of the proletariat at odds with my instinctive championing of free thinking and the importance of questions over slogans.
Labour’s performance at the last election was damning. I woke up the morning after with a sense of doom comparable to that of a man living a double life that just sent the wrong text to the wrong woman. I had managed to convince myself that it was nigh-on impossible that the Tories might cobble together a working majority. I was deluded by the polls, by the surprising competence and strength of Miliband during debates and the actual campaign. The scale of the loss gutted me, and shook my core beliefs surrounding politics in the United Kingdom. It was compounded by the fact that in the run up to the election I had been devoting a strange amount of time to researching the events of previous elections, all the way back to Anthony Eden. I educated myself by proxy on Militant, Bennism and the impotence of Labour in the 1980s, discovering some hard-to-stomach truths about the party to which I have tribal devotion. To me the worst thing about the election result was the rejection of the most left wing Prime Minsterial candidate since Michael Foot; Ed Miliband, despite his presentation flaws and lack of bite, was in many ways the best PM we will never have. Rejecting socialism of the 21st century seemed, to me, the final nail in the coffin for genuinely leftist platforms. Wort of all, it meant five more years of the Tories.
The scramble between candidates for the Labour leadership in the wake of Miliband’s resignation has led to scenes which parallel those I encountered during my pre-election UK politics nerd-binge to such an extent that it bewilders me. People are asking me on a daily basis what I think about Jeremy Corbyn, pregnant with expectation that I’m about to fall to the ground and sing high praise to a proper socialist. However my answer is causing more confusion; I think Corbyn is probably the worst possible outcome of this leadership election.
My principle objection to Corbyn is that he’s a gift to the Tories. The story goes that Osborne was orgiastic when he heard the news that Ed had beaten David. Jeremy Corbyn is the medicine for all of Osborne’s strategic ills, and we all know how much George loves marvelous medicine. I won’t patronise by trying to paint a picture of where the political centre ground has shifted exactly, because I contest that at this stage nobody really knows. What is certain, however, is that Osborne’s danger has always been that of the veil of obscurity being lifted from his strategy, with naked Tory policy outed as the extremism that it truly is (think to how desperately Osborne rowed back on his Autumn Budget when the ‘back to the 30’s’ soundbite caught on). Corbyn provides Osborne with cover, masking his own extremism by pointing out how extremist Corbyn is in so many other ways.
We’ve been here before
Now I do not consider Corbyn’s economic or social policy to be particularly extreme at all. It is a little further left than I’m used to, but he isn’t a Marxist and he’s not espousing full blown Bennism. The problem is that the truth is often of minor importance in these matters; perception is everything, and right now the Tories control perception. The idea that Jeremy Corbyn will be able to change the terms of debate through plain speaking, intellectual integrity and rustic charisma, like a messianic Farage for the left, is pure fantasy. The rough treatment doled out on Kinnock and Miliband will be like tickling by comparison. He is going to be savaged, and the electorate will pay heed. It is a shame, because I think Corbyn will likely show more economic pragmatism than some on the right of the party will give him credit for.
Corbyn’s most extreme leaning is in his Foreign policy, and this where I disagree with him most strongly. Leaving Nato, unilateral disarmament and near pacifism are admirable but entirely unacceptable positions to me and many others, left or right. His parliamentary career is a goldmine of easily misrepresented statements, pledges and petitions involving dubious and sometimes outright-strange characters and causes. I believe that the mediocrity of a Burnham, Cooper or Kendall is far less dangerous in the long term than Corbyn, who is a cardboard cut out of the Tories’ perfect opposition.
They’re good at this. That’s the problem.
I do not blame Corbyn for any of this. I think he’s taken a very brave and uncharacteristically opportunist position and it’s clearly chiming with the bulk of the Labour support. Furthermore he’s conducted himself with admirable decency, refusing to get drawn into mudslinging (except when baited by Tony Blair). He has been remarkably savvy and has said much of nothing, focusing his campaign on emotion rather than policy. The few tidbits of policy he has spoken of have been modernising and genuinely socialist, with the highlight being the Obama influenced National Education Service. The other candidates failed to use Corbyn’s far left positions to differentiate themselves and highlight their own strengths. Pathetic as this is, the Tories will not fail to do so. They have ancient tomes, written in hemoglobin and bound in human skin that detail exactly which form of witchcraft is necessary to not only undermine any potential danger or opposition from a Corbyn led Labour, but also to sow salt in the fields and ruin any budding promise. Do not delude yourself. The Tories are not ‘running scared’ of Jeremy Corbyn and neither are the establishment. There is no complex double bluff, they really are looking forward to this. It’s actually bringing them together at a time when they’re on the verge of splits themselves, given the small majority and advance of UKIP. There are absolutely no negatives to a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour for the Tory party, which is why they’re currently keeping schtum, indulging in the old maxim- ‘never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake’. The panic is on the right and centre of the party, those who know how this plays out and are left impotent to prevent the looming tragedy. They’re now thrashing and spewing, foaming with incredulity at the old style left for having the gall to succeed with their platform. It’s pouring gasoline on the fire, as in this world any warning based in fact, history or reality is put in a box named ‘Project Fear’ and sent to the moon.
Reality, it would seem, is a scarce resource at the moment. The mass delusion that swept the SNP to a galling victory during the election is beginning to infect the wider left, willing to set aside disbelief in the name of a promise that rings true to their souls; Scottish Nationalism up north, the dismantling of the neo-aristocracy down south. It is alarmingly clear that Corbyn is due to win, with Blairite witch hunts in full swing. A Blairite has become anybody who disagrees with a 1980’s socialist platform, anybody who thinks there is some heavy value to national security, anybody who finds environmental issues a low priority, anybody with a fundamental suspicion towards appeasing the likes of Russia. I have been called the worst thing it’s possible to call a person such as I- I have been accused of being a ‘Tory’. ‘Why don’t you just go and join the Tories’, is something that someone has actually said to me. I found it baffling and incredulous, but then it happened again.
I am now resigned to the fact that Corbyn is going to win, and I’m not going to join the Tories. I’m going to do what I’ve always done; take a sensible, pro-socialist position on most issues while attacking any wrong that the Tories do like a rabid, mangy dog. When the dust has settled and the apocalypse of the left has cemented Tory hegemony I may offer up an ‘I told you so’, but I have no intention of doing anything other than carrying on the fight. I would advise the genuine Blairites, the soft leftists, those on the actual right of the party and supporters of Lib Dems, Greens, SNP or anybody else who wants to remove the Tories and burn their bones to do as I plan to do, and I would advise the neo-80’s crowd carrying Corbyn to victory to accept us as part of them. I concede that it’s your turn.
Just don’t call me a Tory. I’m a man of History and a man of Realities, not a man of emotion. Maybe my weakness is my lack of trust in the possibility of a genuine sea-change in British politics. Maybe it’s my protectiveness of the disabled, the disadvantaged and the downtrodden that unnerves me so when faced with the prospect of Bennite Labour, certain in the knowledge that the Tories will take full advantage.