I wrote a version of this blog before the announcement of the snap election and the local election results – so some editing has been required. In the original blog, I said that I would like to see Jeremy Corbyn fight a general election, even though he would struggle in the media climate. Now the moment is here and, I can’t lie, I feel scared.
For some time now, after Brexit and Trump and all the ugly conflict and the attacks on equality and community, I worry that we are witnessing not just the end of socialism, but the end of democracy. We live in a time when the head of UK government can say that people cannot stand together if they have different views, and calls on an electorate to eradicate opposition (Fascism 101). We live in a world where the president of the USA can make laws to exclude based on no more than someone’s race.
We live in a country where a man who calls for equality, for adequate funding for education and healthcare, for protection of the rights of the workers, for corporations to pay fair tax, for respect for everyone in society, is ridiculed as a idealist and a fool.
In the face of these odds, in light of these opinion polls, staring possible defeat in the face, do you stand by your principles? Do you defect? Labour’s poor showing in the local elections suggests that we are in for a long winter of thin Tory gruel. Will you change colours now, in the hopes that your masters will take pity on you?
We’ve all been there; the bully isn’t picking on you, he’s picking on the guy next to you.
“Look at this beardy idiot!”
“Everyone hates you.”
Literally attacked from left and right, Jeremy Corbyn has become the whipping boy for the country’s ills. Forgotten are Miliband’s dismal results at the last election (where Labour lost 48 seats in a race they were tipped to win). JC has taken more flak for Brexit than David “swift-exit-stage-right” Cameron.
We have stood by and watched as whatever JC has said or done has been held up in the media as incompetent, communist, laughable, and most damaging, as unpopular. Even when he says that with which no one would reasonably disagree, he is ignored or derided.
His peers on all sides on the House have commended his sincerity and integrity. He has a long record of public service, of standing against injustice. No one denies that he is genuine and passionate, and means what he says.
It’s obvious why the Tories would want to undermine him, but why have his own party and so many Labour voters turned against him?
I am one of those people who joined the Labour Party because of Jeremy Corbyn. If that displays a lack of sophistication in my political thinking, if my views are discredited by my Johnny-come-lately subscription, I make no apology for it. My opinion has no less weight than the more politically educated or involved. I have always struggled with party politics. I have found party leaders too pompous, too out of touch and considered their policies too much of a compromise. With JC, I finally heard an agenda to which I could give my wholehearted support.
As a pacifist, it makes me happy in parts of my soul that have hitherto only fed on fantasy, to know that the leader of the Opposition believes that it’s best to pursue non-violent solutions. JC is accused of being un-patriotic, but there is no greater respect for lives lost in war, than seeking to prevent further conflicts. The horrors reported by WWI survivors – our ‘never again’ – remain the reality for millions of people around the world today. Estimates suggest that 55,000 children have been killed in Syrian war. And pacifism is considered crazy? JC does not call himself a pacifist, but his answers on these subjects make it clear that he considers military action to be a last resort and an extreme decision to take.
It seems to me that non-military solutions, true equality, the dissolution of borders and ending poverty are all part of the next stage of human civilisation, the next step in social evolution. Democracy has made these aims possible, but now we are allowing the old powers-that-be to gradually erode the system which has brought a better quality of life to all British people. We enjoy privileges that people risk death travelling across continents to access. But we have become so concerned about making sure we don’t share our wealth with these ‘interlopers’, that we don’t realise that we are destroying it for ourselves. The problem with deciding that some people should be outside the fence is that you never know when someone will decide you are an outsider too.
JC enjoys popular support among Labour party members but, despite this, is openly vilified by his own MPs (the PLP). Whatever JC’s shortcomings, it is undoubtedly the PLP’s lack of art that has fuelled Labour’s slump in the polls. Not only have they displayed a contempt for democracy and a lack of loyalty, they have failed to find in their ranks a suitable alternative. How can a country be asked to select someone that his own MPs refuse to support?
My Facebook universe is distinctly left-leaning, but the pro/anti Corbyn camps are evident. Even I have come to doubt whether Labour can provide effective government, while such divisions exist. Labour is like the family brawling on Jeremy Kyle, while the gentler classes destroy each other behind closed doors. Just as in the US, where the Democrats seemed to deride Bernie Sanders more than the Republicans did Donald Trump, this self-destruction is hard to fathom.
The PLP have allowed contempt to focus on Corbyn – no doubt hoping to pick up the pieces after the election with a new leader. But, and imagine me here as King Kong beating his chest and making this whole island shake when I roar: “THIS IS A MISTAKE!”
The left has been in decline for some time, and the Tories and their media cronies have capitalised on these latest problems to quicken its demise. By allowing Corbyn to be the easy target, Labour has offered up the country’s hard-won socialist legacy with him. Corbyn – the embodiment of traditional leftist values – has become a modern Guy Fawkes, that they can’t wait to throw on the bonfire. The reasons 35% of Labour supporters voted for Brexit were established long before JC was made the scapegoat.
The focus on JC distracts from the right’s sustained attack on welfare, and free healthcare and equal education, and personal liberties and privacy. We’re all watching the floor show while the Tories and big business interests are loading all the valuables into the back of a truck.
JC is not without fault. He has failed to balance his principles with the political need for self-promotion. He chooses not to play the game but he makes himself look like he doesn’t get the game. He can be awkward. He wears naff clothes. We love strong-minded and challenging orators but JC feels that his message should stand on its own merit, with no need for soundbites or spin. He refuses to inject humour or respond to Theresa May’s attacks with wit and charm. Instead he always rises above it. And let’s face it, there’s nothing less appealing than righteousness.
I think if he would just take Theresa May to task, rather than sitting back confident that he is on the side of good, I would want to jump over the dispatch box and sweep him into my arms.
So, do I give up? Do I defect? Do I allow myself to believe that a society with equality of opportunity is impossible? In a world of travel bans and torture for convenience, do I protect myself, and join the crowds denouncing immigrants and benefit claimants? If the world is going to be split into us and them, where do I want to be when the drawbridge is pulled up?
I still choose Jeremy.
Because that’s the answer, when someone is bullying the person next to you. You challenge the bully, you don’t join in. You might not even like the person. You might not agree with what they think. But you don’t give power to the bully. We have attempted to limit debate in this country and ignored the issues that we face, and in doing so we have strangled democracy.
So this time around, if I can’t be on the winning side, I happy to be the opposition. I am happy to be a loud, roaring opposition to the incumbent party and the ruling class. And I hope that others will keep shouting too.