You don’t have to agree with Jeremy Corbyn to welcome his presence in the Labour leadership contest
It is a pity that the inclusion of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race is pretty much only being discussed in the context of the growing #Tories4Corbyn movement.
CapX explains the phenomena:
Putting Corbyn on the ballot paper does have one unintended consequence, which is amusing the Conservatives greatly. Suddenly, there is great interest from senior Tories in helping Labour to elect Corbyn, because they think, rightly, that it would equal oblivion for Labour and a generation of Tory rule.
There is a practical way Tory voters can help, the Conservatives have realised. For just £3 anyone can sign up as a Labour supporter and a get a vote in the party’s leadership contest. On Twitter, Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, has already described getting the chance to help make the completely unelectable Jeremy Corbyn Labour leader as a notable bargain.
This Tories4JeremyCorbyn movement could take off. How long before someone establishes a website and Twitter account explaining how Tory voters can win it for Jeremy?
This is all well and good, but it is also a distraction, the type of fun Westminster parlour games that the political class like to play to entertain themselves, leaving the vast majority of Britons either oblivious or turned off. Meddling in the other side’s leadership election might elicit smirks and chuckles in the Westminster Arms, but it hardly does anything to improve the reputation of a political class seen as totally cut off from the people.
Far better to look at the substance of Jeremy Corbyn’s entrance into the Labour leadership contest, not the juvenile pranks that it may generate. And in this regard, at least Owen Jones can be relied upon to bestow his warm endorsement:
A parody of a debate: that’s been the story of the Labour leadership contest to date. A debate is supposed to involve some diversity of opinion. If it is reduced to quibbling over nuance and tone, then personality becomes a substitute for clarity.
Genuine political debates are good for democracy, because they force each candidate to define their views clearly and avoid relying on platitudes. With the current leadership candidates dancing inelegantly on the head of a pin, we have learned little – other than just how uninspiring, stale and vacuous a party leadership contest can be.
[..] millions of Britons support a living wage, a radical housebuilding programme, public ownership of utilities and services and higher taxes on the rich. Many of them voted for Ukip, the Greens or the SNP. Yes, many of them may lack confidence in the ability of politicians to deliver such policies. But given their widespread backing, these policies surely at least need a hearing in the leadership contest of the dominant,purportedly left-of-centre party in Britain.
Of course, Jones then lets himself down by going on to peddle his current favourite deception, that small government conservatives somehow think that Labour caused the recession by “spending too much money on schools and hospitals” – a ludicrous idea that no serious right wing thinker would ever claim. But flawed though the Owen Jones endorsement may be, it was still given very heartily to Jeremy Corbyn.
Dan Hodges, on the other hand, was one of the first to see red, complaining that Labour is committing 2020 electoral suicide by even including Corbyn in the campaign, since he stands so unelectably and unrepentantly to the political left:
Labour isn’t going to have a proper debate. Which is why Jeremy Corbyn is on the ballot in the first place. If Labour was having a proper debate, the sort of hard-Left politics espoused by him and his followers would already have been consigned to the dustbin of history. But the parliamentary Labour Party has opted to go rummaging through Michael Foot’s dustbin instead.
And only the Labour Party could have done this. Only the Labour Party could have contrived to greet the close of nominations for its leader with a raft of headlines about a candidate who is to the Left of Karl Marx and guaranteed not to win the contest.
In a strictly narrow sense, Hodges is right. If we want a continuation of our failed and uninspiring politics where the two main parties are virtually identical in every respect, neither of them offering the voters anything like real choice on the most important ideological issues, then yes – Corbyn’s presence as a Labour leadership challenger will cause discomfort for the mainstream party.
But if discomforting, strident and discordant views are now unacceptable in British politics and to be avoided at all costs, then we had better be prepared for election turnouts to continue to fall, political engagement to ebb away even further, and voter apathy to rule.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t bemoan the fact that voter turnout is down and that politicians are homogeneous and uninspiring, and then throw a hissy fit when a politician who doesn’t fit the mould finally gets some airtime – even if they do represent a rose-tinted stroll back to the 1970s.
Perhaps if Britain had a genuine choice between the Owen Jones Left of the Labour Party and the Michael Gove or Sajid Javid right of the Conservative Party, the genuine ideological differences and competing worldviews on offer might generate some intellectual interest and public excitement, injecting some excitement back into politics.
When explaining why he didn’t plan to vote in the general election – reasons which had nothing at all to do with apathy, he insisted – Spiked magazine editor Brendan O’Neill wrote:
I, like many others, want my politics hard, existential, frightening even, addressing the biggest questions facing humanity: freedom, progress, morality, war, the future. But all we’re being offered is a choice between managers, primarily of Britain’s economic decline. ‘Who will YOU trust to shave the public deficit?’
The sluggishness, the love of ease, exists among the political elite, not the plebs. It is they, not us, who have hoovered all the big stuff out of politics, reducing what was once — even in stiff-lipped Britain — a passionate clash over different visions of the future of society to a contest between suits whose frenetic tweeting and occasional shouting cannot disguise the fundamental sameness of their political and moral outlooks.
How true this is. The age of the SpAd and the political technocrat has nearly succeeded in driving all passion and genuine difference from the scene, as the political class realised they have far more in common with each other – and far more to gain from maintaining a centrist status quo – than they do taking risks or daring mighty things in the service of genuine political conviction.
In many ways, Jeremy Corbyn is a relic from the recent past when ideological conviction was not viewed as something unseemly or gauche. And it is this spirit, rather than any of the daft or harmful policies which flow from his left-wing worldview, which make Corbyn’s candidacy so refreshing, no matter what establishment columnists like Dan Hodges may say.
As it happens, this blog quite likes Liz Kendall’s candidacy as a palatable and electable left-of-centre option for the Labour Party – in several instances she has already managed to make her mainstream opponents – both with ministerial experience to their name – look rather petty and small-minded. But this comes from the perspective of someone with small government and libertarian leanings, who thinks that a Blairite candidate would be likely to do the least harm as a potential future Prime Minister – especially when compared to statists and Brownites like Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper.
But I’m not voting in the Labour leadership election – even though, for the low price of £3 and some elasticity with the truth, I could technically do so – because this is not my fight. Yet my ultimate preference would be for a future Labour leader who dares to offer some exciting left wing thinking, a blend of old fashioned Labour inflected with some radical new ideas, and a Conservative Party leadership that didn’t feel it necessary to keep apologising for itself, instead boldly making the case for smaller government and more individual freedom.
If there was real ideological choice between Britain’s two main parties – something sorely lacking in the 2015 general election – then people might actually sit up and take notice of politics again. This blog wants to see radical right-wing policies enacted in Britain, and steps taken to move beyond the one-size-fits-all straightjacket of the post-war settlement welfare state and resigned, fear-based pro-Europeanism. But these new conservative policies will never see the light of day so long as there is an intellectually dead Labour Party floating along only a few yards to the left of the Tories.
Both Labour and the Conservatives need to rediscover themselves. For the Tories, now governing alone in a majority administration and with everything to lose, this will be a very tall order. But Labour have an opportunity to go through this period of soul-searching during the leadership debate, provided it does not degenerate into a petty war about personalities over ideas.
Is Jeremy Corbyn completely unelectable? Hell yes, in our current political climate. And yet we all know that our current political climate is broken and massively removed from the lives and aspirations of many Britons. So rather than choosing the leadership candidate who appeals most to the dwindling band of people who still care about the Labour Party, why not acknowledge that Corbyn at least brings real choice to the table, and then do the hard work of trying to expand the increasingly narrow window of what constitutes acceptable political thought in Britain?
This doesn’t necessarily mean choosing Jeremy Corbyn at the end of the process. But it does mean that know-it-all commentators and rival politicians should refrain from declaring him “unacceptable”.
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