The Guardian has spent the past five years excoriating the Tories for their supposed persecution of the poor and the sick. And yet when it comes to the Labour leadership, they have endorsed a nonentity of a candidate on the basis that she is best placed to win back votes from a party it considers to be evil.
It is telling that most of the Guardian’s decidedly lukewarm endorsement of Yvette Cooper was devoted to discussing Jeremy Corbyn.
The fact that Corbyn looms so large in the campaigns of the other candidates says a lot about the state of the Labour leadership race, but it says even more about the Guardian-reading Left, and the gulf between their Tory-hating rhetoric and their desperate lack of imagination in coming up with an alternative policy agenda.
Here’s where the Guardian’s endorsement of Cooper really falls apart:
Labour is not a debating society; it was founded to represent the interests of working people at the pinnacle of power. This engagement in politics, this new excitement, must be channelled towards government. The brute lesson of May is that Labour cannot get there without first winning back significant numbers of Tory voters. Mr Corbyn will not do that. Those searching for an election winner must look elsewhere.
Yes, Labour will need to win over a number of Tory voters if they ever want to taste power again. But there are two ways to win the vote of someone who currently supports another political party.
First, you can move your political party so close to theirs in ideological and policy terms that it becomes possible to coax voters across by promising to be just a little bit more competent, or a touch more compassionate. This is what most of the Labour leadership candidates, including Yvette Cooper, are currently doing – largely accepting the centrist Tory narrative on a range of issues, but promising to implement the same agenda with a caring smile.
But the other way of attracting votes from other parties is to actually go out and win the battle of ideas – to convince people that you hold different, better ideas than the ones that they currently support, and that the implementation of these ideas would benefit them personally, as well as the country as a whole. This is a lot harder to do, which is why of the four Labour leadership contenders, only Jeremy Corbyn is currently attempting to do it.
Only Jeremy Corbyn has shown the courage to openly state that he is not satisfied with moving the British political needle just one notch to the left. Only Jeremy Corbyn seems to believe that the current problems facing Britain require more than just a minor course correction by one degree to the left or the right.
You can disagree with Jeremy Corbyn’s policy prescriptions all you like – this blog certainly does – but given our current centrist malaise, we should be encouraging everyone who is currently trying to expand the infinitesimally narrow window of acceptable political thought, whether they come from the Right or the Left.
In their unenthusiastic endorsement of Yvette Cooper, the Guardian editorial team have essentially picked the first option over the second – they believe that Labour’s route back to power lies in trailing just slightly to the left of the Conservatives at all times, and hoping that by being almost like the Tories but a touch more ‘compassionate’ they can peel away enough conservative voters to prise their way back in to power. And they may well be right.
But the Guardian has spent the past five years railing about the inhumanity of the Evil Tory government led by David Cameron, and pointing out the many ways in which it believes that Tory policies are deliberately harming the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. And yet today they have endorsed for Labour leader someone who today explicitly tore into the one and only candidate who proposes doing things differently by more than a few degrees – as surely they want.
This does not make sense. The Guardian can’t have it both ways – they cannot use their editorial pages to rage against austerity and the Conservative government one moment and then endorse the candidate who they admit is most likely to woo existing Tory voters (without changing their hearts and minds first) the next.
But, looked at another way, the Guardian’s endorsement of Yvette Cooper makes perfect sense. There has always been a tension within the Labour Party between those who wanted to pursue an academic, internationalist left-wing utopia and those who were in it for the tough grind of improving the conditions for the working classes.
The academic Left try to suppress the resulting cognitive dissonance by pretending that their corporate internationalism, green agenda and instinctive pro-Europeanism are somehow good for the working classes whose wages and living conditions these policies actually suppress. And then they make themselves feel better by railing against the inhumanity of the Evil Tories while actively supporting policies which are detrimental to the working class.
This is why the Guardian could never endorse Jeremy Corbyn for leader. Their brand of left wingery relies on drumming up sympathy for the poor and the dispossessed, but then using the resulting political capital to further the interests of the new middle class clerisy who have taken over the Labour Party. And Yvette Cooper is perfectly positioned to do just that. She can say all of the right things about how nasty the Evil Tories are being, while reassuring the liberal elite that she will do nothing to rock the boat unduly were she ever to gain power.
Jeremy Corbyn, love him or hate him, is different. Corbyn’s campaign intends to drum up sympathy for the poor and the dispossessed, and then use the political capital to attempt to help the poor and the dispossessed. Sure, many of his left wing policies are doomed to failure, but at least he has proven that he is not willing to buy into the Labour Party’s hypocrisy of feigning to care about the poorest while governing in the interests of a favoured slice of the middle class.
That’s why the Guardian is terrified of Jeremy Corbyn, and that’s why – despite their fire-and-brimstone anti-austerity rhetoric – they are endorsing a bland non-entity like Yvette Cooper for the leadership of the Labour Party.