Labour’s rebellious centrists and their media allies are not merely refuting Jeremy Corbyn’s quaintly antiquated socialist ideas – they are seeking to suppress the expression of these ideas by mainstream politicians altogether, and to establish a strict ideological test for elected office based on the existing narrow centrist political consensus. But that is no way to kill off bad ideas.
If political history through the ages teaches us anything, it is that suppressing an idea or airily declaring any political belief to be haram, off limits, out of bounds for discussion, is a surefire way to kindle support for that idea and imbue it with an often-undeserved air of nobility.
Bad political and social ideas – communism, eugenics, holocaust denial, social justice – are only defeated when they are debated, subjected to the full rigour of public scrutiny, and ultimately found wanting. Suggesting that something is so inherently offensive that its demerits cannot even be discussed in public makes martyrs out of a banned idea’s adherents and pushes it underground to fester and grow out of sight of society – until, of course, it bursts forth in dangerous new ways.
I stress this obvious point because we see the same forces of ideological suppression (and the fightback against it) playing out before us now, in the form of the Labour leadership coup against Jeremy Corbyn. And if we are not much more careful in our response to Corbyn’s leadership and almost inevitable victory in the second leadership election, we will succeed only in making a martyr out of Corbyn, dignifying his more antiquated beliefs or distasteful associations and perpetuating the problem rather than tackling it at source.
“But Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable!” thunders the media and assorted Labour Party figures (I would say big beasts, but there seem to be none of those left). They say this as though people’s political views are fixed and immovable, as though the political centre of gravity has never shifted before when moments of crisis and opportunistic change-makers combine, and as though the Overton window of British politics cannot be moved. They say this by way of suggesting that Britain’s voters essentially form an ideology-free, centrist blob, and that it is the job of politicians to bend, flatter and shapeshift as best they can in order to appeal to this blob without ever challenging them.
If that is their view of politics – and their every action and statement regarding the Labour leadership turmoil suggests that it is – then this is truly depressing. It tells us that too many of our political elites have given up on any notion of true leadership, of having a vision to improve the country they love and then exhorting others to achieve that goal, and that they instead see the British population as troublesome noisemakers to be placated and soothed with the “right” policy mix as determine by polls and focus groups.
It is, in fact, the very opposite of Margaret Thatcher’s ideal of political leadership, as laid out a decade before she even took office:
There are dangers in consensus; it could be an attempt to satisfy people holding no particular views about anything. It seems more important to have a philosophy and policy which because they are good appeal to sufficient people to secure a majority.
No great party can survive except on the basis of firm beliefs about what it wants to do. It is not enough to have reluctant support. We want people’s enthusiasm as well.
The dangers of consensus… This phrase should be setting off alarm bells today, because in the establishment’s horror and revulsion at Jeremy Corbyn and his quaintly old fashioned socialist views, the prevailing ideological consensus is revealed – that narrow band of political opinion within whose boundaries all “mainstream” politicians are expected to remain.
On issue after issue, we are told by outraged columnists and troublemaking centrist Labour MPs that Jeremy Corbyn’s political positions are not simply wrong or misguided, but that they are unacceptable, beyond the pale, immediately disqualifying the holder from even seeking future elected office. The net effect of this manufactured outrage is to effectively declare support for old-fashioned socialist principles to be a career-ending form of political thoughtcrime. Question the purpose of NATO in 2016, or the Trident nuclear deterrent, and it is akin to pulling the pin on a grenade and holding it under your chin – the commentariat will blow your head off before the electorate even get the chance to pass their own judgement.
It is as though it is no longer enough for the party we personally support to reflect our own views and priorities – we now expect opposing parties to reflect them too. This is a politically stultifying and increasingly ludicrous state of affairs. As a small-c conservative I believe strongly in maintaining our nuclear deterrent, a strong military, the NATO alliance, low taxes and small government. But I don’t for a moment expect the leader of the Labour Party to hold these exact positions, too. And while it would be calamitous were Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister by some dark miracle and actually enact all of his policies, I trust in the wisdom of the British people to see through his policies and reject Corbynism at the ballot box.
And that’s the difference, I suppose, between this blog and the political and media establishment. I trust the people to look at the political parties and refuse to vote for a party campaigning on a manifesto which is so clearly damaging to our economy and national interests. The establishment do not trust the people, because they do not respect the people. They have no faith that the British people will make rational decisions when presented with a range of political alternatives – therefore they see it as their job to artificially limit our choice beforehand, taking certain options off the table by declaring them “unacceptable” and suppressing their very discussion by mainstream politicians.
(Most of the establishment, horrified by the result of the EU referendum, will see Britain’s vote for Brexit as vindication of their paternalistic approach toward the masses. They are not shy in their opinion that the stupid British electorate were “tricked” into voting for Brexit against their own interests, and will now be strengthened in their resolve to ensure that any future big decisions are settled quietly and a consensus forged between the main parties, well away from the voters).
This arrogant, paternalistic approach by the establishment is poisoning our politics. And it is why this blog has consistently supported Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, despite my obvious and profound political differences with him. I support Corbyn not out of some Machiavellian desire to destroy the Labour Party or otherwise make mischief, but because Corbyn gives voice to certain ideas and policies which, while they might not be popular with the country as a whole, are passionately held by many people and deserve to have a public hearing – if only so that we can expose and discredit them again.
Toppling Jeremy Corbyn and replacing him with the kind of bland, telegenic, youthful centrist which the Parliamentary Party so clearly wants (for we all know that Owen Smith’s pathetic leadership campaign is doomed) would mean that all those who favour Corbyn’s left-wing ideas no longer have a voice or a stake in our national politics. This is both unfair to his supporters and harmful to our own national discourse, because the superiority of conservative principles and policies cannot be proven beyond doubt when we are forbidden from even discussing their socialist antonyms.
This is why the Labour Party must now split into a woolly, bland centrist party virtually indistinguishable from Theresa May’s government and a zealous, socialist populist party led by Corbyn – assuming that Labour MPs remain so selfish and career-minded that they are unwilling to allow Jeremy Corbyn to flame out on his own at the 2020 general election.
At present, it seems as though Labour’s centrist MPs are in no mood to do any such thing. They simultaneously want to regain power in 2020, yet none of their remaining “big beasts” think that they have a good enough chance of doing so that they were willing to put their precious careers on the line by standing for the leadership. As Pete North lucidly explains, that is why the pathetic Owen Smith is on the ballot rather than somebody of real substance and gravitas. They will not strike out on their own and form a new centrist party, and nor will they accept Corbyn’s leadership, even for a few years (a mere drop in the ocean in terms of the Labour Party’s long history).
So what is the answer? More stalemate, apparently. If Jeremy Corbyn wins a second Labour leadership election in the space of a year, he will have the undisputed right to lead his party. But Labour’s centrist MPs will not accept his legitimacy, and will continue fighting one another like ferrets in a sack, doing all they can to force Corbyn prematurely from office.
This is stupid. Jeremy Corbyn has earned the right to lead his party, and to take Labour into the 2020 general election on the basis of his markedly left-wing policies. All Labour centrists have to do is wait for Corbyn fever to break against the walls of a sceptical British electorate at the next general election and they can install one of their own as the next leader with little opposition from a chastened and defeated left wing. The only thing stopping them following this approach is personal greed and a selfish regard for their own careers above those of the party and the country’s political discourse. Don’t listen to all that sanctimonious, faux-sentimental drivel about how the country “can’t afford four more years of the Evil Tor-ees” – it is more the case that their inflated career expectations cannot afford four more years in the political wilderness rather than climbing up the greasy pole.
One way or another, the establishment seems determined not to give the quaintly antiquated socialism of Jeremy Corbyn the opportunity to fail on its own. Labour’s centrist MPs do so because they are hungry to pursue what they see as the quickest route back to power (and some fear losing their seats in a 2020 anti-Corbyn landslide), and the rest of the political and media establishment do so because they are alarmed by Corbyn’s views on NATO, Trident and other issues, and do not trust the British people to likewise see the flaws in these ideas and reject them.
Of course, the sad irony is that by going to such extreme lengths to prevent Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist ideas being tested in a general election, the establishment is doing more than anyone else – more even than Corbyn himself – to harden support for those failed ideas, ensuring that they live on even longer past their “sell by” date.
Furthermore, the idea of centrist MPs enforcing what is essentially a de facto ideological test for any politician seeking high national office is grossly offensive to our democracy, revealing the establishment’s contempt for the people in all its hateful glory. We the people are more than capable of determining which political ideas are good, bad, offensive, dangerous or otherwise, and we have no need for a sanctimonious elite to pre-screen our choices for us.
The only things necessary to defeat Corbynism are Jeremy Corbyn himself and the British electorate. It’s sad that Labour MPs and the political / media establishment are simultaneously too selfish and too distrustful of the British people to realise this obvious truth.
Top Image: Huffington Post, Jack Taylor/Getty Images
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