Who’s afraid of Jeremy Corbyn?

With Jeremy Corbyn now the clear frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, the uneasy and incredulous mutterings that have been spreading through the Labour Party establishment and the commentariat in recent weeks have risen to an increasingly strident and hysterical chorus.   Tony Blair has crawled out from his gilded swamp to declare that he would prefer to lose an election than win on a ‘traditional leftist platform’ and told Labour supporters who say their heart is with Corbyn to ‘get a transplant.’

Alan Milburn – one of the most egregious Labour troughers who has profited so handsomely from the NHS ‘reforms’ that he promoted in office – has accused Corbyn supporters of a political ‘death wish.’  The entrepreneur John Mills, Labour’s richest donor and a contributor to Liz Kendall’s campaign, has warned that a Corbyn victory might trigger the formation of a new ‘SDP-type party’ if Labour becomes a ‘party of the far left.’   And now Labour MP John Mann, an Yvette Cooper supporter, has accused Corbyn of inaction over paedophile allegations in his Islington constituency in the 1970s and 80s.

Facing defeat, the other contenders are now talking about transforming the robotic Andy Burnham into a ‘Stop Corbyn candidate’.     It’s all getting rather nasty and unseemly, and it’s not just the politicians.  At the Telegraph, the gruesome Blairite Dan Hodges has described the Corbyn surge as an ’emotional spasm’ which might presage a ‘full-blown nervous breakdown.’ The liberal commentariat is equally scornful and dismissive.  Opinion pieces and news reports in the Guardian, the Observer and the Independent routinely refer to Corbyn as a ‘far left’ or ‘hard right’ dinosaur who has mysteriously broken into the political theme park.

None of these papers support him, and the language they use to condemn him says a great deal about the dismal rightwing bubble that British politics have been trapped in for such a long time. For one thing Corbyn is not on the ‘far left’ or the ‘hard left’ .  On the contrary, he is an MP on the leftwing of the Labour Party, and the endlessly snide Citizen Smith-type cracks about his beard and ‘Lenin cap’ ignore the fact that he is a social democrat not a Bolshevik or a Trotskyist.

His economic proposals are a Keynsian social democratic redistributive alternative to austerity, which contain many ideas that already have widespread public support.  But both the Labour Party and the majority of the British commentariat appear to regard even the concept of progressive taxation as a revolutionary gesture akin to the storming of the Winter Palace and the establishment of soviets.

Criticisms of Corbyn in the liberal press are sprinkled with Thatcherite warnings of the dangers of ‘tax-and-spend’ or the ‘big state’ and the dangers of turning away from ‘reform’, which only reveal how much even the supposedly left-of-centre media has come to take Tory nostrums for granted.

Consider this analysis of Yvette Cooper by Ian Dunt, the editor of Politics.co.uk.  Dunt has been an astute critic of Tory policies on prisons and immigration, among other things, and his piece is a lament at Cooper’s failure to bear out his own tendentious assertion that she is ‘the most intellectually impressive of the candidates.’

To bear out Cooper’s supposed intellectual prowess, Dunt cites her response to George Osborne’s plans to cut tax credits in a recent interview:

‘They are actually discouraging parents from working harder,” she said. This was exactly the right response. Cooper understood that the most effective argument against a Tory policy is based on Tory premises. Instead of talking solely about fairness, it was best to focus on the argument that a cut to tax credits would be a disincentive to getting people into work.’

Why should Labour adopt ‘Tory premises’ to refute a policy that is so blatantly unjust and vindictively targeted at the marginalized poor?   It is precisely because Labour has done this kind of thing for so long that it cannot articulate a genuinely progressive alternative to Tory economic brutalism.  It is the reason why Labour politicians sound so hollow, why their language is so convoluted and evasive and so pathetically designed to please all of the people all of the time.

Dunt accuses Cooper of selling herself short and offering nothing but a ‘string of platitudes’ in a recent interview, but this is what inevitably happens to politicians who ape their opponents and try to appropriate their language and concepts simply in order to win elections.   It’s what happens when you are determined to avoid saying anything controversial, challenging, or which might open you up to accusations from the tabloid press that you are ‘soft on immigration’, ‘soft on welfare’ or ‘anti-business’.

One of the reasons why Corbyn appears so fresh to his supporters and so shocking to the politicians and the commentariat is precisely because he doesn’t do this.   Unlike any Labour politician in years, he has offered an alternative to austerity which is attractive and appealing to a constituency that is not limited to the ‘far left.’   As the Guardian notes Corbyn’s ‘uncompromising anti-austerity stance seems to be particularly inspiring to the tens of thousands of recently joined Labour members and to trade unionists’.

Like the rightwing politicians who dominate the Labour establishment, the Guardian clearly doesn’t approve of this unwelcome development, and would rather a ‘modernizing’ candidate who is prepared to compromise with a government that ought to be fought on every single front, rather than appeased.

This week all the Labour leadership contenders except Corbyn abstained from a bill that they should and could have opposed,  while still claiming to oppose it.  They and their supporters would like to believe that this strategy represents mature, adult politics.

Others will interpret it as gutless opportunism, and conclude that these are not the politicians to lead the opposition to the massive cuts that are now looming, or fight the battles that must be fought in order to prevent the Tory dystopia from becoming even more nightmarish than it already is.

It is now clear that many Labour members who think this way are turning to Corbyn, and if the Labour leadership succeeds in destroying him and imposing yet another political hologram in his place,  it may find that they are the ones who are leading the party to political destruction.


Labour’s Zombie Politicians

It’s less than a fortnight since Ed Miliband’s unexpected political demise, and already his would-be successors and closet critics are stripping the flesh from his political corpse like extras from The Walking Dead. Personally,   I can’t really blame anyone in the Labour Party holding Miliband up to serious scrutiny, given the catastrophic failure to score what should have been an open goal that  has paved the way for our transformation into what one Scots commentator has rightly called the ‘most pitiless rightwing nation in Europe.’

But the would-be contenders who are stripping Miliband’s bones bare are really a staggeringly uninspiring bunch, whose political noses only seem attracted to the smell of flesh when it comes drifting in from the right.

No one can be surprised to hear Blair and his old cronies – including Miliband’s bitter and vengeful brother – at the forefront of the feeding frenzy, saying the kind of stuff that you know they will always say.  But to witness members of Miliband’s former Shadow Cabinet picking bits off him is an unedifying spectacle, which speaks volumes about why Labour lost.  Burnham, Cooper, Kendall, Hunt – every single one of them now appears to regard Miliband’s tepid and convoluted One Nation Labourism as though it were a blueprint towards a revolutionary future written by Lenin, Trotsky, Robespierre and Che Guevara – and Russell Brand.

All of them now renounce the policies they once stood for and accept without question  the tabloid/Blairite canard that Miliband was ‘too left-wing’ and ‘anti-business’ and that that was why Labour lost the election.  And boy, are they ready to put things right.   The self-styled ‘fresh start’ candidate Liz Kendall says that Labour won’t win again unless it can offer ‘reform’ of public services. Yvette Cooper wants Labour to stop opposing cuts in Corporation Tax because Labour ‘ sounded anti-business, anti-growth and ultimately anti-worker for the many people employed by large companies in the UK.’

And ‘change candidate’ Andy Burnham rejects Miliband’s Mansion Tax as an unpopular manifestation of the ‘politics of envy’.  Burnham also wants a ‘tough but fair’ package on immigration, which reduces benefit entitlements to European migrants, on the grounds that: ‘Freedom of movement is a two-way street. But freedom to work is not the same as freedom to claim. And I think that is where the commonsense view of most British people is.’

This is the kind of thinking that gives thinking a bad name.  How about the possibility that this ‘commonsense view’ that most migrants come to the UK to claim benefits is in fact a fantasy, based on prejudice and inaccurate information emanated from tabloids, Ukip and the Tory government?   Why doesn’t Burnham have the guts to address and counter these prejudices, instead of pandering to them, like Miliband’s stunningly moronic and disgraceful ‘immigration controls’ mugs?

Anyone listening to Kendall’s drivel about public service ‘reform’ would be forgiven for thinking that  the electorate was simply gagging for a government to hand over health, education and policing to the likes of Serco and Sodexo, and turn every school into an academy or set up a free school in their back yard.

Contrary to what Burnham says about the ‘politics of envy’, there is an abundance of evidence to suggest that Miliband’s mansion tax – a policy pilfered from the Lib Dems not the Socialist Workers Party – was popular.  One YouGov poll found that 75 percent of respondents supported it.    There is nothing, nothing at all, to suggest that tens of thousands of Scots abandoned Labour because it was ‘too leftwing’ or ‘anti-business.’

On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that a)the Scots were attracted to the SNP because it built a middle-class/working class coalition around a social-democratic agenda that was more coherent and more in tune with Labour’s best political traditions than the convoluted mishmash that Miliband was offering and b) because Labour aligned itself so closely with the Tories during the referendum campaign that there was no longer any daylight between them.

Despite all this Yvette Cooper insists that ‘when there’s too little hope, optimism or confidence, the politics of anger, fear and division takes over – that’s what the Tories, the SNP and Ukip all exploited and campaigned on in this election.’

What brain-numbing gibberish is this.  Ukip and the Tories certainly played the politics of ‘anger, fear and division’, but hope, optimism and confidence were precisely what the SNP were all about.  When Labour can find talented and articulate 20-year-olds like Mhairi Black who are willing to be MPs and are given the chance to, they might learn what optimism and hope actually means.   Until then, best not to pontificate on what are clearly alien concepts.

After all, it’s difficult to see what hope and optimism is supposed to be generated by Burnham’s ‘tough’ talk about immigration – talk that is at least in part based on the threat posed by Ukip to Labour’s traditional heartlands, despite the fact most of the new voters who migrated to Ukip had previously voted Tory not Labour.

There is likely to be a lot more of this in the great reflection and soul-searching that we will have to endure as the leadership contest unfolds for the next three months, as the Tories and the tabloids constantly seek to come up with a ‘pro-business’ candidate by portraying anyone they don’t like as ‘too left-wing’ or in thrall to the unions.

They are unlikely to be overly concerned by the candidates on display, but those who want to see the end of Tory Britain should be.  The  Blairite tendency always argues that the party succeeded by going to where the electorate already is, rather than attempting to pull it to where it wants it to be.   But the logical extension of that kind of politics is the soulless and heartless political machine that Labour has become, and the dismal collection of careerists and appatchniks that are lining up to take the top job.

There is little doubt that the extra-parliamentary left has often acted as if all Labour had to do was ‘get back to its working class roots’ to win, and it is also true that no political party will win national elections in the UK unless it can appeal to a broad constituency.  But that constituency isn’t necessarily the one that Burnham, Cooper & Co think it is.  The SNP succeeded, at least in part,  because it campaigned on a broadly progressive agenda based around the same components that Labour now thinks are ‘too left-wing’: opposition to austerity, defense of public services and anti-militarism.

Whether the SNP can deliver on these pledges remains to be seen, but it now has a powerful, confident and alert constituency to answer to if it doesn’t.  Its politicians were able to convince the Scots electorate to believe in them because they believed in something themselves.  You don’t get the same results by checking out the focus groups and trying to guess what you think they want.    You have to believe in something and have the courage and conviction to fight for it – even if the tabloids and the City hate you.

That’s something Labour hasn’t been willing to do for a long long time.   It wants to be loved by everyone, but the rich and powerful most of all.

That’s one reason why it lost, and if the political zombies that are now lurching towards us with glassy eyes and outstretched arms are anything to go by, I can’t help feeling that it will lose again.