Jeremy Corbyn

Fierce and noble warrior queen Theresa May has called a snap election to heal a kingdom hurt by a crisis of identity. Bollocks. No, she didn’t. The politician, long more inclined to exploit national divisions than to soothe them, has done the thing that she said she never would in order to throw Tory blue bunting over two Tory screw-ups.

Not even free-market advocates had much that was nice to say about her tax proposals for the growing number of self-employed Britons — exasperating changes that would force Uber drivers to fill out forms at the traffic lights. There can be no positive spin on investigation for alleged electoral spending breaches by a reported two dozen Conservative MPs — a number that exceeds the party’s parliamentary majority.

Still. This false Boadicea has a great chance of victory. For this, we will have naked, unreasoned establishment hatred of Jeremy Corbyn to thank. This destructive work need no longer be done by May’s powerful allies. Both the Parliamentary Labour Party and the press of a purported “left” will do it for them.

It wasn’t surprising to hear David Cameron charge the Labour leader with looking scruffy. It was surprising to find that The Guardian had done it first. Assistant editor Michael White developed keen interest in Corbyn’s sandals long ago — actually, at about the same time the guy stopped being a lovable left-wing loser and started to build what has become the youngest and the largest political party in Europe. It’s odd that the paper that positions itself as a model of tolerance and the voice of the marginalised rebel found so little to like about “the MP on the demo with the beard and sandals”.

Even Owen Jones, for a time the paper’s single reliable Corbynite, has done his recent bit to diminish the leader. Actually, this disavowal seems to have done wonders for this unremarkable thinker’s career. In February, Jones was interviewed by another major British newspaper, happy to report that in the person of Corbyn, the left had “failed”.

It remains unclear to me how Corbyn, a politician consistent in his vindicated criticism of austerity and a socialist flexible enough to adopt one of Milton Friedman’s prescriptions, has “failed” the “left”. Or, at least, it is unclear until I consider the possibility that the “left” considers its failure to meaningfully influence policy for the past 40 years a success.

Through Jones, we can see the vision that an establishment left has developed for itself.  Like so many progressive establishment pundits, he has built his brand through the public appearance of being personally marginalised. Jones is often offended by the cultural intolerance of others and keen to link his own experience of debate on major television shows to the struggle of real people — cf. Tara Moss and her campaign against the everyday problem of online abuse explored entirely through interview with celebrities. This is the prominent face of the “left” now: a group of modestly known people far more comfortable describing the hard time they had on Twitter than examining the possibilities for actually socialist policy.

At the passing of the execrable Margaret Thatcher, then-UK prime minister David Cameron declared “We are all Thatcherites now”. He’s right. Owen Jones and so many critics of Corbyn implicitly believe that “there is no alternative” to the market friendly regime they quit criticising so long ago. The “left” is very happy to go on talking about how the right is mean to its stars. They are content to leave economic policy, the core business of government, to Thatcher. They are profoundly annoyed that Corbyn talks about the dirty matters of money and of life.  

Corbyn has not proposed anything outrageous. His program is one of finance sector regulation, reliable provision of social services and progressive tax. The guy may have Marxist inclinations, but these are not of the uncompromised orthodox sort.  Commentators may call him Trotskyist and malign the hundreds of thousands of young people who have joined his party as “entryist” — Lenin forbid we praise Millennials for their political engagement. But upon examination, the Corbyn suite of policies is very modest. Corbyn advances a program of greater wealth equality that is indistinguishable from what those arseholes at the IMF say that they want for the world, but will never deliver.

This is how the “left” criticism goes: the man is poorly dressed; he doesn’t look or sound like an establishment politician; he just can’t get his message across and is therefore unelectable. And because he’s unelectable, we’re just going to keep saying that he’s unelectable to ensure that this message can never get across.

Such hand-wringing about modest and popular proposals for reform! Proposals so modest, even Piers Morgan says that he agrees with them. An interview this week captures the conflict of progressives who publicly endorse the implementation of such proposals but say that they despise Corbyn’s inability to communicate them. You just can’t get your policies across, says Morgan. Let’s talk about them then, says Corbyn. No, says Morgan. Because you just can’t get your policies across.

Jeremy Corbyn has not failed the “left”. He hasn’t even failed the hopes of moderates who would prefer that angry hordes of the impoverished do not run from their shuttered towns to destroy the grand homes of Knightsbridge. The only people he has failed are lazy establishment “leftists” who have built nice careers from the fiction that they are the forgotten people. By the time they recognise that “there is no alternative” to the centrist proposals of this man, the capitalism that currently rewards their piffling efforts will be in ruins.

Peter Fray

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