There are some ‘rules’ of politics which generally go unchallenged – to some extent. “Everyone likes choice” – and the “yeah but…”, you have to be given the correct resources to exercise this choice. Some people have more choice than others.
That Jeremy Corbyn has produced such powerful resentment in certain groups of people is of interest, in that people who dislike Corbyn might be expected to let choice to run its course. But even before he had won his second leadership election, voices in the mainstream media and the parliamentary Labour Party had already drafted his obituary. I can’t pretend to agree with all of what Jeremy Corbyn says, but I feel there is a disgust by some Labour voters at Corbyn which would be better directed at themselves.
Not everyone agrees on Israel. Not everyone agrees on Northern Ireland. Not everyone thankfully agrees on Ken Livingstone. But it is rather that some of the strongest advocates of a liberal voice have made it their wish to shut down debate on important issues. I am loath to say that Jeremy Corbyn is an analogue politician living in a digital age, as I feel that gives power to the elbow of ageism which definitely runs as an undercurrent to some of the personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. But as Margaret Thatcher herself said, when you resort to personal attacks you have lost the argument.
Once you peel away the misreporting of the domestic policies, which is substantial, the policies are themselves pretty sound and reasonable for anyone ‘left leaning’. It is a genuine phenomenon that the media by and large do not give the Labour Party leadership or membership a fair hearing, preferring to give a dispropotionate voice to critics within the parliamentary Labour Party.
It has long been conceded that the Labour Party represents a diversity of views. As Tony Benn famously said, “People attending Church include some Christians. Labour is not a socialist party, although there are some socialists in it.” Much of the current media talk is inevitably about Brexit, but, for most MPs, what brings the legislation, policies and regulations to life is the caseload of the weekly constituency surgery. I expect that the number of complaints about lack of social housing, delays in A&E, or working in a ‘gig economy’ far outweigh whether UK citizens travelling abroad will be given free health insurance following Article 50.
It has become sexy to talk of an existential crisis within Labour about its identity, but it is my contention that – if you believe in choice – it is unfair for Jeremy Corbyn to be criticised for wanting to implement his view of socialism. The first thing that has to be acknowledged is that Jeremy Corbyn won overwhelmingly the leadership elections of his party nationally twice. The second thing to be emphasised is that Jeremy Corbyn has held robustly the same principles since 1983 when he was elected under the famous ‘longest suicide note in history’ from Oxford first-class honours holder Michael Foot. As the famous Marx brother said, “if you don’t like my principles, that’s OK – I have others.”
If it is inappropriate to say Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t “do digital”, I think it’s fine to say he doesn’t do binary. On the face of it, both Tim Farron MP (who I hear you ask? He is the current leader of the Liberal Democrats) and Jeremy Corbyn MP hold the same views on Brexit, in agreement on free goods and services and free movement of people. But the analogue argument is important, I feel. If you assume that Jeremy Corbyn holds roughly the same views as Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn would’ve voted to remain in the European Union but only just. Tony Benn believed that it was only possible to believe in free movement of capital if you believed in free movement of persons – as Benn put it, “if money can have passports, why can’t people?” Benn objected to a multinational corporatocracy, which is consistent with Corbyn’s support of the EU Posted Workers Directive, preventing undercutting of wages by multinationals. Gordon Brown in 2010 had proposed the migration transformation fund to provide financial support to areas of the UK which had experienced high levels of migration, but this was rejected by the electorate in favour of the coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. That the EU referendum was held to keep together the Conservative Party, with the consequence of splitting the country down the middle, is pure and simple. For example, Jeremy Corbyn has himself reported that in his constituency non-EU families often remain split due to the current legislation which is often perceived as being discriminatory in favour of EU migration?
Where Corbyn, Tony Benn and Farage (and UKIP) are in agreement possibly is the idea that you should not give power to those you ultimately can’t take the power away from. Benn in his diaries talks about all the pain he had in the 1970s being unable to amend EU legislation even as a Minister of the Crown. Where Corbyn and Farage (and UKIP) are possibly not in agreement is that Corbyn believes that the State should be able to intervene in ‘failing industries’. To take as an example, because national policy had led NHS Foundation Trusts to become increasingly within the ambit of EU competition law, like the steel industries, the scope for ‘state aid’ became more controversial. The irony for the NHS is that the biggest threat to its existence has come internally from decades of underfunding – i.e. a deliberate ‘choice’ from a domestic government “taking back control”. Anyway – my point is that Jeremy Corbyn does not benefit from the need to portray these arguments as binary. The media wants to do binary for everything, like “Do you hate Jeremy Corbyn? Does Jeremy Corbyn bow properly? Does Jeremy Corbyn support Ken Livingstone? Does Jeremy Corbyn want to shut down your nuclear power plant?” But where we all have different views, i.e. we live in a democratic society, such an approach is in sheer defiance of democratic socialism.
Jeremy Corbyn has held views of democratic socialism, as indeed many within the Labour Party have, for years before Jeremy Corbyn became leader or before Owen Jones was interviewed for GQ magazine. I would find it impossible to believe that Jeremy Corbyn believes in any other system for the National Health Service other than where we pool risk equally, and where money cannot buy you undue influence. This is going to be of critical importance when we get into an age of personal genomics where the inheritance of certain medical diseases can be accurately predicted at birth. Tony Benn believed that the democratic vote bought you influence not money. I am quite sure that if Jeremy Corbyn is defeated at the ballot box, as so many people within the Labour Party appear to be actively looking forward to, Jeremy Corbyn will too live with that.
Jeremy Corbyn is for me the only constant in this particular scenario, which means that Jeremy Corbyn is not the one experiencing the ‘existential’ crisis. Quite the reverse. The crisis is being experienced by many of those MPs who expected to be serving in a Ed Miliband government (and who abstained on the welfare benefits cuts) and of course the all powerful Westminster lobby of journos.