Corbyn, Tsipras, Maggie and TINA
Yesterday, I registered with the Labour Party as a "supporter" for £3 in my adoptive and beloved home, Britain. I joined so that I will be able to vote in the upcoming election for the party's leader. I intend to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
I am not a Conservative encouraged by the Telegraph to undermine Labour by voting for Corbyn and making the party, apparently, unelectable. I am not a "Marxist entryist" as one former Labour special advisor seems to believe. (Although, if I were, I might point out that the Labour Party is meant to be a broad church with plenty of room for Marxists.) I do not burn black candles at midnight, while gazing lovingly at a specially commissioned painting of a provocatively dressed Mao Zedong.
I am, in fact, a perfectly ordinary voter with "leftie" sensibilities and strong ideas about social justice, who has mostly voted for Labour. Over the last few years, I have felt increasingly that Labour has ignored people like me, in its maniacal struggle to secure the support of a handful of swing voters in suburban marginals. It wasn't me that moved away from Labour. It was Labour that left me behind in its dash to put on a suit and tie. Now I see an opportunity to reclaim what I view very much as "my party".
On the 25th of July, Labour MP John Mann was tweeting that he would "be backing whoever is elected Labour leader". Less than 24 hours later he was calling for the exclusion of "people who chose not to vote Labour at the General Election". I wonder how he plans to check what each of us voted. By Sunday there were calls for the contest to be suspended among claims of "infiltration".
Infiltration of what and by whom? The left by the left? John Mann's playpen by people who may disagree with him? Blairite-land by Bennites? A party of we-know-best MPs by stupid voters like me? Or could it be the other way around? That a party which is meant to represent working people has been infiltrated for far too many years by well-paid, lethargic, complacent career politicians, who have nothing but scorn for those who grant them the privilege?
It takes epic levels of stupidity to turn 150,000 new activists, paying money to join your party inspired by one of the leadership candidates, into some sort of crisis because they're the wrong sort of leftie. There is not a party in the world that wouldn't be cheering. It also takes an astounding lack of political antennae to be blind to the fact that, by acting with such naked hostility towards them, you precipitate a split whatever the result.
And what of the centrist voters we hear so much about? Where are the millions, that the rest of the candidates claim to be able to speak directly to and attract, joining the Labour Party in droves to ensure they get elected? They're nowhere. Because they are the cynical fiction of an establishment who wants us to always enter the polling booth with no real choice - despondent, apathetic, disdainful.
All this shows a profound lack of understanding about how the political landscape is shaped by all parties, not just the one governing. See how UKIP have defined the European debate. Observe how a young SNP MPs speech can go viral. A vigorous opposition that articulates a clear alternative, can be infinitely more useful that an "electable" one that rolls over on every issue. An effective opposition is an integral part of our democracy and has been sadly absent. We need someone to drag the landscape to the left or, at least, halt its inexorable Thatcherite slide to the right.
To not understand that, is to give free rein to Tories to shape the narrative of the next five years, then win anyway. Just like they did last time, by seeding the idea that a global financial crisis was down to Labour's spending. Not speaking out against that, or not doing it soon enough and vocally enough, is how you end up carving bullshit into headstones a month before the election. If you lack substance, you are de facto reduced to gimmicks.
All this is not to say that I don't think Corbyn is electable. There is a deliberate conflation of "electability" not being someone's primary or striking quality, with them being unelectable. The real question is, I think, why would anyone vote for someone whose only purported virtue is "electability" when they explicitly state they will follow the same destructive, divisive, degrading economic policies?
In the current prevailing atmosphere of cynicism, where the electorate have been betrayed time after time, authentic people of principle are more electable than those who adjust themselves according to opinion polls. We have become much better at spotting the difference between cheap veneers and real wood. I would prefer a leader carved out of a solid block of the right qualities, even if not completely to my liking, rather than one trying to pump hot air into a brittle hollow leader-suit, designed by a focus group.
It is not a coincidence that Corbyn has been likened to Alexis Tsipras and the Syriza movement, by friend and foe alike. It is not a coincidence that Syriza has already expressed its support for him, or that he was the only one of the leadership candidates to voice his disgust at the treatment of Greece in the hands of the EU. A network is forming.
Last week Tsipras, according to some commentators, was a class traitor for not pushing the nuclear button of Grexit. Now, in some cases the very same people, are suggesting Corbyn is far too radical. It confirms my instinctive conclusion: Most of the left want revolution. Most of the left would like it to happen somewhere else first, please, thanks.
Some friends, fairly, ask: How can you excuse Tsipras for signing an agreement, for compromising his principles and election promises, and at the same time criticise the other Labour candidates for proposing the same in order to get elected? I have wrestled with this issue. It makes a big difference, on the one hand, going into an election with the right ideals and motives and having to compromise, faced with powerful opposing forces and realpolitik, and on the other, selling out before you even try, because all that matters to you is getting your claws on the throne.
Actually, it makes all the difference.
Be careful, warns former leadership hopeful Tristram Hunt: "Britain is not Greece or Spain". Strange; for years, all those wishing to strengthen the notion that There Is No Alternative to neoliberal austerity, have been telling us ad nauseam that we are just like Greece and Spain. Or at least we will be, unless we happily accept the shrinking of the welfare state, the demise of free health and education, the lowering of salaries, the cruelty to migrants, the disintegration of social cohesion.
And shaking this TINA narrative is precisely the point. Neoliberal austerity has become impenetrable dogma, evangelical in its fervour. All that is left to those of us who oppose it, is political guerrilla warfare; seeing the opportunity to hijack processes, like leadership elections, and make unexpected choices, like Corbyn. Greece has shown that such courses of action are the only ones that surprise elites and cause them to reveal themselves and make panicked choices.
Conventional democracy has become almost irrelevant; a tool used by the powerful to subjugate us through mere lack of choice. If one strips away party names and loyalties and simply sees the result of an election as "the putting in charge of a dogmatically neoliberal entity, ruled by big business and old money, which acts in every way to reward the rich, the white and the male and punish the poor, the brown and the female" it becomes clear that - call the party whatever you want - that is the only possible result in most elections across most of the developed world. And has been for some time.
But there is value in making it hard for them. Drawing them out. Anyone watching what happened in the last couple of months to Greece should begin to absorb this fact. If the Labour party leadership suddenly had to employ some precipitous fudge, like halt the leadership election or deny new joiners a vote - in order to avoid SOCIALIST ARMAGEDDON - that would get noticed and may force some people to confront the reality. The masks would slip, albeit momentarily. Catalysts are all we can hope to pour into this rancid mix.
Anything that throws all balls up in the air and makes the "Davos Set" nervous is a good thing. That includes the SNP wiping out Labour in Scotland. It includes Corbyn. It includes Syriza. It includes even the Left within Syriza. It includes Iceland, Gezi Park, Occupy, Snowden, Referenda, Debt Jubilee and Ferguson MO. Traditional battlegrounds are fixed against us. We have to open up new and unexpected spaces. We have to pull their pigtails and run away. Then do it again and again - in Greece, Portugal, the UK, the US, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Egypt, Iceland, Everywhere - until there are too many fronts to firefight. We have nothing but numbers and networks.
I don't care if Corbyn is unelectable. I don't care about his views on the Middle East. I don't care if his economic plan is not costed. I don't care about a tweet he once sent. I don't really give a fuck if he is an alien lizard in a human suit. Already, even the mere prospect of him as Leader of the Opposition is causing the establishment (on both sides of the House) to spin out of control. That's good enough for me.
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