Christians on the Left Member Jeremy Horton shares his thoughts on the new Labour Party leader.
Whatever you may think of Jeremy Corbyn (views range from political Messiah to dangerous crackpot and every shade in between), you can’t help but be impressed at what he pulled off. It’s the “upside-downness” of it all that particularly tickles me. A scruffily dressed OAP, a veteran left wing rebel and career protest politician. The only thing fashionable about him is his beard and that’s only by accident. How did he gate-crash the Labour leadership election? He only threw his hat into the ring because his left-wing friends threw it in there for him- "go on Jeremy it’s your turn". He scrapped onto the ballot paper with minutes to go, after a few MPs reluctantly lent him their nominations . He was then only supposed to be in it to make up the numbers, make it look more democratic. Just a bit of stage left scenery (opposite Liz Kendall's stage right) on a stage set up for the two real candidates; the younger, prettier candidates, the solid, safe, centrist/soft left candidates, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham.
Only it seems Jeremy hadn't read the script. Instead of sticking to his lines, he performed an entirely different play all of his own.
Whilst Andy Burnham started as clear favourite, the signs were there from the first televised hustings. It was Jeremy whom the audiences most warmed to and clapped to. And though not a single newspaper editor endorsed him, twitter and face book were soon buzzing with enthusiastic support for him. And then came the big endorsements from the unions and the local Labour parties. And a tsunami wave of 10,000s of new party members and supporters, many (like my daughter) only registering to vote for Jeremy (a few maliciously but most genuinely and enthusiastically).
Of course, the party's old "grandees" all lined up to denounce this dangerous left wing pied piper who would lead Labour into the jaws of hell. Vote ABC they said, "anyone but Corbyn ".
Yet this newly sprouting electorate weren't listening to those yesterday's men. And meeting halls were soon bursting at the seams for enthusiastic crowds to lap up his gospel of hope, peace and social justice. It was a heretical message that rejected the Conservative/New Labour consensus of austerity to deal with debt, the role of assistant world policeman, faith in free markets and lower taxes (especially for the rich). But this message was so popular that he had to address outside the masses who couldn't squeeze inside the halls.
And very soon the pollsters were all pointing towards something that weeks earlier was impossible; Jeremy's landslide victory. The two candidates who were supposed to be favourites, Andy & Yvette, were just hanging in there, hoping there'd be enough ABC voters to take it to a second ballot. Meanwhile each argued that they were the only one who could save the party from him. All in vain, as they were were swept away by his tsunami in the very first round of voting.
So what's been the secret of his appeal? He's not even a great orator, no silver-tongued rabble-rouser. Few jokes, no purple prose or soundbite spin. Just straight talking with the authority of someone who not only knows what he’s talking about but actually believes in it too. And he “doesn’t do personal.” He has no time for petty sniping at his rivals and critics. It’s principles and policies that interest and excite him. And he doesn't do sleaze either. The worst he can be accused of is associating with dodgy people, "sinners" who support terrorism (He says he'll talk to anyone to try to promote peace). He takes no backhanders and fiddles no expenses. In fact consistently he has had the lowest expenses claim of any MP. And perhaps this is part of his appeal. At last an honest, plain-speaking politician, who just tells it as he sees it, with no vain varnish or cynical soundbites and who genuinely stands for something that he believes in. Almost the ante-type to the modern political leader, which perhaps makes him the very type of politician the country is crying out for.
But it was not just about him or even mainly about him, it’s his message, which he articulated in a whole raft of policy documents ; as if this campaign was something that he’d been planning for years, rather than the last minute accident that it was. And surprisingly I found very many of his ideas, when considered with the care he himself takes over them, actually make sense. His policies are supported by Nobel prizing winning economists and in many cases by the wider public too. Just not by the establishment; the media and other politicians. Yet to my mind most of his policies are actually not very extreme. Mostly, they would not have been out of place in an updated version of the SDP’s manifesto on which I campaigned for my dad in 1983. They seem more left wing only because the centre of politics has since shifted so substantially to the right.
So now he’s been crowned Labour’s leader, where will it all end? Will he yet be brought down next year as the party splits and his fellow MPs bring out the knives? And what if miraculously at age 71 he is somehow still standing as Labour leader at the next election? Will he not find the somewhat different audience of the general public rather less receptive than the crowds who have flocked to him this summer? Will his seed fall on too much stony ground of hard-hearted voters who don't share his passion for social justice or will it be strangled by the thorns and weeds of our conservative media?
Or will a political miracle really happen? Can a scruffy septuagenarian socialist with a 30 year career in protest politics really pull it off? Through plain speaking without spin and soundbites, can he inspire enough voters with his vision of a fairer, kinder, more optimistic society to get him over the winning line? (After all the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate are normally enough to win). I don’t know. I remain doubtful, but I would like to believe it though.
For it seems to me this country we have for too long now been enthralled by a consensus ideology born in the Conservative party but adopted by New Labour ; blind faith in the good of the free market and the evil of state interference, lower taxes on the income and property of the rich, in the belief that the market will run things better and the wealth will trickle down. It hasn’t worked; nationally and globally the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer, our planet is overheating from fossil fuels, while it was the lack of state regulation and tolerance of reckless greed (not government borrowing) that led to the economic crash. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying the opposite is true either; state good, market bad. (I'm old enough to remember the 1970s and my dad’s disastrous British Leyland cars like the Austin Princess and the endless strikes). Blind faith in either the market or the state is a mistake. They are both false gods. I just believe it is time for a new way, a better blend of the two. Like Margaret Thatcher was the herald for the new free market ideology that has held sway for 36 years, could Jeremy Corbyn be the evangelist of a new ideology that might itself one day rule the kingdom as a new consensus? I don’t know.
Yet stranger, more unlikely things than that have happened. As they did with another J.C. 2,000 years ago…