Another day, another poll reducing Tony Blair, and his acolytes in the PLP, to despair. First, there was the misguided belief among Labour MPs that nominating Corbyn would ensure a broad debate during the, presently interminable, leadership election, while at the same time those MPs felt safe in the assumption that he was ‘too Left’ to have any chance of being victorious. That hypothesis proved to be, well, wholly misguided. When polls were published alongside the eruption of public support for Corbyn – both the man and the principles – showed that the rebel backbencher was, to put it delicately, comfortably in the lead, the anti-Corbyn cohorts, and particularly his opponent sin the leadership contest, erected the narrative that he was ‘unelectable’, and implored Labour members not to vote for him if they wished to avoid another five years of Tory rule come 2020. But the runaway Jezza freight train has continued apace. He has the backing of the largest unions in the country, is rapidly becoming an icon for the left-leaning younger generation and students, and has enjoyed praise, punctuated by joyful expressions of euphoria, from Labour’s core and socialist-minded members of the commentariat.
These potent bastions of support have formed the vanguard of activism, and effective communication, in the interests of promoting Mr. Corbyn’s campaign. They demonstrate, and purposefully elucidate, the thriving anti-austerity sentiment that is fermenting among the UK population. The desire for a truly rigorous opposition that will not compromise and submit to an insidious Tory narrative on the ‘economic necessity’ of austerity, public sector cuts, and harsh sanctions against the poor and vulnerable has been expressed loudly for some time. Now it has reached its apotheosis, and in this volcanic cacophony of popular anger and dissatisfaction, vented, with vim, against the status quo, Jeremy Corbyn sits atop the rising ash cloud of inevitable seismic change in UK politics.
Now the charge that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’ and his potential leadership will banish the Labour Party into the ‘political wilderness’ and begin a long painful period of ‘Tory hegemony’ has been given little credence – much like the bigwigs in the Labour Party, Yvette Cooper being chief among them, denounced Corbyn’s economic outlook as ‘not credible‘ – by new polls asserting that more people would vote for a Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn compared to any of his rivals. The poll only surveyed 1000 people, with varied political allegiances, but the other pertinent statistic, extrapolated from the survey, is that almost half of those questioned said that Corbyn as leader would have no effect on whether they would vote Labour or not. So it appears that the ‘unelectable’ argument is even more unstable given that a portion of those not intending to vote for Corbyn as leader would still support Labour in a General Election. His position is strengthened further by the consideration, supported by the same poll, that Corbyn is popular among a broad spectrum of people with divergent political affiliations. It found that most supporters of the other major political parties have a stronger positive opinion of Corbyn, his personality and his policies, than any of the other candidates.
These findings can only rally fresh support to Corbyn’s cause. Those, like Peter Wilby of the New Statesman, who are more positively aligned with the views of the Islington North MP than the other candidates, but who have shown a disinclination to support his leadership bid because of a perception that Labour would struggle to take power in Westminster with him at the helm. Such Labour supporters may be galvanised, by the results of the poll, to commit to the candidate they truly believe in, and one who is not a carbon copy of the outdated, and obsolete, political and economic thinking of the New Labour era that Labour’s rank and file, and union members, have unequivocally disowned. They will see how a breath of fresh air like Corbyn – an odd, but perfectly fitting, choice of phrase for someone who is 66 and hasn’t changed his political views since election to the House in 1983 – has mobilised the disenchanted youth, and reinvigorated the disillusioned Labour core.
A final point to touch upon is the comparison between Corbyn and Michael Foot, the Labour leader during the ill-fated 1983 General Election, and the close affiliation between Corbyn and the ‘suicide note’ manifesto that the Party campaigned on that year. On the former point, the comparison is lazy journalism, and it can be categorically asserted that Corbyn is, firstly, more left than Foot was, but also their respective political characters are completely at odds. Foot was a staunch loyalist, whereas Corbyn has defied the whip more than 500 times in his Westminster career, while also criticising erstwhile labour leaders; most excoriatingly, Tony Blair vis a vis the Iraq War. With regard to the latter point and how it is used to denigrate Corbyn’s politics and justify concerns over his electability – after all, Labour suffered a catastrophic defeat in the 1983 election – the salient point to be made is in the fundamental differences between the United Kingdom of 1983 and the current circumstances of the UK today. Additionally, the degree to which perceptions and attitudes have changed over those 32 years, when considered alongside the tenets of the infamous 1983 manifesto document are helpful in explaining his appeal, and therefore are of significant consequence.
When you examine the main points of the 1983 manifesto, which Jeremy Corbyn is still largely subscribed to, they are all issues that presently concern a wide section of society, and frequently crop up in the political and economic consciousness. From the scrapping/non-renewal of Trident, to renationalisation of public utilities, to the question of EU membership, nearly all the precepts contained within the manifesto have been invoked during the Labour leadership contest, and in the anticipation up to the General Election back in May. Furthermore, we are seeing growing support for such policies as renationalisation of the rail network, with its crumbling Victorian infrastructure and exorbitant rail fares. Also the scrapping of the Trident nuclear programme in favour of spending on housing and public service provision. Euroscepticism is proliferating among the Left too, and although the Labour Party, and Corbyn, do not advocate a ‘Brexit’ like it did back in 1983, the issue is still a point of contention in the public sphere. Dismay at the existence of an unelected upper chamber of the House is another hot topic, and Corbyn is again on the side of the masses in calling for its abolition. Child care provision, increased spending on the NHS, education, tuition fees, the list goes on. Even taking the new found resonance of the 1983 manifesto out of account, you can see why Corbyn is popular just by reviewing his education policy and economic proposals. The desire to scrap tuition fees and reintroduce EMA and maintenance grants, goes a way into explaining his popularity with young people and those who exalt education as the true vehicle of social mobility. Like in 1983, Corbyn expresses a desire to create a National Investment Bank to invest in infrastructure and R & D so that the UK can engender increased innovation and be at the forefront of designing new technologies and best practices that sustain long-term growth. As someone who subscribes to the belief in endogenous growth theory, if I were a member of the Labour Party I would vote for him on those two platforms alone. But just that Corbyn has a critical approach, and a clearly outlined vision, – a rarity in politics today – in answer to the present-day preoccupations of the multitude is refreshing enough.
There is a restored hope in the future of British politics, anti-austerity is firmly on the platform of public discourse, and people are aching for the transformation of a political conversation that has become dry, hackneyed, and automated. They want to see a retaking of the societal narrative that Osborne, and the Tories have misappropriated for their own ideological impulses which are wreaking havoc on the poor and vulnerable. Corbyn’s election will be the start of a revolution of the Left that I have been advocating for years. If it leads to another schism, then it is a small price to pay to see a true Leftist party, with the potency and lucid voice of reason, adequately represent the perennially downtrodden, scapegoated and neglected poor.
The Left, all across Europe, have always been plagued by internal disunity throughout history, but what matters in the reality of today’s times is that a genuine, purposeful and socially progressive Left has a beating heart once more, and it resides in the breast of Jeremy Corbyn.