What Labour can learn from the Corbyn campaign
by Bryan Gould
Tue 8th Sep 2015
No one, surely, could begrudge Jeremy Corbyn the odd chuckle or two when he contemplates, in his private moments, the consternation he has caused by his unlikely candidature for the Labour party leadership. It is not just the discomfort of his opponents, though that is sufficient cause no doubt for a little schadenfreude, but the fact that so many expectations have been confounded by someone who has been for so long dismissed as a nonentity, a fringe figure and a relic of the past.
It may be that the sweetness of his achievements so far will be as good as it gets and that the “sanity” narrowly defined by his opponents will in due course be restored. It may even be that, in his heart of hearts, he would be secretly relieved if that turns out to be the case. It would be true to his self-image and temperament that he should see himself as the catalyst for change, rather than as bearing the responsibility for putting it into practice.
But, as the possibility of a Corbyn leadership looms ever larger, it is the reaction of his opponents that is truly instructive. That reaction has developed from incredulity, then on to alarm and indignation, and finally to resentment and anger. How could someone as ill-fitted for the task, as unworthy of consideration, as out of touch with political reality, possibly be on the threshold of walking off with the party’s leadership and challenging for the role of Prime Minister?
These reactions are typical of those who feel that an impostor and an interloper has cheated them of an inheritance that is rightfully theirs.Those in the party who have steadfastly trodden the middle way, who have shown their superiority, by recognising “political realities”, over those who do not have to bear parliamentary responsibilities, have long grown accustomed to deciding the party’s fortunes.
For them, Ed Miliband was bad enough, but could, in the end, be restrained. With his defeat, they now want what they have lost returned to them. When the attempt is made to deny them that birthright, they want to vent their anger at the perpetrator by unmasking him and showing just how misled his supporters have been.
So, the “mainstream” stance on Corbyn is to focus on his lack of experience, on the skeletons in his cupboard, on his supposed inability to win a general election. And when those who have the votes and the power to decide seem unmoved by these considerations, there is nothing left but to impugn the bona fides of the voters themselves.
The Corbyn phenomenon is to be explained, it seems, because those tens of thousands of newly enthused actual and potential Labour voters who have joined the party – an unfamiliar sight, after all - are, in reality, “entryists” whose real purpose is to destroy the party and make further Tory victories inevitable.
There must surely be a more rational and constructive approach than this negativity, whatever the outcome of the leadership election. With or without a Corbyn leadership, is it not worthwhile to ask why so many people were ready to support him – not, in other words, what is it that disqualifies him as a leader but rather, what did he do and say that attracted so many to his cause?
We don’t need to look far for the answer. Jeremy Corbyn dared to suggest, along with the IMF, that austerity is an inappropriate and destructive response to recession, that government has the responsibility to use its power and resources to strengthen the economy and share its fruits more equitably, that the OECD is right to say that inequality is not the price we must pay for economic success but a major obstacle to it, that – as the Global Financial Crisis demonstrated - the market is not infallible and self-correcting, that the drive for private profit is not a guarantor of efficiency, that we must cherish our most important resources by raising the health and education levels of ordinary people, that we are all better off if burdens and opportunities are fairly shared and if every shoulder is put to the wheel.
These may be unwelcome or unacceptable ideas in some quarters, but surely not in the Labour party? As far as we can tell, they are ideas that, however frightening they may seem to Labour’s power-brokers, have appealed to a significant part of the electorate who have not hitherto found much about Labour to enthuse them.
They are ideas that deny the mantra that “there is no alternative”, that challenge the voters to think about better ways of doing things, that look forward to new hope that a healthier, more inclusive, society and economy are within our reach.
If we were not so keen to condemn him, if we would look at what his candidature has achieved, could the Labour party as a whole – with or without a Corbyn leadership - not learn and benefit?