There’s nothing more thrilling and warming to the radical soul than that moment when the power structure cracks and crumbles. What had seemed so right and obvious and eternal is gone in an eyeblink. Ceausescu’s face when the booing started. The cracks in the Berlin Wall. Portillo. The Blairites during Jeremy Corbyn’s victory speech.
So, Jez we did indeed! This is a stunning victory for the left, and a crack in the near-four-decade-old edifice of Thatcherism, and it’s been a long time coming – a whole lifetime coming for some political activists, including those talking to you now.
The Tory reaction has so far been politically clever – if disgusting and cynical from a human point of view. It is to whip up fear. The first Tory response to the Corbyn victory, one no doubt long in the planning, was that Labour now represents a “threat to national security”. The Tories are now under instruction to use the word “security” as often as possible in the hope that the meme will take hold of minds before any facts can get in – in much the same way that many people already believe that the Corbyn shadow cabinet, with its majority of women, is somehow all-male. We can only hope the electorate can grow up in time to see through all this. History cautions against being overconfident on this score.
The New Labour reaction was scarcely more edifying. The Blairites pride themselves on being political weather vanes, wetted fingers in the air, focus group data at the ready. And you could argue that Blairism was indeed a clever response to the prevailing political winds of its time. But the wind has changed and their psephology has failed them. As is to be expected from conservatives and dogmatists of all stripes, they stick to their ideological framework when the facts change. All they have left is the unedifying dogma that the only thing that really counts is power and that the only way to beat the Tories is to once again cosy up so as to be indistinguishable from them. For us however –as in fact for some Tories – the very fact that we have an opposition again is something to be cheered by all genuine democrats, regardless of the extent to which you share Jezzer’s vision.
The Blairites have a fear card of their own to play, which is that Corbyn will destroy the Labour Party, the only organisation powerful enough to stand up to Tory attacks on the poor and working class. Call us simple-minded, but we rather tend to the view that the best way to oppose is to oppose, not to play cynical political games, and if this destroys the Labour Party, then it is clearly not fit for purpose anyway. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that the very opposite is the case: that Corbyn is Labour’s only hope. In any case, it is the settled and democratically expressed opinion of the majority of Labour Party members, not to mention the social movement that now backs it, that the old New Labour just wasn’t worth saving anyway. Let’s see what can be built to replace it.
But can we win? #Thatchwecan!
The big question now is whether this social-movement, Occupy-style Corbyn victory signals the beginning of the end of the 40-year-long neoliberal project. Who knows? The movement against remains weak and it faces powerful enemies. Power fights back. But at the very least, a new conversation will begin, and this is needed more than anything else.
The pundits are doing their best to assure us that a Corbyn election victory is not possible. It should be remembered that these are the very people who only last month ruled out as ludicrous the possibility of a Corbyn leadership victory. And it wasn’t so very long ago that Labour swept to victory on a left-wing ticket and made some of the most progressive, socialist reforms the world has ever seen. So of course it’s possible – Jez could be PM in 2020.
It’s worth remembering that Thatcher herself was very much a Jez figure – a radical opposed by her own party who espoused ideas that mainstream opinion agreed were just nuts. But society was in crisis and change of some kind was irresistible. Something somewhere had to give. Thatcher won by pulling sections of the working class along with her project – the key also to a Jez victory. Thatcher promised material advancement – offering shares and council houses at knockdown prices. We were promised a ‘property owning democracy’, and a ‘popular capitalism’ — a nation of ‘Sids’. The ‘Sids’ now are still arguably doing pretty well out of the Tories – the relatively wealthy pensioners who vote for them have had their wealth ring fenced from austerity cuts. But the reality for many more – many of whom don’t vote – has been one of falling real wages, precarity at work, benefit cuts, massive student debt, and property ownership in decline. Social mobility has virtually stopped as inequality has widened.
It is for these reasons that Corbyn, and the movement that he has engendered, just may have a chance. There are plenty of people unrepresented in this democracy of ours, who are feeling ever poorer, and are thoroughly sick of political business as usual. Some of Corbyn’s policies are already popular – the renationalisation of the railways – and it is to be hoped that he can bring them along on other questions – militarism, immigrants. Corbynomics is the method, but the object must be the soul. And at least there is at long last a Labour leader who can actually do their job – in the first instance, to vehemently oppose the Tories latest plans to shackle the trade unions and cut welfare spending, and argue for a compassionate response to the refugee crisis. At the very least, this should make the Nasty Party think twice before launching further attacks and hopefully create a questioning culture in our society that challenges the general confidence of the rich and powerful on a day-to-day basis.
Perhaps we’ve at last completed the cycle that began with Thatcher. The possibility of building a fairer society has just opened up once again, and whether or not moves in this direction are led by Corbyn, by his movement, or by something else that comes in its wake, it is an opportunity we must be thankful for and grasp with both hands. All those who have supported or cheered Jez so far have a moral responsibility to follow through, back him, and get involved in organising the alternative. How you do this is of course entirely a matter for you. But joining the movement would seem to be a good first step.–Dave&Stuart