In the midst of the largest spontaneous democratic movement Britain has seen for decades, one of the great disappointments has been watching the newspapers of record read by the liberal and left-liberal intelligentsia lining up with the forces of reaction and conservatism.
Jeremy Corbyn – a modest and plain-spoken Labour MP from north London – has drawn literally hundreds of thousands of people to rallies, with many of them joining the Labour Party for the first time (the Labour membership hasn’t been this high since the early 1950s). And yet outlets like the New Statesman and The Guardian, disappointingly, continue to insist he represents a kind of faddish radicalism, enabled by Labour’s recent election defeat and, perhaps more so, by uninformed youthful naivety and idealism.
While conservative outlets outright dismiss Corbyn as a dangerous red, many writers at The Guardian, New Statesman, and others have opted for a much more patronizing tone – “We all love our fun, but let’s get real kids”, etc. I think all observers of democratic politics should take note here: When establishment politicians, writers, and journalists say they want to build big and inclusive political parties, they usually don’t mean it. What they want is a membership docile enough to swallow the party triangulation du jour and active enough to be conscripted into canvassing and giving money at election time.
I was born in 1989, and I’ve only ever experienced a socialist politics filtered through the lens of history. Studying it has largely been an act of retrieval, especially in Britain where the traditions of working class solidarity and social democracy were quite actively suppressed by the Thatcherite duopoly of New Labour and the Tories. Despite a few decent manifesto planks and some soft egalitarian gestures, the Labour Party largely campaigned in the recent general election within a framework created by the Conservatives – committing itself to austerity and spending cuts, embracing nativist rhetoric around immigration, and trying to outflank the Tories on welfare policy by promising to get “tough” on claimants.
In the weeks following the vote, the Labour frontbench even moved to support a Conservative motion to cap welfare benefits for families with children, apparently as an incentive to stop the poor from breeding any further. Of the four candidates in Labour’s leadership race, only one opposed the measure.
Jeremy Corbyn is the first Labour politician in a generation who appears serious about trying to build an egalitarian Britain. The support and enthusiasm he’s generated, particularly from the young, isn’t about naiveté – it’s about hope, something in chronic short supply for people born in the past three decades.
Rather than trying to embrace, understand, or even seriously engage with this impulse, the self-appointed cultural guardians of equality and social justice in the metropolitan media have opted, overwhelmingly, to downplay and delegitimize his support and declare a Corbyn-led Labour Party to be “unelectable”.
This is nonsense. That the anti-Corbyn forces can’t even settle on a single candidate betrays their ideological incoherence and panic. That they can only greet this spontaneous outburst of democratic energy with shrill insouciance only proves that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are right – and that a Corbyn-led Labour Party is sorely and desperately needed.