Jeremy Corbyn and the radicalism of possibility

Today tens of millions of people in my mother country will vote in an early general election few expected and almost nobody wanted.

Throughout all the emotional vacillations of the past few weeks, the one thing I continue to feel is a sense of hope and possibility that until recently would have seemed very alien. It’s not simply the hope of an outright Labour victory that’s keeping me going (unfortunately, this remains somewhat distant possibility) so much as a sense of possibility created by what Jeremy Corbyn has achieved in rejecting the ossified conventional wisdom of pundits and political gatekeepers.

Virtually all the politics I’ve known in my lifetime have been concerned with contracting the horizons of possibility rather than expanding them. Corbyn has succeeded in the face of all odds by explicitly rejecting the hallowed neoliberal premise that nothing can ever get better; that poverty and inequality are metaphysically hardwired into our societies; that the state can tinker but never transform; that democracy is an inconvenience to be managed rather than an enterprise to be embraced; and most of all that the only appropriate response to 30 years of defeat and retrenchment is to accept, adapt, and continue the march into decline. For once, the possibility of change on offer is the real kind: not the hollow elite spectacle of a Trudeau, Clegg, or Obama, but an electoral program that would qualitatively improve tens of millions of lives with a genuine mass movement at its back.

That such a thing could happen in Britain of all countries, especially after the frankenstein duopoly of Thatcher/Blair, still seems surreal. There is a strange sadness about the place, a haze of resignation and decline that has hovered over every decade since the war in one way or another. It is partly this, I believe, that accounts for the cultural stranglehold conservatism has enjoyed since the late 1970s: it’s what preserves all of the old class hierarchies and the insidious logics that justify them; keeps alive the nativism of Mosley and Rivers of Blood; makes culturally admissible the bourgeois racism of a Farage or a Griffin; it’s what maintains the Victorian moralism which says that the only value more important than Pavlovian deference to aristocracy is pathological contempt for the licentious lower orders; it’s the subtext behind every piece of tabloid grotesquery or Murdoch monstrosity, behind every bogus cultural shibboleth from The Aspirational Society to Alarm Clock Britain; it’s what kept democratic socialism in check even when the working classes were organized in their factories and their mines. 

I have no idea what’s going to happen tonight, of course. But win or lose it feels like something genuinely beautiful has been uncorked.

So, with a few hours to go, here’s to the radicalism of possibility and to the future it might bring for us all. 

Photo: https://twitter.com/emilyafai/status/872183750981017600

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