The cult of Corbyn has now reached the glossy heights of GQ – the men’s magazine formerly known as Gentleman’s Quarterly. The editor, Dylan Jones, expressed frustration at Corbyn’s inept performance at the photoshoot for the Christmas edition. The Labour leader had to be “pushed around like a grandpa at a Christmas family photo”, he said. A verdict that probably suited Corbyn down to the ground. His is an anti-personality cult; the complete opposite of Tony Blair who would have known exactly how to behave for the cameras.
The remarkable thing about that GQ cover that finally emerged was not that Corbyn looked benign and uncharacteristically groomed. It was that the strapline, suggesting that he’s a 2018 prime minister-in-waiting, was not intended as a joke. Half of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and most of the nation’s press, have been in denial since Jeremy Corbyn stole Theresa Mays’s majority in the June snap election. How could this superannuated Trot, this loony-tunes, socialist vegetarian, this Hamas-loving, IRA-sympathising, unilateral nuclear disarmer possibly have won 40 per cent of the popular vote. They now complain that he isn’t far enough ahead in the opinion polls and should be doing better. Yet the latest Survation poll has put Labour eight points ahead of the Conservatives.
Despite his equivocation over Brexit, Corbyn has become a mainstream politician leading a party that is well placed in 2018 to capitalise on the disintegration of Theresa May’s government. Remember the adage: oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. Admittedly, visualising Mr Corbyn in Number 10 is a bit of a stretch even for me. The eternal back-bench rebel I knew in Westminster back in the day betrayed not the remotest desire to be leader of his party. But times change; and so do people. Mr Corbyn’s very “outsiderness”, his lack of PR grooming, is one of his attractions. He’s not part of the political establishment; doesn’t look or sound like an identikit MP; says things that are unusual and, best of all, is hated by the mainstream media (MSM).
Of course, I am part of the MSM and I’m prone to making the classic mistake of focusing too much on personality. Politics has moved on from the days when it was essentially a beauty contest, or “show business for ugly people” as Jay Leno put it. Mr Corbyn’s personality is actually peripheral to his own success. It’s not who he is, but what he stands for that matters to the movement that created him. Labour’s achievement in the June General Election was down to two things: the manifesto, which proved to be immensely popular, and the strength of its activist base centred around Momentum. Commentators like the former Labour Deputy Leader, Roy Hattersley, have sought to portray Momentum as a crowd of far left entryists who’ve enchanted naïve young members with ideological spells.
But as anyone who’s been to their conference will tell you, Momentum is more like the Yes campaign than the Socialist Workers Party. Its eclectic, green, anti-authoritarian, gender-conscious politics will be familiar to anyone who watched the 2014 referendum campaign. Commentators laugh at quilt-making and hackathons, but like Yes Momentum tries to engage people, instead of lecturing them. It has also been very successful, trebling party membership and turning Labour into the largest mass membership party in western Europe. You need only consider what happened to the once-mighty French Socialist Party in April, reduced to six per cent of the vote, to understand the significance of Corbynism. Labour too was headed for what is often called “Pasokification” after the defunct Greek socialist PASOK. If social democratic politics has a future, Mr Corbyn is it.
He is accused of being a throwback to the 1970s, and there’s some truth in that. But Labour isn’t adopting those “impossible demands” policies that the supporters of Leon Trotsky hoped would bring down capitalism. Labour is not a revolutionary party in any sense of the word – in fact it is rather conservative. No one seemed to notice, but the Labour manifesto in 2017 was much closer to Tony Blair’s in 1997 than the Communist Manifesto of 1848. It didn’t even promise to increase taxation, except on those earning more than £80,000, the top 2.5 per cent. The Scottish Labour Party under its new leader Richard Leonard is far more radical on tax.
Corbyn is supposedly a pacifist, yet as leader he has endorsed the renewal of Trident and spending a full two per cent of GDP on defence. As for rail nationalisation, most of it is already in public hands in the form of Network Rail, and the franchises that currently run the services are decidedly unloved. Even the Tories want to cap energy prices. We’ve reached a bizarre turn when abolishing tuition fees, scrapping the bedroom tax, and keeping the pensions triple lock is seen as extreme. It’s retail politics, perhaps, but in tune with the times. Theresa May continues to make speeches insisting that she wants a society that “works for all and not a wealthy few” but her actions belie her words. Her Birmingham speech on inequality has provided some of Corbyn’s best lines.
Hands were thrown up in horror when John McDonnell promised to take Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects into state hands. But even the Tory-dominated Treasury Select Committee said in 2011 that the Private Finance Initiative should be brought back on to the state’s balance sheet. They’re not charities, but products of the same finance industry that gave us private pensions, 125 per cent mortgages, payment protection insurance, and credit cards with ballooning debt.
During the financial crash, the financial sector had to be collectively rescued by a bank bail-out that deployed £1.2 trillion of public money, according to the Bank of England. Wages have stagnated ever since, and we are now told that the current pay freeze will last until the middle of the next decade. Yet, those who caused the crash simply got richer as they benefited from quantitative easing and the inflation of asset values. Last month’s Budget, with its capitulation to degenerate capitalism, has destroyed forever the illusion that the present system delivers the greatest good for the greatest number. On the contrary, it mobilised the wealth of the many for the welfare of the few – and many voters simply aren’t prepared to stand for it any more.
Labour is now well ahead among voters under 39 – the Millennial generation. For them, Soviet communism and IRA bombs are ancient history. We are entering an era in which real social and economic change is once again on the political agenda. Anyone wanting to understand the appeal of Mr Corbyn’s allotment socialism needs to stop living in the past. All the attempts to portray him as a dangerous radical have only fuelled the Corbyn anti-personality cult. He is politician whose very refusal to play the celebrity game is one of his greatest assets. Forget Ruth Davidson, Corbyn was undoubtedly the politician of the year in 2017.