Saturday, 12 September 2015

Corbyn's challenge to the left

The landslide victory for Jeremy Corbyn is neither a comfort blanket nor necessarily a new dawn.  The steady tacking to the left within Labour since the unlamented departure of Tony Blair has finally been confirmed with a clean sweep of the right - Corbyn has managed to push the terms of political discourse away from a feeble echoing of Tory tropes into something more akin to a democratic movement.

Feeble mutterings from the Blairites aside, it is unlikely that there will be an immediate split with the social authoritarians heading off into a sulky, short-life hinterland.  There is no prospect of party realignment, which is a disappointment and an opportunity.  Even with a centre-right leadership platform there was only a very slim possibility of Labour recovering enough ground by 2020 to challenge the Tories in a loaded election, and Corbyn's election does not change the psephological underpinnings.

However, Corbyn's presence has managed to secure a growth in Labour membership - and a participation in the election that other parties would dream of.  Where his success has been greatest is in redefining the terms of debate towards an insurgency and a popular uprising, and sidestepping the political "reality" that has been spoon-fed over the last thirty years as a means of first ridiculing and then neutralising the left.

New mass memberships are often inert - how many of those who have joined the Liberals since the election will be active?  Yet the messaging for those who believe that the main focus of attack should be the Tories must be around galvanising discussion and debate which the Corbyn effect has catalysed.  The realities of parties of radical national identity, and the surge in the Poujadist support, means that there is no point in attempting to appeal on narrow party identities.  For radicals of all schools, libertarian leftism requires momentum and ideas, only then does the need to recognise the realities of the electoral system become paramount.

The Tories may think that by channelling the ghost of Michael Foot (a good and humane individual) through Corbyn they will continue their rigging of the system.  I suspect that this is hubris, because at present all that is keeping them together is the Kipper threat and the realities of a small majority.  Asking questions about equality, fairness and efficiency, including the question of whether a numerically-small country should be a nuclear power and what benefits it bestows on us, does not make him a raving lunatic, nor a terrorist.

Where Corbyn's weakness is likely to be greatest is in the context of his party tribalism, and that of those who oppose him.  Intelligent engagement is much more likely to secure success for other viewpoints, rather than joining in the demonisation - so it will be of peripheral interest how Tim Farron responds - as it is only adult to consider that the next election will require at least some tactical voting in many directions.  A mature politics should reflect that Labour have rejected twenty years of shifting ever closer to the right as a means of securing power, and that the terms of debate may now be very different.  Individuals and parties that recognise this are much better placed than those who want to fight the battles of the 1980s all over again, not least because it undermines the strategy of the Tories and their paymasters.

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