Can Corbyn succeed in British politics in the long term?

Or even in the short term? Corbyn is attracting the derision of Britain Inc because of his unwillingness have a PR campaign at all, and continuing his politics of rebellion in a new position of influence. Refusing to sing the national anthem at a public function is understandable, but not politics. If he can shape up just a little, what lays in store for us in the longer term?

Anthony Barnett has some words of wisdom for us on on this matter:

On Iraq and against austerity Corbyn has the public with him. He is not a just figure from the past. Or even if he is, he is also England’s Nicola Sturgeon. But he is a collectivist in a way that may be less popular south of Hadrian’s Wall than in Scotland. How he articulates his socialism may decide whether he is accepted and perceived by voters as a democrat in the English sense of being for peoples’ freedom and liberty. England has a highly individualist culture, including across the working classes, and if Corbyn is positioned as seeking a top-down, dictatorial state he will be drummed out of relevance. This is what the Tories will seek to do. At the same time English individualism is not as permissive of rampant greed as America’s (if I may be excused a rough and ready stereotyping). Here Corbyn’s philosophy may not be so discordant with opinion as the Tories think.

On the politics of greed he has the advantage:

It should never be forgotten that the Prime Minister charged taxpayers £680 for tidying up his wisteria, as if this was a parliamentary expense that should be borne by the public purse. He and George Osborne call for austerity but they and their families are dripping in money and you can tell from their smiles that they delight in dosh. Corbyn by contrast calls himself parsimonious. The media will try and project him as power-crazed but he is evidently selfless not greedy. It is less a matter of being “authentic” whatever that means, than of having the integrity to live the values he espouses. This too could prove very popular. It is a paradox, but Corbyn is the candidate with the most austerity in the age of austerity and this ensures that he can denounce it with complete credibility.

On Labour Party tribalism there is a weakness:

Neal Ascherson once observed that you could no more get democratic socialism from the British state than milk from a vulture, a remark that helped inspire Charter 88’s campaign for a new constitution. Should Corbyn attempt to command the state in the name of his socialism he will be broken, despite his legitimate claims to popularity sketched above. He might with a great deal of luck and another financial crash be able to win an election outright by driving over 100 Tory MP’s from the seats. Yet even were he to climb such an incredible mountain, the vulture will not be milked.

The alternative is to build a wide alliance of all the forces celebrating his astounding breakthrough, the trade unions, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, local governments and local mayors. Caroline Lucas offered an electoral pact (a not ungenerous proposal from her own party’s point of view, and with Labour needing every vote it can get) motivated by a similar analysis in a speech directed to him and his supporters. It deserves quoting at length:

The beauty of this moment, and what scares the political establishment most, is that the power of your campaign is coming from thousands of grassroots voices – not a diktat from above. It hardly seems a coincidence that the first truly democratic leadership election in your party’s recent history is producing such a powerful resurgence in optimism. People do indeed vote differently when they know their vote counts…. an anti-establishment mood is manifesting itself into a real political force.

 

For that reason, one of my few disappointments about your campaign is that it hasn’t focused more on reforming our ailing democracy. A truly progressive politics fit for the 21st century requires a voting system which trusts people to cast a ballot for the party they believe in. If you do win this contest I believe you should take this opportunity – and the huge amount of momentum behind you – to call a constitutional convention to allow people across the country to have a say in remodelling Britain for the future. A convention has the potential to energise even more people than your leadership campaign, or the Green surge, and to inspire the kind of feeling across the UK that swept Scotland in 2014.

 

However, to fully embrace this moment – and if Labour is to truly become part of a movement rather than remain just a machine – it’s crucial to recognise the multi-party nature of modern British politics. No one party has a monopoly on wisdom, or is capable of making the transformation alone: a diversity of progressive voices is essential for our democracy.

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words of wisdom