Commentators are still adjusting to the shock of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party in a greater landslide than the one that brought Tony Blair to the same position in 1994. As Nick Palmer points out, opinion on Corbyn splits into three camps:
- People who agree with him
- People who quite like the spirit of what he says but are sceptical about achievability
- People who actively dislike him
But there are lots of reasons why anyone concerned for truth, justice and Britain’s long-term welfare should welcome Corbyn’s appointment, as it challenges some key features of the current political scene.
The closed shop
This is a widely observed fact. Just look at how the Cabinet is packed with chums from university—but the same has applied for some time to the Labour leadership as well. In both parties, the range of people involved has become narrower and narrower, and that has stifled debate and closed down political options. Despite his 32 years as an MP, Corbyn is an outsider to these circles—to which his struggle to form a shadow cabinet testifies eloquently. That is sure to bring a breath of fresh air into the political scene.
The corrupt practice
It is easy to over-state the level of corruption in British politics—and of course our situation is nothing like that of many other states around the world. But there are some shocking examples of the way the system works to the financial benefit of those in the system, and those around them—and they rarely gain any coverage. Last year, Maria Miller resigned as Culture Secretary in connection with her expenses claims, though never made any real apology. But around the same time, something much more shocking was going on.
Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, agreed the sale of the Post Office for what is generally reckoned to be £2 billion less than its proper market value. He did this on advice from seven banks, all of whom then had preferential options to buy shares as corporate investors. There was a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that these banks would not immediately sell their shares, but at least 50% of these shares were immediately sold to take the profit. One of the hedge funds that did purchase had immediately made £36 million profit; its director is one Peter Davies, who happens to have been George Osborne’s best man after getting to know him at Oxford University. It seems to me that there is only one expression to describe this kind of thing: utterly corrupt.
I cannot help feel a sense of deep distaste whenever I hear about the millions now being made by Tony Blair from his speeches and consultancy work—and this the person who was largely responsible for the instability in the Middle East which is literally making millions homeless and destitute. You could not imagine anyone more different from Blair than Corbyn.
The empty rhetoric
I would rate Prime Minister’s Question Time as one of the most embarrassing moments of our national life. The jeering and booing, the point-scoring and derision, the waving and taunting are about as far away from intelligent political debate as you could possibly imagine. Nick Palmer comments on Corbyn:
I voted for Corbyn for three reasons.
- He starts with what I think are the right instincts – generosity, kindness and solidarity. It is typical that his first act as leader was not to mug up for a breakfast TV interview but to speak at a rally for refugees – another cause where we’ve been frankly nervous of what you might think.
- He is not insistent that he’s always right: rather, he raises the right questions and invites a debate within and outside the party. Where most people don’t agree with him (as over leaving NATO, which he’s now dropped), he accepts that there’s a consensus with a different view and doesn’t try to batter it down.
- He is entirely uninterested in abuse. I’ve known him for over 40 years; I’ve never heard him say anything bitter or unpleasant about anyone. If you liked my style of positive politics, you can expect a great deal more from him.
The blinkered commitment to austerity
Corbyn opposes setting an ‘arbitrary’ date for the elimination of the deficit, and believes that ‘quantitative easing’ (printing money) should be done for the benefit of the people, not the banking institutions. His views are much more in line with what was actually successfully implemented in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and many people think it makes economic as well as political sense.
Corbyn should be praised, not castigated, for bringing to public attention these serious issues concerning the role of the state and the best ways to finance its activities. The fact that he is dismissed for doing so illustrates the dangerous complacency of today’s political elites. Millions in Europe rightly feel that the current economic order fails to serve their interests. What will they do if their protests are simply ignored? (Robert Skidelsky)
The distant and complacent political elite
The establishment scratches its head: “How could …?” Well, let’s just check what the “serious” people have done for us lately: economic disaster with rewards for those who caused it and barely a gain for anyone else; foreign policy disaster with cack-handed interventions bringing instability and chaos; social disaster with poverty festering, family life foundering and inequality growing. If that’s what being “serious” gets you, no wonder people prefer the joker.
Jeremy Corbyn’s answers may be wrong, but many of his questions are right. Instead of patronising his supporters, the insular ruling elite and their allies in big business and big finance should realise they are the cause of Corbyn. I doubt that Corbyn-led Labour will introduce the more human world I want to see: markets made more competitive; democracy made more local; families boosted as the bedrock of society. But you never know… (Steve Hilton, former director of strategy for David Cameron).
The democratic deficit
It’s worth having a read of ‘24 Things that Jeremy Corbyn believes‘. I would agree that 3 or 4 of them are crackers—but the vast majority are sensible things that I would vote for—except that no current party offers them as an option. In fact, on nine important issues, Corbyn is bang in line with public opinion. Kate Pickett, co-author of The Spirit Level and co-founder of The Equality Trust:
I look forward to Corbyn continuing to change politics in positive and profound ways. He has already enthused countless young people and re-enthused many others who had become disenchanted with politicians in general and Labour in particular. The public will be able to vote for a leader who shares the values of the majority in opposing Trident (the first time they have been given this chance), renationalising the railways, ditching austerity policies, and more. They will be able to get behind a leader who wants to listen to them and extend democracy, rather than to someone who is more interested in focus groups and what the media think.
More than 80% of the public believe we should work towards a fairer, more equal society, and in Corbyn they would have a leader committed to making that happen. I look forward to a revitalised politics based on genuine engagement and exchange with people of all ages, gender, class and ethnicity – an engagement based on ideas and values not cynicism and spin.
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