For far too long we have been accustomed to a political culture shorn of compassion, decency, and solidarity. We’re all familiar with the script: a leader, or prospective leader, is someone who isn’t afraid to ‘make the tough choices’, ‘tell us how it is’, ‘be unpopular’, ‘take the hard rather than the easy decisions’, etc, etc.
We are also by now well acquainted with the real message being delivered in these over-used and cliched soundbites – namely that if elected I will govern in the interests of a tiny economic minority at the expense of the majority and pledge to demonise, attack, hound, and hurt the poor and most vulnerable among us more than my competitors at every opportunity in order to do so.
It is a narrative, a discourse, tantamount to the equating of political power with callous indifference to human suffering, transforming cynicism and cruelty from vice into virtue, while pretending that there is no alternative. In the same inverted morality words such as compassion and decency are equated with weakness and idealism, the last qualities we should expect in a politician who is serious about governing the country or occupying any position of influence within the political mainstream.
Jeremy Corbyn has rapidly become the antidote to this lie: this Daily Mail-Tory-New Labour-City of London-benefit sanctioning-foodbank proliferating-migrant bashing-minority ‘othering’ conception of what a successful and rational society should look like. Not that Corbyn is Gandhi in a beige jacket – far from it. In fact what he represents connotes real strength and grit, the sort needed to be able to swim against the prevailing tide to mount a serious challenge to the Thatcherite, neoliberal juggernaut that has decimated the lives and communities of far too many.
Over the past month this man has come to symbolise everything we’ve been missing in our politics, a candidate for leadership who is as unassuming as he is humble, who lacks vanity, ego, and who refuses to be anything other than himself. This, as much as the message he is delivering to packed audiences up and down the country, is why he has shone so brightly and why despite the welter of column inches to the contrary, they fear him.
At a time when we have a government that sends sniffer dogs and policemen to Calais rather than doctors and nurses to deal with desperate human beings fleeing war, persecution, and unimaginable privation in countries we have helped to destabilise and destroy, we need an alternative. At a time when we have people living in disgusting ostentation while all around us homelessness, destitution, and poverty is growing exponentially, we need an alternative. And in a country that places a priority on spending billions on replacing weapons of mass destruction in the form of Trident rather than spending it on building affordable homes, investing in the NHS, schools, and on making sure that everyone who works receives a wage commensurate with a decent quality of life, we obviously and desperately need change.
Those, particularly within the Labour Party, who’ve issued warnings over the dangers of ‘lurching to the left’ behind Corbyn are standing on the shoulders of the siren voices who warned Clement Attlee and the men and women who helped transform British society after the Second World War that the creation of a national health service was a utopian pipe dream – unafforable, unworkable, and delusional. They are standing in the tradition of those who warned that the goal of full employment as the key objective of economic and social policy was contrary free market doctrine and guaranteed to end in disaster. Indeed, whether they know it or now, they are the modern incarnation of those who preferred a society divided between the deserving rich and undeserving poor, fueled by the belief that individual wealth is evidence of moral virtue while poverty is due to moral degeneracy, the former rightfully rewarded and the latter justly punished.
We’ve had enough of these Cassandras in our political culture, just as we’ve had enough of being told that the summit of human happiness and fulfilment is a massive salary and the ability to buy anything we want whenever we want it. We’ve had enough of happiness being confused with excitement, of being assured that competition is more compatible with our nature than cooperation, and that the poor man who steals a loaf of bread from a supermarket belongs in jail, while the rich man who closes a supermarket because it is no longer profitable, thereby consigning hundreds of people to poverty, belongs in the House of Lords.
What they don’t get is that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign is not driven by what ‘can’ be done but by what ‘must’ be done, by the necessity of reintroducing sanity and humanity into a political culture that has become captive to the needs of the rich and big business. It is this cult of business that has so distorted and perverted our understanding of what constitutes a viable and sustainable economy. To put it another way, no business or businessman or woman has ever created a job in this country. Not one. It is not businesses that create jobs it is consumers who create jobs, by spending money to create the demand for goods and services to which businesses respond by expanding their existing business or in the form of new businesses being created and with them employment. And when it comes to this creation of demand, it is an empirical fact that people on lower incomes will spend more of any extra money they receive than people on higher incomes, as their needs are correspondingly greater.
So rather than focusing on cutting benefits and incomes, we should be talking about raising benefits and incomes. And rather than listening to those who tell us that businesses can’t afford to pay their employees a living wage, we should be telling them that any business than cannot afford to pay a living wage is not a viable business and has no business being in business in the first place. We need, in other words, to reassert the primacy of the state and government over the economic forces that are in truth the real government under the status quo, a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
The ideas and vision that Jeremy Corbyn represents, for so long buried beneath a ton weight of Thatcherite ideology, have risen from their slumber and are now part of the mainstream political discourse again, breathed new life by thousands of young people who demand a real and humane alternative to the thin gruel that passes for reality today.
It is why when they those same siren voices continually shriek that Jeremy can’t win, what they don’t realise is that he already has.