In 'The Boy in the Bubble', songster Paul Simon wrote 'It's every generation throws a hero up the pop charts' and the latest political star is Jeremy Corbyn, an austere man who has become the focus of anti-austerity activism in Britain. He could win the Labour leadership in September with far-reaching consequences for Labour, current government policy on Iraq and Syria and, if Prime Minister, British foreign policy.
There's something of the old gospel revivalism about Corbyn who has set the leadership contest alight and is attracting large crowds at rallies across the UK. Many are young, some are older and others are seasoned hard left cadres who, like Corbyn, have decades of activism under their belts.
Corbyn is definitely not a boy from the Westminster bubble. His message is that British capitalism is not delivering for the many while the few are living high on the hog. He advocates what could be called Keynesianism on steroids to boost growth, make big corporations pay their taxes, and rebalance the economy in the hope that mobilising non-voters will obviate the need to woo Conservative voters. Other contenders have been left swinging in his slipstream. I am reminded of the line in WB Yeats classic poem, The Second Coming, that 'The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.'
A radically different foreign policy is also part of the package. Corbyn founded and chairs the Stop the War movement, which failed to stop the Iraq invasion but has become a block on further intervention. David Cameron's government is moving slowly to overcoming the barriers to air strikes in Syria but needs backing from the official Opposition. Corbyn opposes this because western airstrikes could boost Daesh, which should be isolated and perhaps attacked by a regional coalition. And for good measure, Corbyn is sympathetic to arraigning Tony Blair as a war criminal and says the war was illegal. Who proves that? Former UN boss, Kofi Anan. Well, that settles it (not).
Corbyn is proud of backing the Kurds when Saddam was gassing them and was one of a handful of MPs that urged the British to boycott the Baghdad Arms Fair after Halabja. Another was Ann Clwyd who sought to indict Saddam and avert intervention but accepted it in the end. Corbyn opposed intervention although the Kurds were foremost in urging it, as many are now in urging military support and perhaps western ground troops. He and his supporters trumpet their success in stopping air strikes against Assad in 2013 after his use of chemical weapons and claim that this stopped war, although, in my view, inaction helped prolong it.
The consistent theme in Corbyn's foreign policy is a Chomskyian antagonism to America. His hero, (mine too), is Salvador Allende, the Chilean socialist leader overthrown with the assistance of Nixon and Kissinger in 1973, which led to football stadiums being filled with opponents and murdered. The coup was disgraceful statesmanship by America, which has apologised for it. But Corbyn seems to think that such interventions for nefarious purposes are part of the DNA of American imperialism, which cannot play a progressive role in world politics. This leads to supping with America's enemies. I remember seeing prominent left-wingers fawning on Hugo Chavez in, oddly, the Churchill Room in the Commons. Opposing American policy is one thing but consorting with tin-pot leaders sullies pluralism and democracy.
Anti-imperialism trumps other factors too. Take Corbyn's approach to Nato, which Labour helped establish. In the Communist Morning Star newspaper last year, Corbyn berated the 'enormous expansion of Nato into a global force' and urged a 'serious debate about Britain's overall defence and foreign policy' (including the nuclear deterrent) as 'Nato membership has brought us enormous levels of military expenditure and...involved us in countless conflicts.' He specifically challenged sending troops to Poland, Estonia and Ukraine and, while he would not 'condone Russian behaviour or expansion,' he said 'it is not unprovoked.'
The wishes of the peoples of the Baltic States and Ukraine are completely ignored although they see Nato as protecting their independence from Russia. They are not pawns in a new Cold War but have agency, even when they agree with the West. I am sure Kurds will appreciate this given they sought the assistance of the West in ousting Saddam. Some left-wingers have never forgiven the Kurds for doing so.
Such radical thinking on domestic and foreign policy highlights the gap between Corbyn and mainstream social democracy, a big plus for his followers, who are fed up with centrist politics. Every generation challenges received wisdom. Long-held views and old institutions need to be defended, amended or ended. The Corbyn bubble may grow or burst while his supporters hope, to cite Paul Simon again, that 'these are the days of miracle and wonder.'