If Corbyn is Hard Left Then A Lot of People Are Hard Left

05/09/2016 15:47 | Updated 05 September 2016

You might assume that using the right terminology to describe someone's politics shouldn't be too difficult, especially within a British context. Of course, the two party system that dominated our parliamentary democracy for decades has long been in decline. Many have speculated that proportional representation is the only real long term solution to the dilemmas we currently face.

It's a logical conclusion to come to: traditional binary voting splits between old and young, rich and poor, urban and rural, religious and secular, socially conservative and liberal, and left and right, increasingly make less sense in today's demographically and constitutionally fragmented Britain. True modernisation would reflect these wide-ranging changes.

The internet obviously plays a role here, too, given that far more young people get their news from online sources. If my own social media networks, for example, reflected real life then Jeremy Corbyn would be heading for a landslide in the next general election. Conversely, Corbyn's polling amongst older generations could hardly get any worse. The trouble is that, as I recently argued in a piece about the Labour leader, it's the 'old media' that still set the agenda.

In the words of many newspapers, Corbyn represents the 'hard left' in British politics. The narrative goes that he's too radical to ever be prime minister, socialism doesn't speak to enough people and that his policies are 'too' left wing. Of course, the fact that the Overton window has shifted to the right is partly to blame for this attitude, but it's an argument also employed by many in his own party.

In recent months, Corbyn's supporters have been described as 'thugs' and 'extremists' while rival leadership contender Owen Smith disgracefully called Corbyn a 'lunatic'. Elsewhere, the word 'Trotskyist' has been used as a smear again and again by sensible commentators who should really know better.

There are two important points to make here. Firstly, the implication that Corbyn's supporters are extremists, or that they somehow mirror the xenophobic 'hard right', is offensive and wrong. If democratically campaigning for mass redistribution of wealth, investment in public services and a world full of destructive nuclear weapons, is extremist then there are a hell of a lot of extremists in the UK.

In spite of (bizarrely) Labour's best efforts, the party now have over half a million members, the majority of whom having joined for Corbyn, that dangerous extremist, himself. I'd be a surprised if even half these members know anything about Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky other than his name.

Secondly, and more importantly, this movement reflect a wider societal hunger for something new. Many commentators issue warnings about Labour harking back to the Militant days, a time of 'infiltration' and 'intimidation'. Yet the hundreds of thousands of new members aren't Trotskyist agitators. Like in Spain, Greece and, most recently, America, these are everyday working people who have been let down by failed neo-liberal economics and are desperate for change.

Of course, many will point to Corbyn's poor personal approval ratings and Labour's disastrous recent polling (which are down to a multitude of factors, it must be said), but simply dismissing these new converts as a hard left minority is a huge mistake. People are understandably sceptical about Corbyn's managerial competence and leadership credentials, but fear of his policies are less grounded in reality.

Flagship policies such as renationalisation of the railways, heavier taxation on corporations and the wealthy, placing greater emphasis on mental health in the NHS, and protecting the NHS from all private influence are hugely popular. In an interesting piece last week, the BBC found that when the factor of the public's perception of Corbyn, Labour and the left as a whole was stripped away, they were broadly sympathetic or even supportive.

Naturally, there are many on the left who will think that much of this rings true but are still unwilling to support Corbyn because of X, Y, Z, and that's fair enough. However, the stigmatisation of socialists as 'hard' left supporters of extremism, totalitarianism and terrorism should be challenged at every opportunity.

Critics of this movement point to examples of intimidation and aggression against those that disagree, which is horrendous but a sad by-product of most 21st century political movements that are driven by a desperate desire to shake up the system. It'd be a mistake to associate such behaviour with the swathes of people across this country that dream of a more egalitarian system.

However the media, or Labour MPs themselves, try to frame them, most Corbyn supporters are driven by a desire to help the less fortunate. Nobody's suggesting that the left automatically hold the moral high ground, but it increasingly feels like holding a world view based on compassion is seen as 'hard' and 'extremist' in 21st century Britain. Whatever your politics, that should be recognised as a sad thing.