If Corbynistas Are Bullies, Does That Make Their Opponents Hypocrites?

03/08/2016 15:49

Labour's NEC have banned the use of terms they deem to be offensive; anyone using 'scab', 'scum' or 'traitor' against another member of the party faces sanctions. But this anti-bullying stance is undermined by their tacit approval of insults targeting Corbyn's supporters. Use of 'Trots', 'revolutionary communists', 'champagne socialists' and 'thugs' by anti-Corbyn members of the Labour party and PLP continues without reproach and often without evidence. These mantras are echoed throughout the press, with Carole Malone of the Mirror going as far as 'Lenin style bully boys who'd send women to the Gulag'. I suspect Carole is fond of a bit of attention so I won't reward her with too much. But I wonder where she found hundreds of thousands of 'bully boys', whether she has a comparable insult for Corbyn's countless female supporters, and whether she has considered how profoundly disrespectful this is to over a million people who suffered and died in Gulags. I'm sure the irony of using an offensive title for an article focussed on bullying, allegedly perpetrated by those she attacks with it, is not lost on Carole. She's nobody's fool.

There will always be a minority among any movement who fit whichever insult you hurl at them, but the majority of 'Corbynistas' do not deserve the above designations; nor do they come from any single demographic. Minimal time spent scanning headlines reveals obvious contradictions indicating they cannot be one homogeneous, non-representative sub-group. The outcry over a £25 fee to enable supporters to vote in the leadership contest was only of such magnitude because it left many from low income households in financial hardship or excluded from participation; it was widely interpreted as a move to redress the balance in favour of the Centrists. Are those who struggle to find £25 really champagne socialists who can afford to support a naïve ideology whilst being ignorant of its impact on those less well off?

The level of horror evoked by talk of the Labour membership shifting to the left indicates either a short memory or a lack of familiarity with party history and claims that the new members do not belong there are ironic - many have thought the same about the more 'Blairite' members for 20 years. We hear that Corbynistas are not real Labour people; on the contrary, many I speak to emphasise they were lifelong Labour voters, that their family or community always had been, but they lost faith under New Labour and their votes went elsewhere. Upon investigation I found not only returning Labour voters lured back by Corbyn's vision but many who usually vote Green or Liberal Democrat; then there are those who always vote Labour come what may, I have even spoken to a few Conservatives who, disillusioned by the party's move to the right, have found something which resonates with them in Corbyn's would-be Britain.

This should come as no surprise; his policies are not hard left. If anything the perception that they are is symptomatic of the drift to the centre right in U.K politics. People from across the political spectrum agree with his proposals as long as you don't mention 'Corbyn', 'Left-wing' or 'Socialism'. His views about re-nationalisation of some services are hardly radical, his stance on Trident is widely supported regardless of people's political leanings and plans for rent controls are well received. The reality is, Corbyn supporters are an eclectic mix, socially, and politically diverse. If Brexit taught us anything, well - some of us, it's that labelling and blaming gets you nowhere. It is far more productive to ask why people want these policies. Why is it that swathes of people are either re-engaging with politics or getting involved for the first time? Not just taking notice, actively getting involved? Something has awoken them with a jolt and I suspect it is not just Corbyn's policies; it is his embodiment of a different kind of politics. He is living proof that wearied justifications for voter apathy such as 'Well what's the point? They're all the same.' no longer apply.

If these labels are so baseless, why do they persist? I would argue they serve to undermine Corbyn's campaign. Having failed to discredit the man himself or reduce his popularity, his opponents seek to invalidate his support base. This undermines the legitimacy of his support, and it tarnishes his politics - if Corbyn's followers are 'Trots' his policies become symbolically associated with the extreme Left. Portraying Corbyn supporters as an 'other', a fanatical personality cult of revolutionary communists, impedes recruitment of further support. If voters feel alienated by what they believe Corbyn supporters to be, they will be dissuaded from following him. This is at best lazy, and at worst downright offensive. Corbyn's supporters are real human beings, just like those who oppose him. Among their ever growing number I found nurses, teachers, civil servants, academics, students, care workers, office workers, parents, people from low income households, the retired, those with disabilities and countless others. They are decent, everyday people. They are tired from fighting a never ending battle to have their voices heard and their well thought out views legitimised, and they are upset- the judgements they face every day are taking an emotional toll. Where are the cries of bullying and intimidation on their behalf? The emphasis on death threats faced by Corbyn himself and the tireless ridicule endured by his supporters? They are there, but they are drowned out by the cacophony of abuse and anti-Corbyn rhetoric.