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Jeremy Corbyn, Danny "The Fink" Finklestein And Why Labour Must Return To The Left

21/07/2015 11:05 BST | Updated 19/07/2016 10:59 BST

I sometimes question why I continue to watch mainstream political shows: Newsnight, Question Time, This Week, C4 News with Jon Snow's whacky socks. Invariably, I find myself descending into Orwellian territory - my two minutes of hate - as I hurl a wave of expletives at the haunted "telescreen".

Of course, I keep on watching; like a good citizen I want to stay informed and vigilant; perhaps I even fear being stopped on the street by a talking-head journo and, due to my ignorance on who recently shafted whom in Westminster, made to look a fool.

Regardless of my reasons, on Thursday night (16th July 2015) I sat down to watch Newsnight. They were talking about Jeremy Corbyn and his chances of winning the Labour leadership, and/or a general election.

The piece opened with a shot of an impassioned Corbyn talking at a rally:

'It is wrong, it is immoral, it is unnecessary, that anyone should be sleeping on the streets of Britain.'

I nodded, continuing to like and respect Jeremy Corbyn; further imagining how refreshing it would feel to have genuine choice at the next ballot box; to have significant policy differences between the two major parties.

As you can imagine, not everyone agrees with such a sentiment, though:

Chuka Umunna (Shadow Business Secretary): 'I don't have a problem with Jeremy personally, but what I do have a problem with is his positioning and politics. I don't think it's a politics that can win. If you are a Conservative, what kind of politics would you want to win; it would be the politics people associate with Jeremy: weak on defence at a time when global threat is rising, more generous benefits for those who can work, but refuse to work, and mismanagement of our economic finances.'

Chuka, whilst sounding increasingly like a zealous Tory minister, went on to talk about the need to avoid Tory "traps", for Labour to "box clever" and not simply lurch to the left.

And in small part, he's right: Labour must box clever, but they must first identify where the real traps are, and who is really setting them.

Newsnight moved the debate back into the studio: between Zoe Williams, writer for The Guardian, and Danny "the Fink" Finkelstein, Baron of Pinner and Associate Editor of The Times.

Zoe Williams kicked-off: "It's really interesting to hear everything Corbyn says portrayed as a really bizarre, radical-left idea, because a lot of what he thinks are actually majority positions. You'll get a lot of people in the army saying the defence structure as we have it is for yesterday's war and not tomorrow's war; Trident is for old school blocks of allies and opponents, and not for agile terrorist-style threats. There's a majority support for renationalising the railways, there's a majority support for building social housing to be owned by the state and paid for by the state.

So the idea that he's actually articulating something bizarre, I think is in itself strange."

I agreed with Zoe Williams, so much so it led me to beg the question:

Why are the views of Jeremy Corbyn being represented as "bizarre" "far out" or "radical"? Bizarre to whom? Whose agenda dictates what is usual and what is unusual?

The quick and obvious answer: the media's - or more to the pressing point, the owners of the various media outlets, and the various complex and multifaceted, private and corporate interests they represent.

Certainly, when we factor in the issue of media bias, it becomes less and less "bizarre" to comprehend why Jeremy Corbyn's detractors would seek to marginalise and undermine him as a legitimate candidate worthy of real consideration.

Indeed, it would actually be bizarre to expect a media, owned and controlled by the super-rich to seek to represent Jeremy Corbyn (a man who would ultimately seek to raise tax revenues on the very richest) in a fair or impartial manner.

Cue the affable Danny "the fink" Finkelstein:

"Let's look at this from a Conservative point of view - it would definitely make it much easier for the Conservative Party to be re-elected if Jeremy Corbyn was the leader of the Labour Party. He'd move them to be more intensely appealing to a smaller number of people who already vote Labour... ...It's the move you make if you don't think you're going to win the next General Election. Now here's a funny thing, I think Labour could win the next General Election if it had a prime ministerial candidate!"

Zoe Williams countered by arguing what counts as centre ground today was considered right wing only five years ago: specifically, attitudes toward wealth creation and benefit culture.

Danny had no comeback, evading the eloquent points Zoe Williams made. He did make a joke though - a sort of joke: "quite a lot of people on the right are wondering if we should tell the Labour Party they really are going to lose the Election."

I despaired, whilst sitting in front of my telescreen; I also took to Twitter and - and I, less than eloquently, called Danny "the Fink" Finkelstein a "complete tool".

TomConrad1980 Tom Conrad™ ‏@tomconrad1980 Jul 16

"I'm not sure I should tell Daniel #Finkelstein he's a complete tool #Newsnight But I will."

Now, I could simply pretend I meant Finkelstein is a "tool" of the Murdoch press, a man with a vested interest in keeping any to-the-left candidate out. But the truth is, I had been mirroring Danny's sort-of joke - the one about the right telling, or not telling, Labour they're going to lose the General Election. I'd added my childish and churlish "complete tool" jibe as a playful ribbing.

Of course, with the beauty of hindsight, my jibe does instead feel a little loutish and crude (something - and you'll have to take my word on this - I don't make a habit of).

I guess, at the time I'd entered my Orwellian two minutes of hate - needing to vent my frustration at this hackneyed attitude toward Corbyn.

Also, and again to be fair to myself, my message felt like a necessary shorthand attempting to express what 140 characters would not allow: "Danny, I strongly disagree with everything you stand for, and are currently saying, and how you are not engaging with the points your opponent, Zoe Williams, is making, but are instead repeating your implied point, 'Corbyn can't win because he's a lefty nutter' and the predictable electorate love the familiar centre."

Twitter interactions are difficult, and Twitter etiquette isn't an exact science. There's a lot of ground between trolls and those who make poorly executed jokes.

Anyway, Danny Finkelstein, somewhat surprisingly, replied to my tweet and a bit of tweet ping-pong ensued over the course of Thursday, and early Friday night.

Here's the most pertinent message, where he retweeted one of my tweets.


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Obviously, I can't say for certain whether Danny Finkelstein genuinely believes his own spiel or not. But either way, I'm not buying it.

Do Tories seriously believe Burnham, Cooper or Kendall could win the Election? Do they truly think Labour lost the Election because ordinary people thought Ed Miliband had moved Labour too far to the left?

Ken Livingston in the same Newsnight piece countered the persistent myth Ed Miliband was "too left wing" for voters, by suggesting quite the opposite is true. "Ed Miliband made far too many concessions to the old Blairites - going into the Election as an austerity lite - losing votes to the SNP who opposed austerity, and in the North to UKIP because working-class voters asked 'what did Labour ever do for us.' We've got to show people we can create good jobs for ordinary people, build homes their kids can live in: that's Jeremy's strategy, that's what can win us the next Election."

Do Burnham, Cooper or Kendall strike fear into Tory hearts?

No, of course not. Each of the three candidates represent a compromise; a desire to stay in the centre and quibble over percentages. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, to varying degrees, are blue Labour, Tory lite. Ultimately, why should Tories, or at least their supporters, fear losing to a party that essentially mirror their policies?!

Real choice terrifies them though, and Jeremy Corbyn certainly represents that: a principled man with firmly held beliefs; a sharp intellect; a candidate with the guts to have a vision, to look beyond the narrow margins occupied by both the Blairites and the Tories; introducing a truly livable wage, social housing and renationalisation of the railways. None of which sounds especially radical when you look beyond the Blairite and Tory rhetoric.

My prediction: I hope Corbyn wins the Labour leadership, moving the Labour Party back to the left; either winning the next Election, or, after losing in 2020, Corbyn opens the door to The Red Prince (Neil Kinnock's son, Stephen Kinnock MP - an unquestionably more prime-ministerial candidate to suit all tastes).

Unfortunately, I suspect Corbyn won't win. I suspect the constant message by the Finks of this world, and the Murdoch machine will seep through: too many Labour supporters consciously and subconsciously buying into the rhetoric of both the Blairites in the party, or the established media - 'beware Corbyn, he is unelectable... he is bizarre.'