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The Political Event Of Jeremy Corbyn

07/06/2017 11:46

In a series of low moments for the Labour/Miliband government, this was perhaps the nadir. In 2015 the bright sparks in the party's PR department decided one of the short cuts to electoral success would be to adopt the politics of stigmatisation. This they did in a particularly tepid way when their team mass produced a mug which sported on its side 'Controls on Immigration...I'm voting Labour'.

The tea-supping, xenophobic crank who would be moved such that they were prepared to actually reach into their pockets and shell out for such a commodity - probably existed more in the minds of the young, savvy media high-fliers who had produced the idiotic piece of tat in the first place, rather than the population at large. Nevertheless the angle and approach of the Labour campaign was, from this point on, clear. Labour had decided to delve into the gutter where the politics of spin were absolute, and the facts mattered very little.

Facts, for example, which might have pointed to how the immigrants from the 10 poorer countries, such as Poland, Estonia and Hungary who had joined the EU in 2004, and who had migrated to Britain in the ten years which followed - actually contributed significantly more to the UK economy than they had taken out in benefits. £5 billion pounds more to be exact.

One might have hoped that the party of 'labour', the traditional bulwark of the working classes, could have summoned the sense of internationalism and solidary required to defend the predominantly poor people entering the country, seeking new work horizons and a better life. And yet, it was not to be. In the event, we were left with the shuffling figure of Ed Miliband, looking uncomfortable and half-baked, as he was compelled to trot out banal attacks of the Tory type, only he was never able to conjure up the professional levels of hatred the way they do - perhaps because his heart simply wasn't in it.

The immigration issue was more than just an unhappy blip, however. In June 2013 the Labour opposition signed up to the austerity economic policy of the Conservative-Liberal coalition, a policy which was to come into effect for the years 2015-16, and operated along almost wistful lines. The only way to deal with the financial crisis was, alas, a sweeping programme of cuts to social services and the public sector. The people who had facilitated the crisis - the bankers, the investors - were to remain largely unmolested by such a political vision, free to go on spinning the wheel of their particular brand of casino capitalism, continuing to reap the vast rewards.

The fear of immigration was an inevitable corollary to such an outlook. Unable to register the source of the crisis in the policies of deregulation which had favoured the unbridled profits of a super cabal of high financiers, both mainstream parties tended to locate the true threat to the economy in the poorer elements at the bottom - be it the immigrants entering the country, or the indigenous benefit claimants whom, it was supposed, were bleeding the system dry.

And so by 2015 a stagnant political consensus had emerged which was underlain by the same economic policies of austerity. The meaning of Jeremy Corbyn as a political phenomenon lies in this. He shattered that consensus. He won the Labour leadership on an anti-austerity platform. He put forward the ridiculously left wing suggestion that those who had set the basis for the crisis might be made to pay for it. He shifted the political focus and the question of culpability from those at the bottom to those at the top. On the issue of immigration he was explicit; he said we should celebrate the 'enormous contribution to our society' by those people coming to live in the UK from abroad.

He made the arguments for all of this with a gentle and humane persistence which was so out of kilter with the slick soundbite echoed out by the type of professional politician who has all the presence of a computer generated avatar. People began to rally. The years of the New Labour project and 'modernisation', its sly orientation toward big business, its complicity in military mass mayhem in the Middle East, the way the interests of the rich and powerful were so easily condensed in the grinning, ghoulish figure of Tony Blair - these years had left their mark on the political consciousness of a generation, with many younger people tuning out of politics in a haze of apathy and contempt. But now such people began to get involved again. They signed up to the Labour Party in the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands. An upswell from below, a grassroots mobilisation which quickly saw Labour become the biggest mass party in Europe with a membership of over half a million strong.

Those at the top of the party, who had cultivated lucrative careers during the New Labour period and had fully imbibed the philosophy of the third way, greeted the influx of new members with barely concealed contempt. To them - the new members did not signify a democratic and genuinely popular movement from below, but were rather the mindless playthings of 'Trotskyite' bogymen seeking to infiltrate the party for their own sinister ends.

While prattling on about the importance of democracy, the Labour elite affected a coup against the democratically elected leader, a coup which was thwarted by the hundreds of thousands who rallied to show Corbyn their support. Having brought the party close to collapse by sabotage and calumny, the coup plotters then repaired to a respectable distance in order to make complaints about how Corbyn had failed to 'unite' and 'stabilize' the party and was thus almost certainly 'unelectable'. It was the equivalent of letting off a hand grenade in a greenhouse and then complaining the windows really should have been double-glazed.

The reaction of the mainstream press was equally visceral. They left no smear unturned. The plant loving pacifist who had spent decades on the back benches campaigning on a consistently anti-racist, anti-war platform was painted in terms of a terrorist sympathiser, an anti-Semite, a sexist, a threat to the national interest - the slanders arrived in the rapid babble of the most ad-hoc and hastily improvised spite. The 'evidence' for them was adduced in feverish and increasingly desperate terms which often bordered on the ludicrous.

The danger Corbyn posed to the nation, for instance, was evinced by the fact that he had failed to stoop sufficiently when bowing before a war memorial. His lack of political seriousness was exhibited by the fact that he had been caught napping on the train. But more than just the ridiculous, these diatribes expressed something of the pathological, the shrieking, yowling fury of an elite group which feels the untrammelled domination of the political machine slipping from its grasp. June 8th represents more than just another election. It could mean an end to austerity and a break with the status quo. They say that Corbyn is entirely unelectable. But the rabidity with which they denounce him, the sheer ferocity of the attacks, suggests that, deep inside, they fear the very opposite to be true.

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