THE BLOG
07/09/2015 05:54 BST | Updated 06/09/2016 06:59 BST

Chuck a Grenade in There: Why I Voted for Jeremy Corbyn

Yes yes yes. I am one of these naif, deluded, bandwagoning, high-horse-straddling, moralising political cosplayers who voted for Jeremy Corbyn. Obviously.

More precisely I voted Corbyn first preference, Andy Burnham second and Yvette Cooper third.

I had the most fantastically fun barney about this with an old friend and fellow Labour supporter who is cleverer than I am, knows much more about political process and (at the time anyway) backed Liz Kendall. The first question he asked me was: Can he win an election?

No, he can't. He's said in bald terms that he will raise taxes, and most English people don't like paying more taxes, no matter how many services it will provide them or how much easier it will make life both for the next generation trying to get a foot on the ladder and those less well off than themselves.

I said this, my only rebuttal being that I didn't believe any of the candidates could beat what is now an experienced, well-oiled Tory machine which skilfully applies ideology to policy and then to parliamentary majority, pausing only for instances of Clinton-esque co-optation when the din of public outrage become tedious.

He then asked if Corbyn could even win more seats than Ed Miliband?

I didn't know, and still don't - I'm not John Curtice. Perhaps, when the SNP's lack of policy creation power becomes abundantly obvious after the scrutiny of the next Scottish election he could sneak a couple of seats back in the old country? Maybe a few seats here and there lost to Ukip and Green defectors could come back? But by and large No. The UK is a right-wing country just now with one Northern alcove of left-populism and another pocket of ultimately hypocritical and self-serving metropolitan liberalism (yes that is you London) and it will take more than five years to win enough policy arguments to change that.

So what do I hope to achieve by voting Corbyn?

Several things, more to do with how we conduct politics and governance in this country than who I want the next Prime Minister to be: I think Corbyn can save the identity of the Labour movement from extinction; I think Corbyn believes that winning policy arguments is more important than winning elections; I think Corbyn can reignite an authentic debate between progressive collective endeavour and individual conservative traditionalism; I think Corbyn can recalibrate and galvanise the role of the political party in governance, particularly from outside of government; I think Corbyn can bring innovation back to policy-making; and I believe that Corbyn can restore a modicum of sportsmanship and fair play to the political dogfight, even if that means he gets eaten alive.

The first important virtue I see in Corbyn is that he draws moral red lines.

If the Labour movement is going to survive then it needs to retain the key areas of its identity that differentiate it from the Conservatives. I draw this view from the example of the Liberal Democrats who stood firm on a platform of 'we stand for a moderate version of whatever you stand for' even as that platform sank into the electoral abyss. They tried to please everyone by being for nothing, and they imploded.

It's not necessarily about conviction politics, it's just about coming out on the right side of wedge issues for most Labour supporters. And Corbyn does that to a greater extent than any other candidate.

Although I agree that Labour has to be more than the party of welfare, opposing cuts to the welfare state that prevent people being able to feed themselves is a maxim for most Labour supporters and Corbyn is the only one of the leadership candidates who has espoused this value convincingly so far.

Voting against the welfare bill is evidence that Corbyn has drawn clearer boundaries between his vision for government and that of the Conservatives than any of the other candidates. With newstoriesemergingeveryday to illustrate that the human cost of benefit cuts is becoming more of a Human Rights issue than a political one, the welfare state - or more accurately; the unemployed, underemployed, poor, sick, disabled and their children - needs a protector.

Immigration is another important issue around which Corbyn has drawn a moral red line; he's robust in standing up for the rights of both migrants and asylum seekers. Events of the last couple of weeks have done much to vindicate and demonstrate public support for this position from a humanitarian perspective. With people fleeing the terror of IS for these shores in their thousands it's important that there is a clear voice reminding people that these are human beings in grave danger who need help.

Although immigration and asylum are very different, I can't help but think that if Corbyn was in charge he'd have taken positive action soonest and most willingly of any of the Labour candidates. Cooper and Burnham have both added to the popular clamour for clemency towards the refugees, but if we applied some more of their recentrhetoric on immigration to the current crisis, it would be dangerous - though I'll grant that circumstances change policy positions and David Cameron's move to open the gates is an illustration that the current migrant crisis transcends ideology.

With this said it has to be acknowledged that in many ways Corbyn's moral and ideological stances are more impressive than his actual policies: take education - Corbyn favours scrapping tuition fees through a rise in national insurance, higher corporation tax (cheerio a million votes) and higher borrowing (cheerio another million votes) and doing so instantly. In many ways a graduate tax (favoured, albeit gradually and tentatively, by both Burnham and Cooper) would be fairer as the burden for higher education would fall on those who have received it - who earn more on average anyway, so it's still progressive.

But, to put this in context using myself as a case study, under the current model I pay about £90 a month in student loans and not loads more than that in national insurance. Now relatively speaking I don't have a lot of student debt because I did my undergrad in Scotland and didn't pay for tuition until Masters; but absorbing these student loan costs into my NI contributions (and/or corporate tax if I ever start my own business...unlikely as I'm utterly incompetent) would still save even me a fair bit of money - and so would save the average graduate (with roughly 5 or 6 times as much debt) a fair bit more, almost certainly more in the short term than reduced fees followed by an eventual graduate tax. And thus Corbyn's immediate appeal becomes clear: He's offering a radical alternative to the gradualist policies we've been pontificating for a decade.

This brings me to another of Jeremy Corbyn's appealing strengths - he's willing to be innovative with policy.

I'm fully aware that for many people the words 'innovative' and 'unrealistic' are interchangeable but at least Corbyn is trying to find ways of achieving broader aims without shifting from his moral bedrock.

His policy of Quantitative Easing for the People to fund investment initially looks bonkers but explained by his economics adviser Richard Murphy it starts to look like a move to boost individual aspiration, especially compared with most other Labour, and even Conservative policies. It's a more proactive, far-reaching way of getting young people on the business ladder than simply cutting their taxes. That said price controls and tax revenues would have to be pretty spectacularly robust to deal with the ensuing inflation and debt.

It's not the perfect policy, probably not even workable (the likes of Robert Peston have picked it apart fairly well) but it's not the David Lynchian fantasy some people think it is and, much more importantly, it has people asking, in a way they didn't during the general election, what the government can do to proactively invest in new business, and sometimes sparking the debate is as important as making the definitive statement.

The ability not only to keep this kind of debate alive on a national level, but to actually energise it is another reason Corbyn appeals to me. His putative powers of debate-widening got him on the Labour ballot and, although this has been mocked as a reason to support someone for political office, I believe we need this kind of agenda-shifting dynamism on a national level.

For example, like many Labour supporters, if it were up to me we'd be looking at how to control energy, housing and transport prices, not whether we can control them at all.

Corbyn, by rallying people around his idealistic stances on nationalisation, is drawing attention to consumer concerns about prices more convincingly than the sensible but overly moderate and jellyish Ed Miliband ever could, and this can reap policy dividends even in opposition.

And that's how you win debates in a way that actually changes the law without moral sacrifice.

Ed Miliband's general election campaign, for all its failings, is proof that this is possible.

Or, more accurately, the minimum wage rise, bolstered apprenticeship schemes for young people, restrictions to non-dom status, removal of tax relief for buy-to-let landlords, cuts to some energy bills under threat of tighter regulation and even Cameron's reluctant decision to allow thousands more refugees into Britain, prove that you can achieve policy goals in opposition while still trying to win the arguments on areas like tax and welfare, instead of co-opting the conservative position as other candidates appear to have done.

It's true that while in opposition you can't stop Osborne passing the savings on as Inheritance or Corporate Tax relief, but the compromises to his agenda offered by every Labour leadership candidate other than Corbyn push the theoretical act of voting for any one of them in a general election to the point of diminishing returns, whether they would win or not.

What kind of a victory would it be to see Yvette Cooper reduce the benefit cap, or Andy Burnham damage the UK's position in Europe by denying in-work benefits to recent migrants, rather than George Osborne?

This also begs the question: if you voted Conservative last time, you're happy with life and your alternative in 2020 is a Labour candidate whose manifesto contains even a few of the same key policies as their Tory opponent's, why would you swing?

Which brings me back to one of my less tangible, more personal reasons for supporting Corbyn: He would return Labour to its original purpose as a political party.

Political parties are there to represent the moral, philosophical and ideological leanings of certain sections of society and do their best to channel those drivers into policies that are practicable within our existing legislative and functionary framework.

Corbyn's unwillingness to cross the welfare and immigration lines makes him the only candidate whose vision is compatible with this mission statement - each of the other candidates (and many of their supporters) believe that the purpose of a political party is to win an election at almost any cost, keep the existing framework functioning, and then, if there's time and inclination, make any minor changes that reflect the preferences of their supporters as long as they don't put too many swing-voter noses out of joint.

Again, what kind of a victory is that? For me the answer is both hollow and Pyrrhic. Too many moral red lines crossed for us to call ourselves a really progressive party, or even an alternative to the status quo.

Finally, a less important point. Jeremy Corbyn brings a sense of sportsmanship and fair play to British politics, a refusal to 'Go Negative' not seen since before Thatcher and the Saatchis tapped into a vein of oppositionalism in the British public that has decided every election since 1979.

As you may have surmised I have read Sam Delaney's excellent 'Mad Men and Bad Men' and found its conclusions profoundly depressing. Corbyn is an antidote to the slanging matches that dominate British political discourse precisely because he doesn't come across as having the same 'winning is everything' mentality as his fellow Labour leadership candidates

He simply wants to put forward policies he thinks are representative of his party members' principles and beliefs, the thinking of the sections of society they come from, and which will make the country a better place.

Will this tactic win him a general election? No. But it's enough to secure my vote for now.

Labour is a crumbling old corner of the temple of British government and we're going to have to rebuild it completely, not just redecorate. So, for now, instead of sending in Burnham or Cooper with the vacuum cleaners and window dressing, let's just chuck the Corbyn grenade into the middle of it, and see what he can set alight.