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Corbyn, Orwell and the Rhetoric of Socialism

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell explains his antipathy for grandiose socialists. He doesn't condemn their ideals, but suggests their rhetoric alienates folks that would traditionally profit from socialist policies. Orwell imagines that democratic socialism could feed the poor, support the hungry and improve the lives of millions of workers. Referring to voters as comrades, however, won't achieve any of these things.

The rhetoric of the socialist-left can be exclusive, alienating and can serve only to entertain already established supporters. This, to me, seems to be a potential problem for Jeremy Corbyn. His policies are popular and his ideals could create a fairer society, but his grandiose socialist stance will, as Orwell recognised, divert millions of potential voters outside the socialist bubble.

Corbyn can win the Labour leadership contest. He can also win the 2020 General Election. To do so, however, he will have to make sacrifices. To bring an admittedly watered-down socialism to the UK, Corbyn will have to refrain from emphasising his socialist stance.

It is not entirely true that the electorate vote simply in terms of policies. A small section of the population will always vote for their chosen side. There are also a significant number of voters that won't accept any radical stance - left or right. Corbyn, at present, seems radical. He talks about the need to bring socialism back to the UK. He uses the term 'comrades' and seems to lay blame solely on the rich. While I personally have no problem with this stance - being one of the already established supporters - I understand the interpretation of radical Corbyn will turn off potential supporters.

Devoid of his rhetoric, Corbyn isn't a radical. From what we know about his policies so far, Corbyn seems to adopt a rather common sense view of the issues. Indeed, his policies are populist. He wants to nationalise certain key industries, which is a position generally supported by the electorate. He wants to cut tuition fees - a position famously adopted by Lib Dems in 2010. He wants to invest in social housing to solve the housing crisis - an immensely popular, and frighteningly obvious, solution. He also wants to remove Trident - an idea supported by the majority of the electorate if it helps to lower the deficit.

Why, then, is Corbyn deemed a radical? Polls show that most of his policies are widely supported by the electorate. He seems authentic, honest and passionate. He is, however, a socialist. He isn't a Miliband, Hampstead-Heath-socialist - in the sense of cowering when questioned about socialist principles, or deferring to 'responsible capitalism'. He is a fully-fledged, fully-bearded, unabashed socialist. Many Labour members will support this unapologetic stance - lest we forget, Labour still claim to be a democratic socialist party - but this position will not entice the wider electorate.

I will vote for Corbyn not because he is a socialist, but because his policies are entrenched in the often forgotten idea of common sense. I hope, however, he doesn't play too hard on socialism if he wins the leadership contest. The English electorate will vote for socialist policies. They will not, however, vote for socialism. That might seem somewhat facile, but, as Orwell recognised, compromising one's socialist rhetoric to change society for the better is a small sacrifice for a huge gain.

I'm not suggesting Corbyn loses the beard - I refuse to take such a radical position. I'm not suggesting he puts on a Rocha John Rocha suit with a skinny red tie. And I'm certainly not suggesting he starts lying about his position - after all, his authenticity seems to be winning over plenty of Labour voters in the all too often specious world of politics. All I'm suggesting is a complete focus on policies and little emphasis on socialism. He needs to appear electable and grandiose socialism, beyond the confines of the Labour leadership debate, will not win an election. Polices, however, will.

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