Writing in the Guardian on New Year’s Day 2016, John Harris explained thus the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn:
I am not exactly .. a Corbynista, but … whatever his suitability for the job, Corbyn is where he is for one reason above all others: the fact that Britain’s post-1979 journey into a new reality of a shrunken welfare state, marketised public services, rising inequality and an impossible job market had reached a watershed with the deepening of austerity, and there was a need for a clear moral response, without which Labour was in danger of shrinking into meaninglessness. On that score, over the summer of 2015, the heirs to the New Labour project were found wanting; indeed, their very philosophy was fatally exposed.
Harris’s words are the exception proving the rule. Two years of relentless Guardian hostility to an ‘unelectable’ Corbyn have been bad, but worse has been its refusal to do its job as a serious newspaper. At a time of challenge from left and right to neoliberal consensus, to what Tariq Ali calls the Extreme Centre, the Guardian was as one with other corporate media in its wilful and near total failure to ask why this man was twice given the biggest mandate of any leader since Attlee. Prioritising condemnation over analysis, it joined Tony ‘Get a Transplant’ Blair in finding his supporters unfathomably stupid. Since stupidity, like death and taxes, is a given it followed that one of the biggest political upsets in living memory lay beyond/beneath serious inquiry. Cue for Behr, Freedland, Kettle, Toynbee et al to disregard Dylan’s counsel about not criticising what we don’t understand. Day and night, rain or shine, they took with gusto to traducing this man of principle while paying no heed to that hunger, till then unfocused and undirected, for Harris’s “clear moral response” to localised dispossession and globalised disenfranchisement.
Yesterday the Guardian came out for Labour. (See Jonathan Cook’s open letter, barbed but not unkind, to Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett on such Damascene moments.) Days earlier it had told us the Tory lead is shrinking because Corbyn is fighting a good campaign, May a bad one.
There’s truth in that but it doesn’t capture the half of it. Yes, as the North Carolinan cited in the previous post observed, May has shown herself a “stodgy performer in debate … unable to think on her feet”. And yes, her performance is the worse for Lynton Crosby having failed to see that the dark arts of spin and dirty trick are open to challenge, cross check and blowback in ways they were not for Blair and Campbell. The times are indeed a-changing and even from a narrowly psephological perspective it’s Crosby’s world, not Momentum’s, that’s been left in the dust with an unsaleable brand Theresa.
More importantly, Corbyn’s unruffled dignity and palpable sincerity strike a chord with many of the undecided, and not a few who’d been against him. This takes us to one of the reasons the Tory lead is shrinking. No leader of the opposition, not even Kinnock, has been subjected to the vitriol Corbyn has withstood. That vilification has come as much from Independent, Guardian and BBC as Mail, Sun and Telegraph. Nor, with the part exception of Graun and Indi, did it stop when May called the election. But that’s not the point. Electoral rules place Corbyn-the-man in public view – out on the stump, in interview and in live debate – for many whose impressions had hitherto been informed entirely by daily screeds of vilification in print, backed by carefully selected and edited soundbytes and setups of the kind Ms Kuenssberg is fond of. A few things accrue from this change. One, those media, aided by Tories and PLP alike, have hurled their all at him. He stands taller than ever; they’re out of ammo. Two, his decency shines through all the more as British fair play (over-egged but, like many national stereotypes, not entirely divorced from reality) kicks in. Three, those sold on the view of him as ‘nice but no backbone’ – a minor but resonating chord in the Can’t Take Jezza Seriously symphony – have been surprised by his combative skills and ability, so lacking in Theresa May, to think on his feet. Starved for decades of senior politicians who demonstrably mean what they say and say what they mean, many are seeing this man in a new light, literally and metaphorically, and liking what they see.
To these three factors, consequent on increased exposure under UK electoral rules, we can add others. Four, and this demands dedicated treatment though I touch on the subject in my post on ‘fake news’, the power of corporate media is waning, slowly but surely, and our ruling class is worried about it. This too is not to be overstated, nor is it without counter tendencies, but the ease with which marginalised views and disregarded evidence can be circulated online is not to the liking of Murdoch, Barclay Brothers and the interests they serve.
It’s also why Captain SKA’s Liar Liar is at number 4 in the UK charts, despite the radio ban …
I don’t say this all stacks up to a Labour victory on June 8; of course I don’t. What’s more, for reasons that also demand their own post, I’d fear a hung parliament with Corbyn its neutered leader. But Britain’s shifting landscape means that while Labour may never take office again, in any form we recognise, Corbyn comes closer to electability than anyone Labour’s ‘moderates’ could possibly offer. Those hankering after some re-engineered version of Blair’s ‘third way’ have yet to grasp that its trickledown premises, like Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’, are in ruins. It’s no longer possible to capture the centre without losing what were once seen as the heartlands. Or vice versa. There’s a one word answer to those who tell us a ‘moderate’ leader can get into Number 10. That word being Scotland.
Still less do I say it’s all about Jezza, which takes us back to the biggest reason of all, so ably articulated by John Harris. Labour has eroded the Tories’ seemingly unassailable lead in the polls for all the reasons discussed but more still for the fact its message and programme are closer to the lived experience of those who, having gained zilch from globalisation but zero hour jobs and vanishing public services, have glimpsed something better.
And unlike any election since 1997, if not 1945, those losers just might turn up and vote.