Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #11:
A sign of the difficulties Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents have dealing with his rise and, much more importantly, the emergence of the movement around him, is the way they constantly shift their line of attack. The initial allegation was that he was unelectable. Unfortunately for those who put forward this view, Corbyn won two leadership elections and came close to winning Theresa May’s snap General Election, adding ten per cent to Labour’s vote share. Opponent Jess Phillips today admits in the Times that she nearly drove off the road when she heard the exit poll. Jeremy had, after all, saved her seat. There is a strong and plausible argument that Labour would have won had some of his internal critics not opposed him so vociferously.
They say he is too dogmatic then, in the same breath, too pragmatic. He is said to be too firmly attached to the principles of socialism, but too flexible about Europe. Here, there is an argument that his very pragmatism has been positive. People who say Labour should have been an insistently pro-EU, pro-second referendum party would do well to look at the performances of the Liberals and SNP in the election.
Then there is the pressure point approach. You choose an issue and employ the mass media and internal opponents to make it the latest moment of shame: Venezuela, Hamas, Ireland, allegations of anti-semitism, Traingate. The latest wheeze, a regurgitation of a theme that has run and run, is that ‘Corbynism’ is a cult, his supporters unthinking drones wailing ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ This view is pressed today in Murdoch’s Times. Columnist Nigel Farndale, a thinker of quite monstrous inadequacy, bemoans the fact that he was once virtually kidnapped to go on a Young Communist League trip to Russia. Yes, you guessed it, he sees parallels with today’s Corbynistas. Mr Corbyn’s support is made up of nineteen-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears Komsomol Pioneers who will one day grow out of their infantile obsession.
Poet, actor, novelist and performer extraordinaire Benjamin Zephaniah answers this nonsense well in today’s Guardian: ““It’s not about being a Corbyn fan. It’s not about the cult of personality. Corbyn is not even, in my view, a very charismatic speaker. People laugh at him sometimes, and say he sounds like a teacher, and he does, but what he says makes sense. It’s not about worshipping him; it’s about being desperate for something different. In terms of mainstream politics, he’s the best thing that’s happened here for a long time.”
This article, patient, considered and sensible, is the answer to the frothy nonsense of the anti-Corbynistas. Yesterday, these intellectual inadequates were opining in endless column inches that May would win the General Election by between sixty and one hundred and ten seats. She would annihilate the Labour Party for a generation. Instead, Labour became more electable than it has for years and in a manner continental left parties envy, leaving May dead in the water and the psephologists and armchair experts in Highgate, Hampstead and Hampshire looking rather silly.
Like many others, I joined the Labour Party because of Corbyn’s leadership bid. I have attended three of his mass rallies. The chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ are fun, often self-deprecating. His speeches are policy-driven. His appeal is based on a revolt against austerity. Few of the people I know who flooded into the Labour Party are starry-eyed or prone to cult worship. They are people who want an honest, policy-driven and consciously socialist politics. They were delighted with the Manifesto which, with some refinements, could see the party in office quite soon. Many criticise this or that aspect of the Corbyn project, but defend the movement fiercely because it is a break from caution, compromise and neoliberalism.
One final myth. During the last leadership campaign, Corbyn’s opponent Owen Smith said Jeremy was a campaigner, not a man whose attention was fixed on winning a General Election. That view looks pretty silly now.