When James Connolly awaited his execution at the hands of British soldiers in Kilmainham Gaol – 1916, his wife Lily broke down in tears remarking “But your beautiful life James…your beautiful life…” to which the injured and weary Connolly reminiscently replied “But hasn’t it been a full life Lily, and isn’t this a good end?”
In this anecdote I have always found sustenance, and it came up again in a recent conversation with a gentleman who worked on the Diane Abbott leadership bid back in 2010. He remarked to me that in that campaign, and the mutterings surrounding John McDonnell’s sadly doomed 2007 leadership bid, there was always a sense of ‘we fight because we must’. A classic example of the much maligned leftist defeatism, but profoundly attractive all the same. We knocked back and forth the notion that were Connolly alive today rather than being shot he would be put through the rigmarole of a Labour leadership contest – it would have the same effect on his consciousness. Yet in this light hearted discussion it seemed to have slipped our grasp that in fact this was not the case, we had not lost this time round, quite the opposite. We were exactly where individuals like us had always hoped to be, in a position in which we could live a full life in formal politics – a position in which winning would not simply mean we had prevented a Tory government, rather that we had in fact pierced the very horizon of possibility – that something truly transformative could begin.
That might seem an unusual thing to forget, but these are unusual times, and I suspect it will take many years for any of us to get used to the idea that in 2015 the Labour world turned upside down.
Those are years we must secure not for ourselves, but for those coming up, so that they can imagine working class oriented politics as a commonality, for socialism to become one of the dominant binaries in this dogfight that we call parliamentary democracy once more. For that to ever happen, Jeremy Corbyn must be re-elected tomorrow, and I can say with some confidence that I suspect he will be.
Jeremy Corbyn is a flawed individual. A man seemingly in constant protest at the dark arts of political riposte, failing to wear a jacket your mother would approve of. Yet below such cursory concerns Corbyn is the magnificent crisis the Labour Party has long required. Above the maelstrom of personal ambition and collective manipulation of a once proud instrument of working class mass representation, he stands as a relatively unblemished curiosity exuding potential whilst hinting at calamitous confusion.
It was no great surprise in hindsight that the gradual party reforms of Miliband, and now remarkable plans of Corbyn for party engagement both within and without the official structures, would bring a great many broadly sympathetic people home. In order to manage that unwieldy beast you must bear witness to a sympathetic and resolutely open leader, one who can point to an extended history of engaging with and proactively pushing forward such organisations. Corbyn is in essence the only person who could lead such a forward march at this time. The future of the Labour Party, by which I mean a set of people and ideas that can lead us into the half century in much the same way as Attlee et al did in 1945, is somewhere in that tranche of new members, they aren’t sitting in a committee room at Westminster tweeting #SavingLabour.
For a long time Labour were eminently virtuous simply due to the fact they were not the maligned Conservative Party. This created a generation of politicians whose primary role as representatives was to be applauded and welcomed as elements of a broader shift towards the light. For all his very laudable efforts to align with the changing political landscape in the party, this is what Owen Smith is a product of. When Jeremy Corbyn inevitably wins tomorrow, keep this in mind; you can never defeat a popular figure with a moral basis for leadership whilst harbouring nefarious intent.
Via the still unclear, yet decisively regressive motives behind the recent coup, Corbyn has once again ignited that smouldering fervour some refer to as socialism. At this early stage however I believe it is better seen as a perception among ordinary people that there is a simmering injustice at the heart of our society. One which in many forms takes on a right wing slant, but when given voice can be just as easily taken for the forces of advancement on the left. It’s no more complicated than the fact Corbyn is the first to do so for quite some time. Whilst Farage was touring the country from the 00’s onwards telling people immigration is the font of all their sins, the best the left could muster were fringe figures who were often little more than circus acts in relation to the hard graft of daily political contestation.
By accentuating the collective nature that constructed our shared services Corbyn has managed to revisit the dialogue of the commons, whilst articulating the questionable dependency we maintain on the relentless pursuit of profit. In him we have seen the rebirth, on a mass media stage at least, of the English radical. It is in this guise he is very comfortable, but it cannot be his only cloak.
Labour’s fractures might worsen if Corbyn does not rapidly realise that leadership of this burgeoning movement will have to take the form of individual inspiration in some sense. A strongman/strongwoman approach if you will, and by fate’s decree that individual will have to be him. I see little evidence to suggest that the British public are prepared for the levels of hyper localised individualisation that more liberal-left strains support. It is not Corbyn’s reliance on left wing economic critiques that hamper him, it is his occasional inability to see that power used wisely sometimes has to take on a forthright form. Corbyn has survived his suffering, now he must find meaning in it, a meaning that can only arrive by overcoming the basis of the enmity that divides us in the party. For each one of us that will mean something entirely different, but I trust that more shrewd operators such as John McDonnell understand we cannot go on like this and have an understanding of what has to be done.
Part of this overcoming germinates from the desperate need to defeat the economic dogma that very narrowly defines what can and cannot be done. It is in the economic arena that we must categorise the ‘new politics’, not least because it is a subject the media cannot actively deny is in need of radical reform from right or left.
The first and most important stage in this fight is addressing Britain’s absolute inability to discuss tax in an adult way. It will not, and will never be, an easy argument – yet it is the duty of us all to rebuild the infrastructure that made this country prosper, we simply cannot achieve that by ignoring the vital role of fiscal investment. The Conservatives are engaging in managed decline at Westminster, whilst the SNP are facilitating a watered down version in Scotland. A 50p top rate of tax is not going to cut it. The insistence from corporations and the mega-wealthy that they will leave these islands must be tested. The politics of justice must not be held to ransom by the terminally avaricious.
To say the media is bias against Corbyn (or more precisely the left) is not worthy of being referred to as a suspicion, we are not asking to smell the breath of journalists like an anti-heroical Ian Paisley, we simply wish to see a shred….a slither of balance, in a torrent of insults and childish meanderings often fed directly to unquestioning journalists by the Labour backbenches. In redefining what injustice means, namely quantifying it for each and every individual and family, you are losing X and receiving Y, I fundamentally believe we can reimagine this country as a crucible for the revival of an active and disgruntled working class. That is our engine of change, it always has been. If we regain that, the media cannot continue to mock so cluelessly.
Unfortunately in order to do restart this engine the identity obsessed concerns more akin to liberalism than socialism that permeate youth politics and hardly anywhere else will have to be diminished in importance. We cannot regain the trust and energy of the working class and time deprived emerging middle class by telling each and every one of them they are fundamentally bad people due to holding thoughts or feelings that do not fit into an ill-defined collective sense of morality. If someone is wrong, we must be concerned not only with addressing the outcome but the cause of their belief. Such a project takes time, education, and the remapping of the economic landscape in order to be made a core part of our lexicon and practice. These concepts will be difficult to diminish (observe any university based political debate for more than ten minutes and you will understand what is meant by this), but they must be – at least in a sense of the elusive ‘core message’. The Green Party are a model of how to win a university town council ward, not a national election and we should eschew the content of their message that does not regard very important environmental alterations proactively.
The problem at the heart of Corbyn’s political philosophy is the problem of the curiously unsatisfactory nature of achievement. Corbyn is not a man prone to the religion of winning, yet win he must. However we cannot assume that it is Corbyn or bust, this is a long term project and contingencies must be in place to continue it beyond 2020, even if we fail to take power. For many such a remark contains the condemnation of a thousand hangmen, but that only survives the analysis of the cretinous urban narcissists that for so long populated every greasy pore of the Labour Party. If your only political goal is the arrival of a vacuous individual to the black front door in SW1 to dictate to the disadvantaged the quantity of their required sacrifices in order that they can send themselves to a slightly later grave then I do not think this party should cater for you. It is a cliché, but a bloody good one – Labour is a moral crusade or it is nothing, and at this moment I want Corbyn to continue the crusade apace. Be strong, lead with vigour and force, and do not defer to the chattering classes who see economic inequality as a debating concept, not a day to day reality which is much better expressed as living on the bread line.
If Corbyn can manage this, we can vastly alter the age we live in, and the sodden land we pass on to those who come afterwards.