I had an email the other day from an associate, bemoaning Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at Glastonbury, saying that he was acting like some kind of a Messiah for all those white, middle class kids, using the Grenfell tragedy for political point scoring and saying he has a “Messiah Complex”. Here is my reply:
What do you want me to say?
Let’s go back to the beginning. Remember, Corbyn only got onto the leadership ticket because a couple of Labour establishment figures thought we needed a proper debate and agreed to include a left winger. This is because the Labour Party had been transformed under Tony Blair into a centralised neo-liberal party in which constituencies no longer got to choose who their candidate was. They were mainly Blair loyalists parachuted in from central office. But once Corbyn was on the ticket it galvanised the membership in the Labour Party who wanted to see an alternative to austerity.
Corbyn only got chosen as it was his turn. The left in the Labour Party were a rump consisting of about dozen or so MPs, and everyone else had had a go. He never wanted to be PM. He never chased office. He has the lowest expenses returns of any MP. He’s been consistent in his views throughout his life, voting according to his principles.
Under Blair, if you remember, the Labour Party had become as corrupt and self-serving as the Tory Party. Remember Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt. Blair left office and made himself unimaginably rich: the richest ex-Prime Minister ever. The Blair method was to appeal to the right wing press by instituting policies that the ruling class approved of. In other words, these weren’t Labour policies. Margaret Thatcher, when asked what her greatest achievement was, said “New Labour”. And there you have it. There was no longer a choice in politics. It was blue Tory vs red Tory, with hardly anything to choose between the two.
The financial crisis of 2008 gave governments around the world the opportunity to institute austerity. It was the corrupt, and frankly criminal, activities by the banks that caused the crash, but it was the public and public services who were being asked to pay. The banks were bailed out, hardly anyone went to jail, and the rest of us were asked to tighten our belts. But it was always fake. Austerity was the opposite of what was required. Old fashioned Keynesianism says that in a time of recession you need to stimulate the economy, not shrink it. Austerity had nothing to do with helping the economy. It was a means by which wealth was being transferred, from the bottom to the top, allowing both Labour and the Tories to sell off what remained of our public services.
That’s the background to Corbyn’s rise, and the reason his message is proving so popular. It’s not because he has “a Messiah Complex”. It’s because the Labour manifesto is promising something other than this continual transfer of wealth from – for example – BHS’s pension scheme to Sir Philip Green‘s third yacht; from the less well off to the wealthy, in other words, a process that has been going on for the last 40 years and which has been accelerating under austerity.
Here’s the reason austerity is wrong. If you redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich, all they do is to squirrel it away in tax havens where it does nothing. If you do it the other way round, and redistribute from the rich to the poor, the poor spend their money, thus stimulating the economy, thus making us all better off. It worked in 1945, it continues to work in the Scandinavian countries, why wouldn’t it work for us as well?
So rather than attack the policies, the press have decided to attack the man. He was a clown, if you remember. A fumbling idiot. Unpatriotic. Scruffy. Unelectable. Didn’t bow his head at the right angle at the cenotaph. Didn’t support our armed forces. A whole bunch of other stuff. Now he has “a Messiah Complex”. The amount of bad press has been extraordinary, and not only from the right wing media, which you would expect, but from the left and the centre as well: from the BBC, the Guardian and the Independent as well as the Sun and the Mail. From his own back benches, bullying and briefing behind his back.
So “Corbynism”, if you want to call it that, isn’t about the man, it’s about the policies. It’s a movement, of the sort that brought the Labour Party into being in the first place, and which brought it to power in 1945. Everyone thought then that Winston Churchill would be the post war leader, but what the pundits didn’t know – as they failed to recognise this time – is that there was a genuine grass-roots movement taking place. Then it was in the forces, amongst the mainly young men and women who had been asked to risk their lives in the fight against Nazism. Now it is amongst the youth, who have been asked to pay for the profligacy of the rich and of the old through increasing insecurity, low paid jobs and zero-hours contracts, while our governments, instead of fighting Nazism have been supporting it: selling arms to Saudi Arabia and supporting terrorism in Libya, Iraq and Syria. Then it was Atlee, now it is Corbyn.
As for him “scoring political points” over Grenfell: yes and why not? Grenfell is precisely the symbol of all that is wrong in this country: using inferior non fire resistant cladding for poor people and immigrants in order to save money on the council tax bills of the richest people in the richest borough in the UK. Why would he not point that out?
Meanwhile all those “white middle class kids” paying over the odds in Glastonbury have also got a future and a right to a say in it. Corbyn is mobbed wherever he goes: in Gateshead, in Liverpool, in Birmingham and Manchester, and not just by the middle classes.
Remember Grime For Corbyn? People all over the country are rising up against the corruption and nepotism of the old politics, where, for example, Theresa May’s husband runs a company specialising in tax avoidance using loopholes his wife arranges while in government, or Boris Johnson closes down fire stations and then sells off the fire fighting equipment to his mate for £2 the lot.
Most politicians are corrupt, but instead of celebrating one rare politician who is not corrupt, we say he has a “Messiah Complex” because people are responding to what he says. Don’t you think that’s a bit petty? What we are watching is a genuine transformation of social relations of the kind that happens every so often in politics, when a corrupt and venal political class go too far, and the people find them out.
We’re lucky to have Corbyn. Can you think of another politician who could go through the campaign of vilification he has suffered over the last two years and not want to give in? I don’t think anyone else, on the left or the right, could have done it. But it’s not about him, it’s about us, and the future we want to see for our children and grandchildren. We had free education, a national health service and a welfare state, why would we not want to bequeath those things to future generations? The magic money tree is real enough. It is the wealth that people generate through their hard work and ingenuity, when they are freed from poverty wages and the stress and anxiety caused by the false philosophy of neo-liberalism and the self-serving rule of the very rich.
Bring on the revolution, that’s what I say.