It has been a while but now I find the time to reflect on recent events, which have send shockwaves through the political establishment on both sides of the Atlantic. Like the tsunami crossing the pacific at the time of writing the shockwaves will reach our shores.
Jeremy Corbyn has over a couple of months with his campaign and landslide victory in the election for the leadership of the UK Labour Party and leader of her Majesty’s loyal opposition rocked some pillars of our political system.
Neoliberal dogma says that calling yourself unashamedly a socialist and having a lifelong record of supporting traditional founding principles and policies of the UK Labour Party makes you unelectable. These positions are now described as far left because the political ground has shifted. Political doctrine dispensed by the majority of academic and media commentators says that elections are decided in the centre. So parties fall all over each other to occupy the centre. This makes them almost indistinguishable.
This doctrine is like all neoliberal ideology based on a falsehood created and spread by the people who want all political discourse indistinguishable in the middle ground so we keep believing that There Is No Alternative.
The example always given were the 1983 UK elections. They were called early in the euphoria after the Falkland war. The Labour leader was Michael Foot from the left. The clear left manifesto is still described by today’s neoliberally tainted commentariat as “the longest political suicide note in history”.
Or was it ?
It could as well have been that Labour lost that election despite it’s socialist manifesto. I remember the times and it was clear from the outset that the Iron Lady was hard to beat in the afterglow of those delirious days of jingoistic flag waving at the return of the victorious fleet.
The numbers : The vote for the Conservatives actually fell by 1.5 %. The Labour vote on the other side had fallen by 9.3 %. However this number corresponds closely with the numbers the Social Democrats which had split from Labour at the time and formed an Alliance with the Liberals, which gained 11.6 %.
We also must not forget the undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system. The Conservative Party achieved its 144 seat majority on the basis of only 42.4% of the vote. The vast majority of voters rejected Margret Thatcher policies.
In other words this famous 1983 landslide election with the “ultimate defeat of left wing socialist policies” were lost by Labour for different reasons. There is no evidence whatsoever that the “socialist political manifesto/suicide note” had anything to do with the electoral defeat.
Still for the last thirty years we have heard not much else but this falsehood : Left wing/socialist policies make political parties unelectable.
Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide win by popular vote has shaken the foundations of this doctrine. He won clearly because of his left wing/socialist policies. This is a fact the neoliberal commentariat tries to paper over by claiming steadfastly that this victory again amounts to political suicide and the only question remains if it will be 15, 20 or 30 years in the political wilderness for Labour.
I am afraid that true to form as ideologues they are only able to see what they want to see. They are missing the mood of the crowd, which is getting increasingly angry with the neoliberal austerity policies inflicted on them. They want hope. Only radical change can give them hope. Corbyn advocates that change and gives them that hope.
Those mostly young Labour supporters who paid their three pounds in order to cast their vote have already learned one crucial lesson they never before experienced, which is that votes do count. A very dangerous development for the neoliberals who don’t want the 99% to find out that their vote can bring change.
The UK neoliberal mainstream media have been predictably hostile with fabricated headlines. Take a look at these:
“Unions threaten chaos after Corbyn win” (Daily Telegraph); “Corbyn union pals pledge strike chaos” (Daily Mail); “Labour divide deepens as Umunna quits over Corbyn stance on Europe” (The Guardian); “Now Chuka Umunna joins anti-Corbyn exodus” (The Independent); “Labour divisions widen as Corbyn takes charge” (The Times); “Corbyn: Abolish the army” (The Sun); “Why Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is a danger to Britain” (Daily Express) and “Back Corbyn… or quit Labour” (Metro).
And as historian and commentator Chris Trotter in an after dinner talk this week said “they are just clearing their throats”.
But shock horror that is not all. The situation is confounded by events across the Atlantic.
In the US in the meantime a senator of the small New England state of Vermont and self declared (democratic) socialist is leading the democratic race for the White House.
If anyone only six month ago would have predicted that Bernie Sanders an unashamedly “socialist” with a long anti-establishment track record would be going into the democratic primaries as the frontrunner we would have checked their state of mind. The label “socialist” in the US being considered as toxic as child rapist.
The parallels between the US and UK events are striking. On a personal level we have two men at retirement age leading the charge. Both Corbyn and Sanders are softly spoken, unpretentious, principled and abstaining from personal attacks. Both have been in the business for over four decades but never become part of the political establishment but rather been a thorn in their thigh. Most importantly they are old enough to have experienced society before the onslaught of neoliberal ideology and have not forgotten.
Both have been focussing on the real issues concerning the people like healthcare, housing, education and the like. These fall under the overarching issue of inequality where the top 0.1% own and control more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. In both cases they have been the only ones to make inequality the centre point of their campaign and it has resonated with the people. In both cases it has created a grass-root movement, which is giving people hope they didn’t have under the same-old same-old system of the past.
In both cases the political and media establishment is in denial. In the UK Corbyn’s landslide democratic victory is framed as the ultimate defeat for Labour. In the US the frontrunner status is denied because Hilary, his closest contender, has got millions more to spend and greater name recognition. The Time cover may change that a bit.
Lessons for New Zealand ?
The question is how the huge popular movements in the countries we look at most for guidance will affect the political landscape here. Much depends of course if the neoliberal naysayers in both countries under the leadership of the same billionaire Rupert Murdoch will be able to destroy the men and the movements. The gloves will be off as the media and other billionaires realise that this could be the beginning of the end of their rule.
Earlier in the week I attended an event with a speaker putting the Corbyn win into the historical context. The average age of the 60 odd people in the room was about sixty. Only a handful of younger faces in their thirties. This is not a reason for despair. Corbyn and Sanders have shown that retirees who have not forgotten the pre-neoliberal “golden” age can inspire the young. Unfortunately the only inspirational leader in New Zealand of that age is not from the left.
Still, even here the end of neoliberal rule might be nigh.