I didn’t go to Jeremy Corbyn’s rally in Leamington Spa yesterday. I didn’t need to. I (and almost everyone else) already knew what he was going to say.
I knew that Jeremy Corbyn was going promise change. I knew that he was going to defend the NHS. I knew that he was going promise infrastructure investment; in schools, in public services, in transport, in housing. I heard his voice calling to me, resounding in my ears… like a dream… ‘Free at the point of care!’… ‘For the many, not the few!’… ‘Overturn the rigged system!’… ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat!’…like a dream, like a bad dream. Or perhaps, as those schooled in Marx would have it, like some terrible phantasmagoria. Jeremy Corbyn stands like a spectre over the British left. He is the gloomy ghost of socialist futures left unrealised. Like Tony Benn, but not quite as vociferous. Like Michael Foot, but not quite as intellectual. In Corbyn we are left with the ectoplasm of a dead spirit. The desperate last wails of a phantom not yet cast away.
We get all of the flaccidity and impotence that a 67 year old man can offer.
With Jeremy Corbyn at the helm, the Labour Party are sleepwalking through this general election. Corbyn does not represent change, he represents continuity. Corbyn represents the inability of the left to reinvent itself, its inability to capture the hearts and minds of the British people and ultimately, its lack of ambition.The left daren’t present an idealistic alternative to capitalism. Instead of alternatives the left offers up retro-futurism: the yearning for a future that never was. We get all of the flaccidity and impotence that a 67 year old man can offer. We get a farce. We get a supposedly socialist Labour Party attempting to battle the Tories on well-trodden ground, promising to prop up the NHS by taxing the richest 5%. Of course, this is much less than the fundamental structural change that is really needed to maintain a system of universal health care. No, the Labour party daren’t strive for this. Likewise, Mr Corbyn still does not have a coherent strategy for post-Brexit Britain. His core support base are slipping away into the arms of Theresa May and her faux ‘red, white and blue’ idealism. As disastrous as Brexit may have seemed for ‘progressives’ it presented a real opportunity for the left to revitalise itself, to present something new and ambitious. Instead, it has turned in on itself, hampered not only by the internal squabbles of the Labour party, but by the failure to put up a progressive front against the Conservatives. Why, for example, is the Labour party contesting the seat of Green Party leader Caroline Lucas in her Brighton Pavilion constituency? When Labour are wiped clean in the polls, they’ll be needing all of the friendly voices that they can get. This isn’t utopianism. This is pragmatism.[spacer height=”20px”]Even if it were utopian, what would be the problem? We need to reach beyond the fatalism that the British political landscape provides us.
Reading this piece, the Corbynites will sneer. It is unthinkable to them that the Labour Party might begin to reach beyond its pernicious perimeters. They say that they are building a ‘movement’. What kind of movement is it? It’s a movement without motion; a movement that fails to incorporate ideas, policies, or peoples outside of Corbynite introspection. The Tories, well, they’ll probably chuckle. If not only at my caricature of a hapless Jeremy Corbyn but also at my (self-effacing) romantic quixotism.
I don’t propose any solutions. How could I? Me, a lowly third-year undergraduate who has probably been reading too much critical theory. But what I do propose is imagination and ingenuity. Is Jeremy Corbyn really the best that we can do? The left needs to brazenly awaken itself from its nostalgic slumber. They ought to begin by blowing away the cobwebs: by ridding themselves of Jeremy Corbyn. In reality, I suppose that they’ll start with something else. I suppose they’ll start with an electoral hammering.
Image: Clare Clarke, The Panoptic