As a democratic socialist, I’m thrilled socialist ideas are being talked about more than ever (for the first time in a few decades in the US, it’s on the agenda at an election). Unfortunately, it turns out that all this attention for socialist ideas is because their advocates are the most on the fringe of mainstream political discourse, decidedly the outsiders in a contest framed and managed by centrists: Enter Corbyn.
You may have heard about Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. Perhaps you’re familiar with their ideas. Both are incendiary, passionate leaders with a flair for controversy. Their views and voting records are those of unorthodox firebrands rather than moderate, mainstream centrists. Both have been attacked by the hawkish right for their uncompromising positions against war and capitalism, and by the hard left for not being radical enough.
Decades of unrelenting criticism for voting and campaigning against establishment policies may have contributed to their steely determination to keep on going in a different direction. But for both Corybn and Sanders recently, that direction has been up. And it has been on a strong zephyr of popularity on which they have risen, garnering massive support for a left wing platform.
The Labour Party is the largest political party in the UK and now, after Corbyn’s campaign, the only party that boasts more members under 27 than the Lib Dems and UKIP have in total membership. This past year has seen Corbyn weather the storms of oppositional politics after Labour members chose him, an old leftist of the species extirpated by Blair, commonly berated for looking like a geography teacher, and the kind of man who sings The Red Flag in the local pub by way of celebration for his victory, for their official leader last October.
Shallow slights aside, compared to Cameron or one of his cronies, Jeremy Corbyn is somebody we could be proud to have represent us. Beneath his cosmetic appearance, he is symbolic of sincerity, something thought to be missing in a politics obsessed with style over substance. In most ways, Jeremy Corbyn is not what most people would usually consider a politician.
When giving his reply to the Queen’s Speech in Parliament earlier this month, Corbyn could discern little that was good about the announcements that rolled forth from Her Majesty. For Corbyn, this was a moment of unrestrained self-expression, his chance to assert his own radical ideas about politics and government in the UK. Corbyn passionately argued that “This government do not seem to understand that cuts have consequences.“
Which, I think, really gets to the bottom of how most people are feeling about austerity at the moment and explains why, despite vicious attacks on his kudos in the hard-right media, his popularity amongst ordinary people seems to be increasing. Austerity is a fraudulent scheme. It has preyed upon public services and left families struggling to make ends meet. Corbyn speaks to the anti-austerity zeitgeist that betrays the conventional wisdom that we have never had it so good.
It is 2016, and people queue up at food banks to avoid starvation, walking past homeless people who are have had their lifelines severed. How can we go forward with austerity, cutting further and further in to the safety net as the future stretches miserably ahead for the poorest and most marginalised people? In Victorian society the poor were out of sight and out mind for most of the governors, and the same rings true today. And this poverty, we are told, is an individual’s choice, rather than a result of the government’s austerity agenda. While Cameron goes off sailing, people’s support services are sinking under the weight of his cuts. It is maddeningly unfair and a recipe for discontent.
When you look at policies and issues, people are in favour of publicly funding the NHS and education, supporting social services, housing the homeless and reducing the burden of cuts on women. People don’t like what this government has planned for trade unions and feel that there is generally too much of a burden on working people. They want a living wage and universal basic income. They look to the other social democracies and wonder why our welfare state seems to be in a state of retrenchment. They want utilities like energy and transport renationalised. The Labour Party led by Corbyn agree on these issues. And having served for several decades as an MP he has the political talent to act on his ideas.
The triumph of the right wing has been to frame their ideas as objective facts rather than as political, economic choices. The task for socialists, as Corbyn realises, is to expose austerity as “a political choice, not an economic necessity.“ Just as trickle-down economics was based in fantasy and ideology, so is austerity.
Truly a rebel, Corbyn believes the left can make its’ own rules. We must do what is right to correct a tremendous wrong and refuse to capitulate the soul and substance of the left to the terms and conditions of the right. This means talking about socialism and rejecting the wrong choices and priorities of the austerity agenda.
Corbyn has given us a choice again. Voting for socialism means you don’t have to vote tactically. You don’t have to vote for Coke VS Pepsi. You can vote for a candidate with ideas and principles you believe in. Jeremy Corbyn has arguing this case all his life. Now, in the Indian Summer of his career, he’ll have the chance to prove that there is an alternative, and a world to win.