May the left man win

Labour-leadership-contestants

I won’t be voting for Jeremy Corbyn MP in the Labour leadership election.

Why? Because I’m not a member of the Labour party. Nor am I able to become an “affiliate” member for £3 as I am already a member of another party. However, I wish to declare that I support Corbyn with every bone of my body and every stab of my social media-using fingers.

Having long been disenfranchised from mainstream British politics – and not having placed my cross next to one of what used to be the three main political parties in the polling booth since 1997 – I find myself animated and exercised by the ongoing Corbyn “surge”. The elected member of Parliament for Islington North in London since 1983 is far and away the most-talked-about candidate for the leadership, a contest that even his most ardently Blairite detractors would have to admit is a lot more interesting with him in it.

The other three candidates, whose politics range right across the centre ground, are the otherwise fairly blameless careerists Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham, who has the most marketable accent. If I felt in my bones like these three were identikit power-brokers whose principles come a close second to winning and Corbyn was a “big tent” outsider once all had declared, then this was made flesh when Cooper, Kendall and Burnham abstained from voting against the Tories’ dastardly and brazen Welfare Bill, while Corbyn simply voted against it, abstaining only from abstention. Here was some clear blue sky between them. I firmly believe that the Labour party – of which I was an idealistic member in 1992 – need to move to the left. In the argot of the right-wing media, this would be a “lurch.” See how they implant ideas?

CorbynCooper

I’ve found myself in heated debate on social media in recent days, which I find healthy and bracing. The crux of my apparent disagreement with assorted Blairite pragmatists seems to rest on Corbyn’s “electability.” If he won’t win the 2020 general election in five years’ time, they ask, then what’s the point of having him as the leader of the Labour Party? What, they ask again with a prod to the chest, is the point?

First of all, who’s to know a) how Corbyn would do in a general election (it’s not science, this, it’s fumbling around in the dark and hoping for the best), and b) whether he would still be leader in 2020. Second, let us look at the word “electable.” Blairite pragmatists, who believe that what Blair did in the mid-90s, when he tore a pound of flesh out of Labour’s chest and made the party “electable”, is what the new leader must do again now; they seem to wish victory at any cost. Me? I’m a utopian. A sentimental, soppy, principled utopian who instinctively votes instinctively. I believe – unless you live in a constituency were a tactical vote really might make a difference – you should vote with your heart, not your head. Vote with your gut, not a slide rule. Without principles and ideology, what have we got?

Jeremy Corbyn MP is fundementally “electable”. He’s been “elected” by his North London constituents in seven general elections. Seven! How much more electable can he be? Somebody out there likes him. The Labour party are only “electable” if you wish to elect them. I haven’t been able to vote for them since 1997, because of their betrayals directly after being “elected”. To me, they are unelectable. With Corbyn at the controls, could they tempt me back? A leftist Labour party (imagine that!) would be one worth backing. I’ve voted Green because their policies align most closely with my own, because I believed in them, not because my vote would get them “elected”. That is democracy in action, at least under the stultifying first-past-the-post system.

Corbynhustings

Corbyn’s critics on the centre-left, and they are vocal, see him as a danger to party unity. But what use is a party united behind the Tories’ welfare cuts? What use is a party united behind the Tories’ soft touch with big business? For all the good New Labour did while in power – and I’m not rewriting history: they can be proud of the Northern Irish peace process, tax credits, the minimum wage – they pissed the rest of it up the wall, ceding public services to private investment, failing to reverse privatisation, introducing tuition fees, looking after their new “filthy rich” friends, allowing banks to continue unregulated, and, oh yes, taking us into an illegal war, whose ugly after-effects continue to plume acrid smoke high above the planet today. I don’t want that Labour party to be in power.

What I want, and what I think this country needs, is a strong, noisy, principled opposition. The kind that Ed Miliband wasn’t. The kind that David Miliband never would have been (so stow that retrofitted fantasy). The kind that Andy Burnham will never be, if he’s not even prepared to stand up and be counted against the Welfare Bill.

Jeremy Corbyn is Old Labour. He has a beard, and wears a “beige” jacket, and a vest under his shirt, and supports unilateral disarmament, and carries a bag. For many like me, this is a refreshing change from the interchangeable policy wonks with carefully placed glottal stops who constitute modern Labour candidates. For others, it’s an outrage. What I relish most about Corbyn is the way he riles the others and causes them to lose their cool, who denounce his backers as “morons” and mock his “Lenin cap” (as if that matters), or, in the case of disgraceful Jacqui Smith on Sky News the other night, belittle the “principles” of his supporters within her own party, shrieking, “That’s not principle, that’s barmy!” High level of debate.

Blairtransplant

When they wheel out the dessicated Tony Blair to denounce him, you know Labour are in trouble. (Blair is the only man in Britain who has forgotten that he dragged this country illegally into Iraq on falsified evidence; is he preparing for some sort of dementia defence in a future war crimes tribunal we don’t yet know about?) In a snarky, scripted comment, he advised Labour members voting for Corbyn from the heart to “get a transplant.” (You need a heart to vote with it, Tony. Or get a transplant.) When your critics are reduced to name-calling, the moral high ground is yours. Jeremy Corbyn has strident views, but doesn’t feel the need to shout them at the top of his voice. He needs to learn to stop being riled by TV interviewers when they interrupt him, but please don’t let him be “media trained” out of a all recognition.

The old Labour that Corbyn is old enough to remember fell into disrepute when, after defeats for Michael Foot (who dared not to be photogenic and lost support with the SDP defections) and Neil Kinnock (who made plenty of concessions towards “electability” but fudged his position on the miners, and started to believe his own theme music), the party seemed in the wilderness. This is what critics think Corbyn will do to Labour come September: either split it or finish it off. And there are parallels: the Tories were comparably rampant in the 80s (although after Thatcher resigned, Labour were looking at an open goal, and might have scored had it not been for a very clever Sun front page).

Corbynportrait

To wish for a Corbyn leadership is not to call for a return to the past. Between now and 2020, think how many young people will become eligible to vote. Some of them, surely, will look at baying, bollocking Westminster politics, and yearn for something different.

Andy Burnham is not something different. He is something the same.

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In the same casual manner

Huhne

Yesterday, this man was sentenced to eight months in prison for perverting the course of justice. He is Chris Huhne, one-time Liberal Democrat MEP, MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the coalition government and something of a “star” of the party. (He ran Nick Clegg pretty close in the leadership battle in 2007, and, if you included postal ballots, which they didn’t, he would have won.) I think we’re all well aware of his crime: after being caught speeding in 2003, when he was a Member of the European Parliament, he convinced his then-wife, Vicky Pryce, also convicted yesterday, to “take” his points by claiming she was driving when the vehicle was photographed by a speed camera. (Ironically, he was banned from driving for three months in the same year for driving while using a mobile phone and she had to “drive him around”, the very inconvenience their deception was designed to prevent.)

Huhne, who pled “guilty” at the last minute, and Pryce, who pled “not guilty”, both received the same sentence. As we speak, they are being “processed” at Wandsworth Prison, which nobody says is going to be a lot of fun for either of them, but will then be moved to open prisons for something like six weeks, after which they will be released, but put on house arrest for the remainder of their sentence. He is no longer an MP, but, after legal costs, he will still own seven properties, and certainly went into prison with a fortune of around £3.5 million, much of that earned when he worked in the City, before entering politics. (When he was the Lib Dems’ environment spokesman, he was criticised for having shares in “unethical” companies.)

For better or for worse, I have a kneejerk reaction against the following types of people:

  • MPs and other elected representatives of either gender who lie
  • Men who abuse power (and it is so often men)
  • Men who leave their spouses and their families for a younger woman (essentially because it’s such a cliché, especially if the affair is conducted “at the office” – what is this, a 1970s sitcom?)
  • Male politicians who give the impression of being a “family man” in order to get elected – as Huhne did in Eastleigh with the family snapshots in election material (“Family matters to me so much – where would we be without them?”) and his public displays of unity at the ballot box with Pryce – when they are in fact conducting an affair in secret and plan on leaving their wife and children when they get in

Here’s where I stand:

I do not think putting Huhne, or Pryce, in prison, even for a couple of months, is a good use of taxpayer money. I stated this on Twitter and, as usual, enraged some who felt I was letting him off the hook. I mentioned “his sort” (which is kind of all of the above), which was misconstrued as “posh/rich/establishment” and taken to mean that this “sort” are “too good for prison”. Far from it. If I really thought that the £800 per week we’ll be paying to keep Huhne in an open prison would change him, I’d consider it. But to my mind – and this is a pure hypothetical as the sentence has been passed – community service would be a far better option. It would cost us less. It would – shall we say – inconvenience Huhne more. And it would put something back into the society he clearly felt he was above.

I state these facts only because, as usual, I felt I was struggling to make my views heard in the ridiculous medium of Twitter. I do not believe that the purpose of community service is “humiliation”. Although I do believe that picking up litter or washing police cars would be humiliating for an arrogant prick like Huhne. (I have never met him, but I know a lot more about him after the court case than I ever expected to know, and I don’t much like the sound of him. Do you?)

Vicky Pryce and Chris Huhne in 2010

Had I been on the jury, I feel in my bones that I would have been less harsh on Pryce. She is, on paper and in a court of law, as guilty as him for the misappropriation of those speeding points, but it certainly sounded like she was “maritally coerced,” which was her defence. A couple of weeks fewer in prison, at least? She is anything but “the little wife”, and she certainly put all of this into motion by going to the press after she was dumped by Huhne, but she seemed at the time to me to be the injured party. It’s hard to know for sure, but that’s the impression I took away from what remains a sordid affair.

Chris Huhne is now hated by his ex-wife, and, presumably, by the three kids he had with her during their 26 years of marriage. That’s their private business. I only care about him because he is an elected official who asked the electorate to trust him and to represent them. Call me a dreamer and an idealist, but I expect Members of Parliament to be honest and to set a good example. I do not give a toss whether or not they are happily married, or have families, those trappings of apparent trustworthiness are not as important to me as they are to many other voters; I merely expect them to do their best, to be upfront with those who elected them, to put their constituencies first, and not to behave as if it’s one rule for them and another rule for the rest of us.

Much of my reaction to this story, which can go away now, is rooted in my own prejudice – and no doubt coloured by the disgust I feel for the Liberal Democrat party since they enabled the worst Tory government in history to take power, while abandoning all their promises – but I am being honest about that, and anyway, nobody elected me. Most people who drive have broken the speed limit. Many have points on their licence. Equally, for most people, a fine and a driving ban would be deterrent enough not to sail too close to the wind too often. When the offender is Chris Huhne, a man with a personal fortune and a property portfolio (two words that really shouldn’t go so casually together), a fine and a ban aren’t going to be enough. He needs to be made an example of, I agree, but sticking him in an open prison isn’t going to do the trick.

And we don’t put people in the stocks any more.