The more I think about it, the more optimistic I feel about Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign. I sincerely think Mr Corbyn has a shot at not just winning the leadership but actually becoming Prime Minister in five years – yes really – for two big, specific reasons that nobody seems to be discussing…
The ‘New Labour’ grandees of the late 1990s clamber out of the past (again) to oppose Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid, with panic building not just up the top end of the party but across a bourgeois establishment nowadays as deeply intertwined with Labour as with the Tories. It’s marvellous how edgy they sound. The unbalanced ‘othering’ language of broadcast news – at other times truly upsetting – suddenly feels just funny.
I think the timing of Corbyn’s campaign may turn out to be absolutely golden. I know many may scoff, including some of his supporters (or more likely just ignore me, which is fine). But let me try out these two arguments, one about Corbyn himself and one about understanding the broader context of ‘now’.
As usual, comments welcome.
First, the optics. I’ve seen almost no discussion of this. In a timeless way (in a way that almost nobody else has had in the past decade) Jeremy Corbyn looks like a leader, a Prime Minister. Far more than the other candidates, far more than Labour’s front bench elite and far more than Cameron’s clique, all of whom conform to a post-Blair media savvy “smart’n’youthful” aesthetic that I believe has itself come to represent a discredited Westminster, to the broader population.
Instead, Mr Corbyn represents – visually, instantly – what people crave right now. Yes, the age and the beard and the teacherly bookishness – I’m not even joking. It’s noticing my own instinct when writing about him to call him “Mr Corbyn”. It’s noticing that when Krish on Channel 4 News harangues him (in perfectly usual news media fashion) the attack makes no dent to his “authoritative integrity”. Even ‘irritated’ looks good on Jeremy.
Two quick nods to sci-fi: people online have been sharing photos of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness, not Ewan McGregor!) referring to Corbyn.* I’m also reminded of the shift from Smith to Capaldi in Dr Who – that re-embracing of a symbolism of older, grumpy integrity = wisdom (though Jeremy’s better written, right?). Yeah, tiny, probably irrelevant offshoots of an assessment of our culture, yet into my head they pop at crucial moments.
Be certain: this stuff outguns puff about policy. That’s why we were fooled in our echo chamber during the election – that’s the centre-left believing it won the argument, even as it lost the vote. Don’t for a second think the “Miliband was too left-wing” thing is real. Everyone in the bubble may wishfully think the English rejected Socialism itself (we’re relentlessly told this by establishment mouthpieces) but their own obsession with presentation – and panic right now – entirely undermines that idea.
Like; Nigel Farage’s politics are clearly bananas (and built from bricks of untruthful hyperbole), yet many millions voted for him – and us lefties vilified them, while the establishment just gawped. I know there’s a complex debate in there about immigration and the fear of destitution – but it was (at least partly) because Farage appeared consistent and sincere in how he’s driven – a “truthful”, authentic, anti-Westminster voice. For non-partisans without skin in the game, Corbyn’s politics are vastly easier to digest than Ukippery. Consistent and honest, somehow he ends up appearing more pragmatic and steady than his idealism-free, careerist opponents.
This brings me to the second argument for the possibility of yer actual Corbyn government: the tech-enabled post-Capitalism paradigm shift.
Paul Mason just wrote a great introduction to this set of ideas, though they’ve floated around for a bit and you may have heard me rant about aspects of them before. I believe fervently that for good or ill, there’s an exponential curve of severe change incoming; causing fundamental deep shifts to our civilisation’s basic nuts and bolts infrastructure, not just through the rest of this century but in this decade and impacting hugely within 20 years; while we’re all still here to witness it.
Because of this – and where tech has already brought us – the very idea that Socialist, Anarchist or Communist activism (and/or community) is “old fashioned” is itself desperately out-of-date. Left-leaning fiscal structure with progressive social libertarianism (the gradual slide towards a non-judgemental society that doesn’t feel that need (greed) to keep its profit, as powerful people do now) is more realisable now than ever (yes it is!) via incredible developments in tech and the re-emergence of village-scale communities (both on- and offline).
Yes of course I would say that, being an entrenched hard leftie. But funnily enough for me the view comes from an obsession with the tech side of the equation, rather than political machinations. I’ll put examples in a postscript so I don’t lose my thread. **
Watch those shifts. Watch empowerment and engagement wrest away from the elites old Maslow’s basic stuff; survival, comfort, education and communication. Seriously. Here in the UK, couple that with the death of a print media that was for so long our great debaser; British injustice and inequality’s single greatest champion. Add in the (inevitable) realisation among the population that this government – this entire austerity process – basically defrauded them. Add in the epic child abuse scandal that the new Tory administration is trying but will fail to shove back under the carpet. The schism of MPs expenses will be nothing to that.
Fast-forward five years.
How will a general election feel in that context? It is totally, totally different to how our current establishment plays it out in their spoonfed strategy meet-ups. Stewardship – today the biggest notional difference between competing players – all but vanished into an automated, technocratic haze. All but reiterated on macro level, stewardship the responsibility of people living right by you, who you see every day. Which leaves idealism, integrity and a sense of separateness as the only stuff left that we care to measure. It’s both hard to comprehend and sitting right in front of us.
And that is how he wins. We’re going to move towards him, not the other way around. Yes.
* If I was running Corbyn’s campaign I reckon I’d be attempting to introduce subtle nods in a Jedi direction in his outfits, if he were persuadable (!!). That’d score huge. Of course he wouldn’t be persuadable, unlike – one presumes – any of the other candidates, who’d wear basically anything decent if they were told that it gained them a point here or there. And actually, that presumption itself, that instinct right there about him versus them, is the important bit. I wouldn’t really dress him up as a Jedi…
** Old industries that got corpulent and swallowed (redistributed upwards) the resources of the people, all are threatened (even where it is not visible yet) by:
1) Super-cheap localised and reclaimed infrastructure provision that people cannot be denied without violent despotism from the top. A great example is power. We sold off the ‘national grid’ to villains like EDF. But very soon domestic solar’n’battery combos will get so powerful and affordable, they’ll liberate a great many communities from the grid altogether. Not to mention doing the same in the developing world – which utterly screws up some of those most evil companies’ growth models. In this context, Leftie principles (and just the language of face-to-face ‘equal’ / social communication) then becomes a hugely potent force (and understandable to all), for communities to share their own gathered ‘fuel’. It’s all very well, those in power today waxing against poverty, while in action merely managing poverty to stop it short of a level that will trigger uprising. But when immediate solutions to poverty become tangible to all, a right-wing hegemony that prioritised big business ahead of tiny business can simply be walked around. It doesn’t collapse from opposition but suffocates through under-use. So, for shelter: right now the Chinese are 3D printing whole streets of complete ready-to-move-in houses for well under $100k. And the shipping container industry has over-produced, leaving piles of potential ultra-cheap housing stock (within 300 metres of my house they’ve built from shipping containers a block of halfway-housing for vulnerable people). Tie that to the loosening bonds we’ll even have with a “home” (re-emerging neo-nomadicism, fewer physical possessions) as mobile facilitation and communication gets better and better. A ‘home’ as purely a place to live = far more choice, flexibility and variety, far cheaper. A ‘home’ as ridiculous investment (a gamble) placed in the current financial system = the loss of everything.
2) This process is mirrored for culture provision (as our entire cultural history and future becomes available to all, with contribution equally enabled, yet increasingly separated from accruing money).
3) Alternative finance (from bitcoin to Paypal to sub-Saharan Africa’s code-based mobile phone transactions) to lock out the conventional banking corporations from trade. Direct ‘seller’ to ‘buyer’ informal ‘trading’ processes becoming so ubiquitous and often without a financial transaction altogether.
Where does it go? I’ve written about this before but one September, three years ago, I saw two talks, at two different events, by James Burke and Vinay Gupta, at which each presented the two sides of the coming nano-tech revolution. They both pointed out how close we are to being able to make stuff (domestic manufacturing) at a molecular level (turn dirt into food, never go hungry!) and then described contrasting utopian (Burke) and horrific (Gupta) visions of that potential future. Somewhere between the two, I’m convinced that you work backwards in time from there; and even just travelling, say, a tenth along the road from where we are now to the 3D ‘printing’ of every imaginable material (which equates to the end of all scarcity for human civilisation; with implications it’s almost impossible to fathom), you find these fundamental shifts. Even as we begin to see them more clearly, off in the future but more recognisable, they simply change everything.