Corbyn’s first week shows direct democracy is essential to empower his supporters, and keep his enemies at bay.
Watching the Andrew Marr show the morning after the Labour leadership election felt like waking up in a fictional alternate history; people like that never get into positions of power in the real world. Along with coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s win was an interview with the cyborgified brain of Adolf Hitler, who criticised Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, followed by Keith Richards on what his coven of deathless vampire musicians thought about the resurgence of Britain’s left.
The prompt media attack on Team Corbyn has been equal parts predictable and absurd. Within hours of his appointment as shadow chancellor the internet was plastered with the irrelevant factoid that John McDonnell once whimsically commented he would, were he a time traveller, return to the 80s and assassinate Margaret Thatcher — a premise I’m hopeful Chris Mullin turns into a feature-length tv drama.
Also his tie was wonky. Bastard.
The fact that the conclusion of the Second World War meant people in Britain wouldn’t be forced to sing a politically presumptuous national anthem was an irony missed by the country’s commentariat, criticising as they did Corbyn’s choice not to sing along to a song praising a deity and a monarch — two concepts the self-effacing Bennite doesn’t believe in. Also his tie was wonky. Bastard.
Judging by his vaguely apologetic mumblings, it seems he now will sing the national anthem at future remembrance ceremonies. I think he should have stood his ground, if only to stop Britain becoming like America, a place where ‘unpatriotic’ is a pejorative on a par with paedo. He should have called the media out on the absurd non-story, explaining to the viewers at home why there is so much interest in the assassination of his character — perhaps because anyone left of Ayn Rand’s moustachioed evil twin has a problem with one man owning a hundred newspapers, and lying through all of them. Instead, his response shows the media they can, like a guffawing school bully, make him squirm if they press on the right nerves, which they will now keep on doing. A tactical misstep.
If only his attacks were solely Press-based. Like the embarrassed owner of a farty dog, Labour’s ‘residual Blairites’ — a phrase I’ve got my eye on as a future band name — have been quick to distance themselves from Corbyn’s policies. Frowning former frontbenchers loudly asserted they didn’t want to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, despite him not having asked them — the political equivalent of starting a loud, fake conversation with the most popular girl at school and telling her to stop asking you out. Others graciously agreed to keep their posts, but only if they could keep doing whatever it was they were before the leadership election, silently hoping Corbyn would go away if they kept extremely still for long enough.
2020 is far enough away for the most chronic procrastinator to invent a bespoke mahogany killbot.
Of course, what really defines Labour’s slick, sound-bitten clique of probable robots is their ‘weathervane’-like quality, the unconquerable urge to associate themselves with any stance deemed popular with Mr and Mrs Essential-Middle-England-Voter. Corbyn needs firm evidence that his politics carry electoral weight to keep the Parliamentary Labour Party in line, and 2020 is far enough away for the most chronic procrastinator to invent a bespoke mahogany killbot. A couple of by-elections won by explicitly Corbynite candidates would go far to solidify his position as leader, and the sooner, the better. It’s a tricky one to engineer, though.
Perhaps he can return to the democratic bosom of the 250,000 supporters that propelled him to Labour’s top job. Direct democracy could be the solution to the impending collision between the Parliamentary Labour Party and its inexplicable leader. Spain’s Podemos party is one of many to embrace opportunities only conceivable in our digital age, using open source software, popular online forums and mobile apps to speedily poll its members and decide policy in the most representative way it can. Labour desperately needs to modernise in similar ways if it hopes to become a credible mass movement again.
Were Corbyn, for instance, to ask every Labour member to vote on whether they want him to campaign to get rid of Trident, he could wipe out dissent amongst his shadow cabinet overnight; what idiot would act against a direct mandate from a majority of the entire Labour Party? Even in the scenario that Corbyn loses such a vote, and people inexplicably want to keep Britain’s money-burningly expensive nuclear deterrent, he’ll have a relatively dignified solution to the conundrum, emphasising his commitment to democracy, no matter his own personal beliefs.
Lazy accusations of ‘unelectability’ don’t take into account the potentially colossal changes a united Corbyn-led opposition can make to the UK’s political climate in the next five years.
Whatever the next few weeks hold, Corbyn’s win signifies the Thatcherite, neoliberal consensus that has seeped through Labour’s leadership since the 90s is rather more temporary than our political establishment would like to admit. Lazy accusations of ‘unelectability’ don’t take into account the potentially colossal changes a united Corbyn-led opposition can make to the UK’s political climate in the next five years. After all, so many of the things we now take for granted — the NHS, the welfare state — only exist because of a previous, radically different political consensus. Such a consensus can be built again. It’s only by people repeatedly saying it that the prophec y of electoral defeat will become self-fulfilling.
But I seriously do hope someone dramatises the time-travelling adventures of John McDonnell.