Since the 1980s, left wing political leaders from Bob Hawke to Hillary Clinton have embraced neoliberalism — a belief in low taxes, privatisation of state infrastructure and deregulation — tempered by social welfare. On June 8, 2017, the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, will contest a general election with a radically different platform. He wants to put higher taxes on corporations; massively increase the minimum wages; nationalise railways, water utilities and the postal service; make university free again, and reintroduce collective pay-bargaining. Is he the future of the left?
Zac Gillies-Palmer argues for:
Decades of neglect under successive conservative and centre-left administrations have brought the world’s mightiest liberal democracies to their knees. Where the post-war generation embraced a future of modernisation and rising living standards, ours must accept that in the absence of radical change the world is hurtling toward crisis. For decades the left has failed to present a marketable critique of neoliberalism to voters. Instead, socially democratic parties have appropriated the economic narrative of their conservative counterparts under the guise of voter triangulation and consensus building.
In many ways our fractured political landscape and the resurgence of the fascistic far-right can be attributed to the failings of centre-left parties. By embracing free market policies, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Manuel Valls and Barack Obama created the political vacuum necessary for predatory political movements to construct a narrative which appealed to the fears and aspirations of an increasingly emaciated working class. Critics of privatisation, trade liberalisation and austerity were mocked as relics of a bygone era and largely relegated to backbench positions, where their protestations were unlikely to challenge the fantasies of party leaders.
As the subsequent neoliberal consensus radically restructured society for the benefit of multinational corporations and the wealthiest 1 per cent, the working class lost their voice in government and began to abandon the centre-left in their millions. Since then, voter turnout, party membership and the polling performance of the electoral left have collapsed. Instead, many working class people have turned in desperation to the reactionary populism of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and UKIP with their promises of employment and security.
As a figure of conviction, compassion and courage, Jeremy Corbyn has refused to succumb to conventional third way dogma. Rather than presenting some insipid, visionless Tory-lite manifesto, Labour under Corbyn has challenged the very foundations of modern political discourse. Momentum, a prominent pro-Corbyn grassroots movement, has helped push for a staunchly anti-capitalist policy platform that places democracy, equality and sustainability at the core of Labour’s campaign rather than the periphery. His ambitions are objectively reasonable and yet he has endured an intense and coordinated smear campaign for almost two years. Despite this, Labour’s commitment to reconstituting society for the many, not the few has mobilised tens of thousands of new labour members and rapidly narrowed the gap with Theresa May’s Conservatives to 1 per cent, according to some polls.
To suggest that another moribund Blairite candidate could have endured a campaign of internal and external sabotage is not just dishonest but frankly laughable. It is clear that Labour’s messaging is not merely saleable but popular enough to challenge a narrative that has proliferated in every mainstream media outlet for decades. As a model for the modern left, Momentum and Labour demonstrate the enduring relevance of democratic socialism to working class people. They reject the paternalistic assumption that voters are incapable of vision, compassion, and radical change, and instead dignifies them with a sophisticated counter-proposal to that of the extreme centre.
If the Australian left is committed to captivating the imaginations of working class people we would do well to examine the successes of Corbynism. As the future of progressive politics, democratic socialism provides us with an opportunity to rebuild consensus, end sectarian infighting and progress an anti-capitalist alternative to challenge the structural oppression endemic to our society. Win or lose, Corbyn’s unrelenting opposition to imperialist wars, his commitment to fairness and equality, and his respect for the intellect of working class voters is something the Australian left ought to replicate with or without an electoral motive.
Sam Bird argues against:
The first myth that needs to be shed is that Jeremy Corbyn is a ‘nice guy’.
He is not.
He voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which began the peace process in Northern Ireland, on the basis that the IRA would have had to compromise too much. He attended IRA events throughout the era during which they killed over 1,600 innocent civilians. He edited the Labour Briefing newspaper, which praised the IRA, writing, “the British only sit up and take notice when they are bombed into it”.
And his embrace of terrorists didn’t end there.
Corbyn was paid the equivalent of $35,000 AU for five appearances on Iranian state TV. Once there he didn’t raise a word of censure against the regime’s appalling human rights abuses, preferring instead to criticise the West for its blemished, but considerably better, record.
Let us turn from terrorists to oligarchs. Everyone’s pleasant Uncle Jeremy appeared on the Kremlin’s propaganda channel Russia Today where he again omitted to call out the political repression or mention the militaristic expansionism of Putin’s gangster state. So much complaining about the West to do, so little time to do it.
Now from oligarchs, we move onto murderers — Hamas and Hezbollah, whom Corbyn considers his ‘friends’. Jeremy, the supposed pacifist, invited these anti-Semitic, Islamist fanatics to the British Parliament, ostensibly for ‘dialogue’, but in reality, as a means of endorsing and tacitly supporting their struggle. This is not simply an issue of Palestinian rights. Hamas has the distinction of being one of the few organisations whose founding charter openly advocates genocide, through the violent destruction of the Israeli state. One can only hope that a cup of tea with Jeremy dissuaded them from pursuing such naughtiness.
Self-determination for the Palestinians, but not for the Falkland Islanders, it seems, as Corbyn favours sharing sovereignty over the islands with Argentina. Despite the fact that 98.9 per cent of the Islanders desire to remain British nationals, Jeremy doesn’t seem to care. Perhaps if they started blowing up citizens he would lend his weight to their cause.
“At least his views are clear”, some say. “He’s straight up and honest”, they note. But is he?
Last year, Corbyn decided that, to make a political point about rail nationalisation, he would make a video sitting on the floor of a train he claimed was overcrowded. His claim was fatally undermined when the rail company released footage of Corbyn bumbling past rows of empty seats, exposing him for the mendacious fool that he is.
Finally, his domestic agenda is tepid and outdated. He wants to dramatically increase spending on social services, which is welcome, but for the fact he has not proposed sufficient sources to fund it. Instead, the UK would take on more debt, which would be fine in a recession, but in a time of growth and rising interest rates will lead to higher repayment obligations. It will leave less money available for precisely the social services Corbyn wants to fund in the future.
Corbyn’s politics do not scream ‘nice man’ to me, nor does his history of taking sides in conflict scream ‘pacifist’. He is an anti-British, anti-Western, anti-Semitic, terrorist sympathiser and a Kremlin crony. He is an inauthentic liar who no-one should vote for. If he is the future of progressive politics, then he will be its death.