We were told Corbyn was ‘unelectable’. His fightback shows he’s anything but
by Gary Younge, The Guardian
Tuesday 6 June 2017
At a drinks party in central London, not long after Jeremy Corbyn had been elected leader of the Labour party first time round, a young journalist talked me through the facts as she saw them.
“He’s already lost the election,” she said.
“I think you’ll find he just won an election,” I told her.
“I mean 2020,” she said, referring to what we all assumed would be the next general election. “Are we talking about 2020 in the past tense now?” I asked.
The trouble with received wisdom is that it rarely comes with a receipt. With the provenance of the “wisdom” unacknowledged, the recipient passed it on as though it were the self-evident expression of their own genius: an inarguable fact plucked from a clear blue sky.
For the past two years, it has been received wisdom that, when put before the national electorate, the Labour party under Corbyn was unelectable. Not simply that it would lose, but that there was no plausible way it could compete. These were not presented as opinions but as facts. Those who questioned them were treated like climate change deniers. Those who held the wisdom were the scientists. To take Labour’s prospects seriously under Corbyn was to abandon being taken seriously yourself.
The political class imparted as much to the media class, and the media class duly printed and broadcast it. The political class, drawn for the most part from the same social class as their media counterparts, then took those articles and bulletins and presented them as evidence. The wisdom was distributed to all who mattered. Those who did not receive it did not, by definition, matter. Within this fetid ecosystem the air was too stale for new ideas to grow.
With days to go, Labour now sits between one and 12 points behind the Tories in the polls. One projection has the Tories failing to gain an overall majority; most predict they will get a majority of between 30 and 70. None have Labour winning. Most have Corbyn getting a larger share of votes than Ed Miliband or Gordon Brown. The polls have been wrong before.
The situation is volatile. According to one poll, one in five voters could still change their mind. We won’t know whether Labour will be elected or not until Thursday night. To those who have insisted on its unelectability, the matter of people actually going to the polls was always a formality. Now it seems, from reporting and the polls, that even if Labour doesn’t win under Corbyn, it is a viable electoral force.
Received wisdom aside, this should not surprise us too much. Electability, whether it relates to a person or a programme, is not a science. There are, it is true, gifted people out there who have studied elections and traced voting patterns to make predictions and projections. They are pollsters and psephologists; they are not clairvoyants.
Nor is it a neutral category. The people who “decide” whether someone is electable or not are not the electorate – that comes much later – but opinion-forming elites and those who fund and promote them. They apply themselves to the task with great prejudice and select both people and programmes in their own image and interests.
In America, money selects the candidates before the voters get a look-in. In Britain, the media are the key arbiters. “The ideas of the ruling class,” Karl Marx pointed out, “are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” That’s how a man who talked with Sinn Féin (a strategy that stood the test of time) can be constantly interrogated about his support for “terrorism” while a woman who joined a party that branded Nelson Mandela a terrorist is never asked about her support for Apartheid.
Nor are the attributes that comprise electability fixed. Political cultures are living organisms. They change, evolve and develop – the qualities voters look for in politicians change. That’s true for candidates. In America, it was once commonly understood that you had to be white to be elected president. In 1958, when asked if they would vote for a black candidate, 53% of white voters said they would not; in 1984, it was 16%; by 2003, it was just 6%. We know now that’s no longer true. But until election night in 2008 we couldn’t be certain.
It’s also true for their agendas. Even as parties anchor themselves to basic principles, they have to adapt their promises to the times they are in. Blairites and Clintonites did not only once understand this, it was their credo. But having crafted a neoliberal agenda that made their parties electable in the 90s and beyond, they apparently believed their work was done: that the shift to the right was both unidirectional – you could never shift left – and unique – they would never have to shift again.
The economic crash and the austerity that followed caused a tectonic shift in our political culture; what people wanted from a centre-left party changed. But the received wisdom about electability did not. Its high priests kept insisting elections are won in the centre, without any apparent understanding that the centre can move and, in times of extreme polarisation, disappear. The pragmatists turned dogmatic; the modernisers became conservative.
But the principal problem with the notion of electability is that it is promoted on the premise that what has not been tried cannot possibly succeed. It suggests the way people see the world at any given moment cannot be changed through argument and activism and instead erects borders for what is permissible discussion and polices them determinedly. Those who dream outside those borders are utopian; those who speak outside them are fools.
The trouble is that in times of crisis, like this, the cost of thinking outside those borders becomes lower for many than the price of living within them. While received wisdom comes with no receipt, it’s always the same people who pick up the tab. A candidate who has connected domestic terrorism and foreign wars and argued for the redistribution of wealth to shore up public services has been surging. This, we were told, was not possible. It’s why, for the first time in a long time, a significant number of people are excited about an election.
We don’t know if his party will win. We will find that out on Thursday. The only way to truly know if something is electable is to fight for it and vote for it.
I’ve never voted with hope before. Jeremy Corbyn has changed that
by George Monbiot, The Guardian
Tuesday 6 June 2017
How they mocked. My claim, in a Guardian video a month ago, that Labour could turn this election around, was received with hilarity. “Fantasy Island”, “pure pie in the sky”, “delusional”, “magical thinking”, “grow up” were among the gentler comments. The election campaign, almost everyone agreed, would be a victory lap for the Conservatives. The only question was whether Theresa May would gain a massive majority or a spectacular one. Now the braying voices falter.
Could it really happen? No prediction, in these volatile times, should carry much weight. But this we can say: a Labour win is no longer an impossible dream. It is certainly a dream, for those of us who have been waiting, longer than my adult life, for a government beholden only to the people, rather than to the City or the owners of newspapers. But it is now a plausible one.
And why not? On policy after policy, the Labour manifesto accords with what people say they want. It offers a strong and stable National Health Service, in which privatisation is reversed, clinical budgets rise and staff are properly paid. It promises more investment in schools, smaller class sizes, and an end to the stifling micromanagement driving teachers out of the profession. It will restore free education at universities. It will ensure that railways, water, energy and the postal service are owned for the benefit of everyone, rather than only the bosses and shareholders. It will smoke out tax avoidance, and bring the banks under control.
While Theresa May will use Brexit as a wrecking ball to be swung at workers’ rights, environmental laws and other regulations the Conservative party has long wanted to destroy, Labour has promised to enhance these public protections. It will ban zero-hours contracts, prevent companies from forcing their staff into bogus self-employment, and give all workers – whether temporary or permanent – equal rights. The unemployed will be treated with respect. Both carers and people with disabilities will be properly supported. Those who need homes will find them, and tenants will be protected from the new generation of rack-renting slumlords. Who, apart from the richest beneficiaries of the current regime, would not wish to live in such a nation?
Despite so many years of protest, Corbyn’s greatest strength lies in proposition rather than in opposition: his gentle style is better suited to explaining his own vision than to contesting his opponent’s. The more exposure he receives, the better he looks – while the cameras expose May as charmless, cheerless and, above all, frit.
She won’t stand up to anyone who wields power. She will say nothing against Donald Trump, even when he peddles blatant falsehoods in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in this nation, exploiting our grief to support his disgusting prejudices; even when he pulls out of the global agreement on climate change.
She is even more sycophantic towards this revolting man than Tony Blair was to George W Bush. She won’t confront Saudi Arabia over terrorism or Yemen or anything else. Far from it: both as home secretary and as prime minister she appears to have suppressed a report into the foreign funding of jihadi groups in the UK that is said to focus on the role of the Saudi kingdom. When there is a conflict between our security and selling weapons to a despotic regime, brutality wins.
She won’t stand up to the polluters lavishly funding the Conservative party, whose role explains both her weakness on climate change and her miserable failure to address our air pollution crisis. She won’t stand up to the fanatics in her party who call for the hardest of possible Brexits. She won’t stand up on television to debate these policies because she knows that the more we see, the less we like. The party machine’s attempt to build a personality cult around her fell at an obvious hurdle: first, you need a personality.
Who, in this fissile age, would wish for a prime minister with no discernible convictions, no perceivable moral core? Who, when we need courage in government more than at any time in the recent past, wants a prime minister who rolls over to everyone from the Daily Mail to King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud? Who, as we face negotiations with the European Union that will determine the future of this nation – negotiations that demand the utmost delicacy and care – wants a government peopled with buffoons, blusterers and bullies?
For many years, political enthusiasm in the UK was snuffed out by a joyless, lifeless managerialism practised by both the Conservatives and Labour. Its purpose was to reconcile a semblance of democracy with the demands of banks, corporations, US power and the offshored rich. The greed and intolerance of the press barons and their fellow tax exiles weighed more heavily with government than either political principles or the aspirations of the powerless.
There were real differences between the parties, but these narrowed as Labour embraced the neoliberalism of its opponents. The major parties became ever less willing to change social outcomes. As hope was stifled, turnout in elections plummeted. But this week, the point of voting is undeniable. The choice with which you are faced on Thursday carries more weight and meaning than it has done for decades.
By the time I walk out of the polling booth, I will have voted for four parties in 10 years: the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and, at last, Labour. In every case, I have sought an escape from the unelected powers that govern this nation. Until now, I have voted with resignation, sometimes edging into despair. This week, for the first time in my life, I will vote in hope.
The election now hangs on whether the young people who claim they will vote Labour are prepared to act on this intention. We know that older Conservative voters will make good their promise: they always do. Will the young electors, who will lose most from another five years of unresponsive government, walk a couple of hundred metres to their polling stations? Or will they let this unprecedented chance to change the nation slip through their fingers? The world belongs to those who turn up.
Those dreams we have entertained for so long: we can realise them. Those visions of a better life that seemed impossible a month ago: they now depend on turnout and turnout alone. That unfamiliar, tingling sensation that’s been troubling you of late? It’s called hope. Don’t let them take it away from you.