JC takes on the world (a personal view)
There has been much criticism of Jeremy Corbyn – particularly on the right of the Labour Party and centre-left commentators like Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Freedland. They fear, for example, that he is a great campaigner but not much of a politician. Does he really have a will to govern? Or the ability to be Prime Minister? Is he leading a political party, a plausible party of government? Or is he rather leading a movement, with a huge groundswell of support amongst the young and the forgotten left-wingers of yesteryear?
Oscar Wilde said that the trouble with socialism (or any other well-meaning political work?) is that it takes up ‘too many evenings’. Jeremy Corbyn has devoted a long political life to the cause. Is that impressive and inspiring, or just dumb?
PURITY NOT POWER
Corbyn has called for a kinder, gentler, more caring society. By transforming the weekly parliamentary show of PMQs he has also – so far – introduced a more positive, more grown-up style of politics. As one commentator put it, he is changing politics although (by being ‘unelectable’) he may not change the country. He apparently has no appeal with those middle earners who do are not dependent on Tax Credits (which Osborne is slashing cruelly) and who also – telling point – never even come across those who are.
STIRRING UP A DIVINE DISCONTENT WITH WRONG
His forebear, Labour’s founder Keir Hardie, talked of ‘trying to stir up a divine discontent with wrong’, and Jonathan Freedland (The Guardian) described his early Commons appearances thus: ‘he came across as earnest, committed and charmingly diffident’, ‘he radiated a winning humility’ – even if Winston Churchill wouldn’t have been impressed! And despite all the supercilious dismissal by delighted Tories and the insular and petty right-wing media he comes across, as cartoonist Steve Bell commented, as ‘plausible and straightforward’: ‘he’s completely outfoxed them’, says Bell. Or, as journalist Jenni Russell said on Newsnight, ‘he isn’t playing the game’.
Could this be the man to change hearts but not – at least not so obviously – the world? Is Jeremy Corbyn’s heart in the right place, but not his political instincts? Is Jeremy Corbyn the man to take forward Keir Hardie’s idealistic ambition? Or is he just leading an ineffectual movement, destined to be for ever a counter-cultural, ethical, but not political force in British society? Some might boldly draw parallels with another JC, who preached a kinder, more caring society in first century Palestine: he too had little time for political games but devoted his life to inspiring an oppressed underclass and … well, changing hearts and thereby, maybe, the world.
George Monbiot wrote an interesting article last week reporting a study by the Common Cause Foundation that found that we are more unselfish than is often thought. He later tweeted that the knowledge of this was enough to make him feel more benign towards his fellow man. So if we are not selfish but we nevertheless (pace an electoral system which may distort our true intentions) seem to favour tough but harsh governments, what is it which will motivate us to be better people and improve our world?
‘THE CHURCH MUST IDENTIFY WITH THE POOR’
No doubt the spectacular result of the May general election, confounding all expectations, is still being analysed: was it shy Tories or fearful English voters, a gullible electorate or just the cunning of Lynton Crosby that made half the voters say they’d vote Labour or LibDem but then change their minds? Whatever our true beliefs and however they affected our actions in May, the fact is that we are where we are for the next 5 years and the poor and the climate will just have to take the consequences. But maybe there is still some hope and some compassion: the Pope seems to be on their side, Jeremy Corbyn cares enough to risk ridicule by quoting the needy in Parliament, and the SNP make quite a good opposition. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury this week echoed his own words from 2014, that ‘the Church must take the risk of identifying with the poor’. Now steady on…