Settling into the most outrageously ridiculous period in modern political history, as this stupidity-blighted few weeks is surely now destined to be remembered, it’s quite difficult not to be overwhelmed by angry, pulsating disgust at almost everything.
Having cattle-prodded the most vulnerable, abused, and ill-informed bit of the population into authorising as seismic a political shift as we’ve seen in this country, it now turns out the Leave camp has given absolutely no thought to what would happen if they actually won – and if their wake-like victory press conference was anything to go by, it’s looking increasingly like they wish they hadn’t.
Around the UK, thousands of people opted for Out having got so used to the anti-democratic absurdity of First Past the Post that they didn’t expect it to count – with even lowlife ex-Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie reporting symptoms of Brexit remorse. Encouraged and legitimised by poisonous campaign rhetoric, racist abuse has soared all around the country. And now, as was always inevitable, a Parliamentary Labour Party stuffed with time-servers, careerists and establishment lickspittles has launched a coup against Jeremy Corbyn.
As tempting as it is to run full-tilt for the nearest woods and start your own off-the-grid agrarian-socialist utopia, we should probably all pause for a minute and try and digest what’s going on. It’s time for critical thinking and brute, unflinching honesty.
Really, the Corbyn project has been an experiment to try and answer a question I suspect quite a few of us probably knew the answer to already. Is the modern Labour Party beyond salvaging? Can it be reclaimed as a way for ordinary people to exert influence on the political system – or is it just broken?
Obviously, it’s not been resolved either way yet. Labour could scrape through all this, with Corbyn or someone similarly inclined at the helm, and become the force for radical, egalitarian, democratic change it needs to be. But, at the moment, it’s looking like it won’t. It looks like it’s just broken.
Labour, institutionally, has turned into something terrible. The entitled, self-perpetuating party oligarchy that ran it until Corbyn came along, and still dominates it in parliament, is all about power at any cost – lying, deceiving, distorting and generally doing or saying whatever they think will win over Tory-leaning swing voters and far-right press barons. By playing on the very worst human instincts, they want to get into government – not to change society, not to improve the lives of ordinary people, but to try and manage majority-squashing neoliberalism a bit more competently than the Tories.
They’ve allowed themselves to become completely absorbed by the nasty, distorted, prejudicial vision of reality projected by the right-wing corporate press. Rather than countering the scapegoating and disinformation, they’ve endorsed and encouraged it for political gain. Faced with a choice between trying to win people round to a compassionate, egalitarian way of looking at the world, or just going along with decades of hard-right propaganda, they take the path of least resistance – legitimising Tory myths about immigrants, poor people, and benefit claimants, and an economically illiterate, socially devastating austerity agenda that hits Labour-voting areas hardest of all.
If we’ve reached a stage where millions of people are so catastrophically misinformed that it threatens the very possibility of democracy, then elite Labour’s as much to blame as the Tories are.
Corbyn beat the Labour aristocracy with a stonking majority last year, precisely because of widespread disgust at elite politics. But elite Labour would rather the party didn’t exist than see it led by someone who wasn’t one of them. If Corbyn-led Labour isn’t ‘working’, it’s because it’s never been allowed to ‘work’. It’s been sabotaged, constantly, repeatedly undermined, by its representatives in parliament – now openly scornful not just of the people who vote Labour and support it, but most of the people in it.
Thousands living in once solidly Labour areas now vote UKIP, and thousands more don’t vote at all. Elite Labour blames Corbyn. The Corbynites blame Elite Labour. Obviously, the homogenised, majority-ignoring, elite-focused ‘there-is-no-alternative’ politics practiced by the New Labourites is overwhelmingly to blame. But, grimly, the situation’s too far gone to be quickly and simply remedied by the return of a vaguely left-wing Labour leadership either.
This is the colossal problem we now face: millions of people aren’t just sat around waiting for socialism to come back. Millions of people just don’t give a damn – many wouldn’t have even known there was a referendum on, who Corbyn was, or (as I’ve come across more than once) even who Cameron was.
Elite Labour has absolutely no solution to that problem. Corbyn has the beginnings of one. Given time and room to grow, the Corbyn project could do the only thing I think could begin to overturn profound public apathy and hostility, not just to elected politicians, but to politics in general – showing up in people’s everyday lives and supporting them as they struggle to stay afloat in dystopia Britain.
Instead, I think we’re probably witnessing the end of the Labour Party. More than ever, I’ve got no idea what’s round the corner – at this rate Timmy Mallett or Nick Clegg could be PM by the end of the year. But I don’t see how it can survive this. Elite Labour would willingly destroy it rather than see it become that kind of radical, activist-driven organisation. If there’s another leadership election, and Corbyn wins, it’ll probably split. If Corbyn loses, it’ll probably split.
At this point, I wouldn’t be all that sorry to see it go. As a tool for building a better society, I think it’s finished – the last nine months have convinced me of that. What’s more, the older I get, and the more I see of Westminster, the less I think parliament’s got any substantial role to play in bringing about a better society. Not just Labour, but our whole diseased political system is probably now impervious to change.
Is Corbyn the finest leader of men ever to have walked the earth? Nope. Is he the savviest media performer, the most charismatic speaker, the greatest political strategist? Nope. He’s someone who, with no preparation, and no expectation of winning, reluctantly entered into a leadership contest – and then, because he was resoundingly decent, and so committed to making the world a less horrible place, won over thousands upon thousands of people who’d never even heard of him before.
He’s a fantastic, self-sacrificing human being, and he’s given the Left its best shot at getting anywhere in decades. I’ll support him to the end. But I think all of us who’ve backed him, and all of us who want a radically different society, need to remember what we’ve learned about the media, and Westminster, and the establishment in general over the last nine months – and put our energies into a radically different sort of politics going forward.