Like most Arsenal supporters, I had long bemoaned the team’s lack of a good defensive midfielder, and then, during the height of last Autumn’s injury crisis, a player who had been on Arsenal’s books since 2008 was recalled from the latest of three loans, this one to Charlton Athletic, Francis Coquelin. Mr Coquelin had been written off by most, and it had been anticipated that he would be sold, but since then he has played almost every game and has blossomed into a first rate player; he had the proverbial “breakthrough year”. But this article is not about football, it is about politics, and Mr Coquelin’s sudden rise from the reserves is an analogy for the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn.
The Corbyn/Coquelin comparison bears comparison on other levels as well. Not only were they both forgotten by their team/party, but Francis’ adherence to some of the traditional tenets of football such as strong tackles, headed clearances and interceptions in amongst a team of football artists, has comparisons with Jeremy’s move to traditional Labour policies such as nationalisation and close union links among a the spin and artistry of New Labour. But enough of my admiration of Le Coq…………
So far the reactions to Mr Corbyn’s rise appears to fall into three camps; I shall call them Left Center and Right. For the Left he is loved, a prophet who has spent the proverbial (and almost literal) 40 years in the wilderness, and believe him to be a genuinely positive influence. The Centre hate him because they see a leader of the opposition that they believe is unelectable, and thus result in a Conservative victory in 2020, even if they have sympathy for his policies. The Right hate his policies with an almost evangelical zeal, but they equally love the idea of him becoming leader for the same reason the Centre hate him.
I would like to suggest another reason why a Corbyn election would be positive, and that is the difference between management and democracy. The last general election saw the three major parties having a fundamental economic policy that was pretty much the same:
- Conservative - Move into budget surplus before 2020, funded by spending reductions;
- Labour - Move into budget surplus, excluding capital expenditure, by 2020, funded by balance of spending reductions and tax increases; and
- LibDems - Move into budget surplus before 2020, funded by spending reductions and tax increases.
That is an example, but fundamentally the same applied to all areas of policy that I can think of. They all basically had similar policies, and all people were being asked is who they believed would manage the process best. I am 44 years old, and have voted in the 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015 elections, and with the possible exception of 1992 (I’m afraid my memory is rather faded as to Kinnock’s manifesto), all I have ever been asked in the intervening years is who I believe will manage the process better. However, my 49 year old self might be faced with a very different prospect in 2020.
To my mind, democracy is about the presentation of ideas and policies to an informed electorate, from which they can make a clear choice as to which they believe is best; it has to be about more that tweaking at the edges like a budget being approved at a chain of coffee bars, and the decisions coming down to 500 or 525 locations of the ratio of couches to dining chairs. If it is not about something more than modest tweaking, let’s save ourselves some money and just have some sort of rota involving all those who sat PPE at Oxford.
A Corbyn-led Labour Party would without doubt have a very different set of policies to a Cameron/Osborne/Johnson led Conservative Party. Is nationalisation of the railways the right policy? Should we scrap the UK nuclear deterrent? Is there an alternative economic policy? Surely in a democracy these are questions that people should have the right to vote on, whether or not you choose that the policy of the current Conservative government are right or not. I believe that Britain’s membership of the European Union is a positive, that we should remain in it, and that changes and reforms will be slow due to the nature of the beast. Equally I believe that the policy of holding a referendum on continued membership is the right decision and that David Cameron certainly gained support at the last election as a result. The unwillingness of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to back such a referendum just fed the views of many that those in power just desired a steady state; that is not democracy and they rightly suffered.
Much is made by the Centre (as I described them earlier) that Mr Corbyn is unelectable because the “mass media” will rise up in unison against him and the electorate of lemmings will scurry unquestionably in to the polling booths. I note similar claims were made them as regards the poor performance of the Labour Party in the general election and that UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics are already anticipating the same come the EU Referendum. Really? Have you slept through the last 20 years? The newspaper industry is dying on its feet because so few people are buying a daily paper. TV viewing is increasingly being dominated by streaming, downloads and scheduled recordings. Instead information is flowing through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blog sites, newsfeeds and an amalgam of other methods that would not even have been imagined when messrs Blair, Brown and Mandelson rolled out the New Labour experiment, and this trend will accelerate. Are enough people engaged in the process? No, but neither do they slavishly do what their daily newspaper tells them to do; both ignorance and information have been democratised.
Will enough people in the right mix of constituencies vote in the 2020 general election for a Corbyn-led Labour Party? Who knows, but if they don’t, it will not be because Rupert Murdoch tells them not to; the Sun will no longer have won it for anybody. They will have lost because people chose the policies of the Conservatives or they will have won it because people wished to have different policies, but either way it will have been a victory for democracy. Who knows, the jolt to the system may even result in the LibDems rediscovering what it is to be a true liberal party and the British electorate may be able to choose between conservative, liberal and socialist choices (plus green and nationalist) for the first time in my adult life; I am looking forward to it.