At a time when most people are supposed to be turned off from politics there comes a surge of genuine popular enthusiasm for a certain politician. At first glance you would say that there was nothing particularly inspiring or distinctive about the politician. The politician had spent most of his life in trade unions and local government, then served as MP for 22 years of a North London liberal enclave which, despite its chatterati reputation, suffered from terrible poverty also. The politician was a career backbencher, voting against his party on hundreds of occasions: as a person by all accounts he is intelligent and compassionate, a 66-year old man in old shirts and a grey beard, the kind of quiet, brilliant fellow with a gentle voice you find in badly lit corridors of universities or council offices, measuring out his life in meetings and biros. No one thought this politician would ever become a serious contender, let alone frontrunner for the leader of the opposition party. But that is what has happened.
It’s not clear that the politician would even like to be Prime Minister someday. The politician was included on the ballot by other, more senior political figures who wanted a ‘broad debate’ and wanted to make the party more democratic, only when the politician began to accumulate mass support the senior figures backpedalled and said, oh actually, we didn’t want that broad a debate and actually, we didn’t want the party to be that fucking democratic. As I write data clerks are firing off exclusion letters to people who have registered mainly to vote for the politician.
But by then it was too late. The politician ignited something in a way that I hadn’t seen a politician do for a long time. The politician travels the country and addresses packed-out meetings full of people cheering for the politician. I go on social media and there are people I know, people I respect endorsing the politician, hashtags proliferate cheerleading the politician. I go down my local pub and there are regulars there debating the merits and electability of the politician. If you are in Islington tonight you can go and see the politician at a fundraiser featuring music, speeches and a ‘socialist magician’ (‘fits in nicely with Jeremy’s ideas about quantitative easing’). I even come across an anthology from up and coming poets, filled with paeans of praise to the politician.
The new thing is that the politician seems to be getting support from people who don’t normally get involved in politics or even vote – smart people, young people, renting people, the precariat, the creatives, the artists, the hipsters, the clued up working class, ordinary people in ordinary jobs, who have been told loud and clear by various governments and movements that, thanks, but we don’t need you.
I understand the weariness with dull, authoritarian machine politicians that have hectored the British electorate for twenty years, and made this country a more difficult place to live in. So I understand to some extent the excitement over this new politician, who is saying something a little different. But how different?
The politician has some policy ideas that make sense to me, and that would be the better choice for our society. Other policy ideas he has just seem silly. Let’s print money! Let’s reopen the mines! Fuck NATO! Which leads me to the politician’s foreign policy. Like many far left politicians he’s against ‘illegal wars’ and America and Israel. He also carries a lot of the standard, stinking far left baggage – appearances on propaganda channels owned by hostile foreign powers, links to Holocaust deniers, Islamist maniacs, 9/11 deniers, LaRouche conspiracy organisations. Such troubling alliances are well documented – the skeletons are out of this guy’s closet and dancing down the streets – but the politician barely deigns to address them. When he is directly challenged, the politician becomes aggressive and unhinged in a way that you wouldn’t expect such a gentle, caring man to be. Interviewers who question him are targeted with foul abuse on Twitter.
I can’t get past the politician’s apparent admiration for totalitarian nuts but for many of his supporters it doesn’t register. It’s a neoliberal lie. They’re running scared. Jeremy just happened to be in a room with these people, and coincidences do happen. And the far left’s love affair with the far right has been part of the political backdrop for so long. Its their culture. As Oliver Kamm wrote recently: ‘It’s no longer possible to assume that a declared progressive will defend free speech, secularism, women’s rights, homosexual equality, cosmopolitanism and the spread of scientific inquiry.’
As I say, among the lunatics there are good, smart people who have thrown their considerable energies and talents behind this politician. I would say to these people, my friends, good people: think again. Even grey haired men with gentle voices are susceptible to the lure of power and can justify all kinds of things in the name of the Worker’s Paradise. When this guy lets you down (and they always do) you will be disillusioned, you will turn off from a system that needs you but will break you if it gets the chance. All the meetings, rallies, demonstrations, fundraisers, articles, campaigns behind this one man – imagine if this energy had been thrown into our communities. We could help to feed the hungry and dispossessed in our society, we could challenge unjust laws, we could bring our empty houses up to code and get people living in them, we could revitalise deadbeat neighbourhoods, we could protect those among us who are targeted for speaking out, we could fight injustice for people who don’t have representation, we could help people to help themselves and to fight for themselves. All this you can get on board with no matter what your politics are. Just, please, don’t put your faith in this ageing prince of the 1980s left. How does the song go? Don’t get fooled again.
(Image by Twilldun)