Beware the Friendly Stranger

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)


3 Responses to “Beware the Friendly Stranger”

  1. Paul Murdoch Says:

    Interesting piece.

    “smart people, young people, renting people, the precariat, the creatives, the artists, the hipsters, the clued up working class…”

    I fear you’re right. Although,naturally, I regard the “clued up working class” as those who’ve: achieved class consciousness and so reject Corbyn on ideological grounds as an inveterate bourgeois gradualist; deplore his endorsement of fascists; and despair at his embrace of identity ahead of class struggle. But, to be fair, mine is probably an attitude held by about 0.00002% of the population…namely: me, my mate Dave and a cousin of mine in Glasgow. There used to be more of us but they’re either dead now or wearing a bib and dribbling oxtail soup in a piss stained ‘day room’ somewhere. However, I still haven’t heard him say a word about TTIP or an EU exit. He may consider himself a socialist but you can’t meaningfully claim that while you aspire to lead a country that’s signed up to agreements effectively drafted by the World Bank, IMF and ECB to enshrine the supremacy of unregulated markets.

    As I say, I’m in a very small minority, but there is a solid case against Corbyn from the left; by which I mean to the left of Corbyn, not some liberal commentators writing ((justifiably) about the shady company he keeps. Especially in the scab New
    Statesman. That said, his connections alone are enough to set me against him.

    Incidentally, I seem to recall recommending Norman Cohn’s Millenium to you a while back. Don’t know if you read it but he produced another classic, Warrant for Genocide, which gives the best explanation of the attraction the likes of Corbyn seem to develop for deranged utopians. He outlines the phenomenon he’s trying to understand early on…

    “There exists a subterranean world, where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when that underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people…. And it occasionally happens that this subterranean world becomes a political power and changes the course of history.”

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    Thanks Paul, I think these days I’m making liberal critiques rather than leftist ones and have probably reverted to my bourgeois suburban upbringing. I think JC has talked about TTIP (but didn’t the Senate kill that a while back) and as I’ve said I think it’s possible a JC led Labour Party could revert to anti EU 1980s stance and pick up a lot of UKIP’s old support that way. I think there is certainly a left wing case against JC, based on class and economics, to be made, certainly all this People’s Investment Banking and QE etc seems very poorly worked out.

    I did read Millennium but not Warrant for Genocide. Thanks for the recommendation, ordered it today mate

  3. Paul Murdoch Says:

    Yeah, fair play. Seems you’re right about Corbyn and TTIP, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t dead in the water. It’ll be back, new name, new packaging. These trade deals are a long term strategic process. I’ll stop there, mind, before I start sounding all Bildeberg Conspiracist but I don’t think it’s gone away.
    I was almost impressed by what he’d said about TTIP. If he wasn’t so economically naive on everything else, so friendly with violent lunatics and such a fuckin ingenue when it comes to Putin, I’d even think about voting Labour…assuming he wins. My brother put £50 on ‘anyone but Corbyn’ the other day…got 6/1. He’s convinced he’s on a winner. No idea why but he’s got a pretty impressive record on political betting.He’s convinced polling’s a thing of the past…thinks people just lie too much these days thanks to Facebook etc. Reckons it’s down to this virtue signalling and people reinventing themselves online with an ‘ethical brand’ while, fundamentally, we’re all more self-serving and mercenary than ever before.

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