Jeremy Corbyn offers a popular modern day version of the socialist mantra which is building unity, believes DARYL TAYAR
IN 1917, in the midst of famine and war, Lenin offered the people of Russia exactly what they were crying out for. “Bread and Peace” became the winning slogan of the Bolsheviks.
In our general election in May, none of the main political parties or media outlets offered what the country needed and it didn’t fundamentally matter which way people voted: the candidates and the media were simply blue or red mouthpieces for the same vested interests. Either way it was a vote for more banker immunity and more debt, more failed states and more terrorism, more profits and more poverty.
Now, more than ever, what is needed is a short and simple message to unite voters behind a radical government that can deal with the crises facing us. What we need is a global reboot. Yet at the moment we are still fighting a phoney war, and the people know it. For the first time in history we have the potential for truly global government, and truly global disaster. Climate change, nuclear holocaust and poverty: these are the key issues, yet they barely figure in what passes for current political debate. No wonder voter disillusionment with the mainstream parties has reached record levels.
But how can we test which messages are going to work best? One of the most effective of all is to unify against a common enemy. The right do it by scapegoating — hate the immigrant, the Muslim, the poor. Shame on them. The left, if they are worthy of the name, do it by campaigning against a social injustice — slavery, poverty, tyranny. When you are on the left you should find you make allies. If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage has turned the trick in his smarmy way. Making immigrants the scapegoat in a time of crisis certainly constitutes a short and simple message and it can be very effective, as history shows. This is the politics of fear, and it leads to division and despair. It is the kind of message that is used by unscrupulous politicians to ride to power and as a way of keeping people distracted from the real issues.
On the left, the really interesting question is what message left-wing Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn will come up with. He is being labelled as a musty blast from the past, but the prospect of even stale air is wonderful when you’re being held underwater by the likes of George Osborne — a man so reminiscent of a sadistic Dick Francis villain it would be funny if it wasn’t tragic. In fact, voters are flocking to hear Corbyn. When the major parties are so stiflingly similar, his principled and practical suggestions for how to revitalise our communities sound positively refreshing.
His stand allies him with SNP voters in Scotland. And of course it connects him with the growing number of Greens.
This brings us to a paradox: a wonderful and hopeful paradox. On the one hand, politics is splitting. Labour and Conservatives, each with their left and right wings, are really four political parties struggling like cats in a sack to be free.
And if the old tribal loyalties among MPs are under strain, the same is even more true for voters. That sack that the establishment has had us tied up is ripping, as a more informed, more connected public flexes its muscles and struggles to the surface, gasping for the fresh air of progressive politics, blinking in the light of new possibilities.
On the other hand, such splits in the body politic might lead to a surprising degree of unity on the left. In fact, the principled leaders of the new left are starting to look like a potential rainbow coalition: red, yellow, green. Why is that? Well, simply because they’re brave enough to take principled stands. When you do that, you find common ground. And then, and only then, you have the strength to take on the Establishment and win.
So how can we create a message for the 21st century that will, as left-wing Spanish Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias put it, “stop voters choosing the enemy”? It’s no good just paraphrasing Lenin. Bread and peace is not going to work when my nearest supermarket has 26 varieties of bread and there’s been no war that threatened the security of Britain for 70 years.
Actually, the answer is simple: identify the groups in our society who feel dispossessed and listen to them. Let them speak and then find progressive policies that address their concerns. A party of the left should be the mouthpiece of the people. So when a poor community votes Ukip we shouldn’t be afraid — we should be there, finding out their real needs.
Then our messages would be targeted ways of replacing austerity with sufficiency, and hate with hope. Taken together, these groups, the poor who demand a living wage, the young who care about global warming, the old who want decent pensions, are the majority, the overwhelming majority, and the elite could never stand against them.
What is plain is that for the left to simply carry on repeating in diluted form the message of the right would mean further electoral humiliation. Every one of these Labour leadership candidates are just faceless suits apart from Corbyn — only he sticks out as sincere, honest and one of us, not one of them.
Success in politics comes from being in touch. Corbyn is proving today that it doesn’t matter whether your policies are old or new. What matters is whether they are in the interest of the 1 per cent or the 99 per cent. He is passionately in favour of redistributing power and wealth from the privileged elite to the rest of us. For example, he is proposing higher taxes for rich individuals and corporations that would fund public services for all of us — and he vows to wage no unjust foreign wars and to abolish Trident.
The real peace message of our times, however, has to be about global warming, which is in many ways today’s equivalent of a world war in its potential for destruction and its potential for social transformation. It’s going to be very interesting to see if Corbyn can do what the Greens have failed to do and wake the electorate’s slumbering environmental awareness.
My elder son has signed up as a registered Labour supporter. Ever since he can remember, Labour has been a party to protest against, not a party to believe in. Now he sees Corbyn as an opportunity for some real socialist policies at last.