Thursday, March 02, 2017
Comrade Corbyn's Crisis
When facts change..
I enthused when Labour Party chose Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. It promised an escape from politics as usual, a break from the smooth-talking career politicians who came to dominate the Labour Party. It heralded an age of authenticity, which was missing from the politics of the left. A break, finally, I thought, from the weather-cock politics of the Blair-Cameron era!
Indeed, it was too good to be true, and I did not trust the Labour Party to change. A Blairite revolt was on the card, and it came almost immediately as posh politicians refused to serve in the shadow cabinet. Almost unbelievably, though, it never stopped - resurfaced again and again, whether in eagerness to bomb Syria or to overturn the members' mandate on the pretext of Brexit - and continued to demonstrate how Labour Party has become an apparatus without a purpose. While the career politicians ploughed on with the fantasist argument that someone else, who the Labour members won't vote for, is more electable than Mr Corbyn, I lived through periods of outrage and waited for dawning of authenticity.
But this never came. Rather, it is politics as usual that claimed Corbyn. His stylistic revolutions failed to go beyond the superficial, and the shallowness of the imagination was all too apparent when the big political questions arose. The existential problem of Labour - a party of working class when Working Class is no more - demanded not just authentic leadership, but an imaginative one: someone who could see the challenges of today not through the commitments of the past but in engaging with the future. Without this, the Corbyn moment was hopelessly doomed between the nationalism of the Tory Right and Nationalism of the SNP Left, one that was too bogged down in clarifying old questions to notice the emergent ones.
So, when politics changed, it was clueless. EU is no doubt a 'neo-liberal' institution committed to expansion of financial capitalism, benefiting certain sectors in the UK, such as London and its Financial Services, while wrecking a havoc elsewhere, particularly in local communities in industrial wastelands of the Northern England. However, for a political party like Labour, which is deeply scarred by the superficialism of the Blair era, the alternative - nationalism - was a bigger threat for the future. A politician stuck inside the Marxist cannon may easily miss this, but the debate around Brexit was not just technical, but highly emotional. Labour proved incapable to providing any hope - perhaps it lacked hope in itself - that an alternative future of international solidarity is possible, that Welfare state can be rescued, and it is the Tory government, rather than the EU, which is the biggest stumbling block in the way to Banking reform and unfettered power of a few over the many. Playing Cameron's second fiddle, the Labour under Corbyn lost its way and its identity, reaffirming the Party-without-a-Purpose sobriquet.
However, an even bigger crisis has come now, and Mr Corbyn, sticking to his nineteenth century playbook, has hopelessly walked into it. In his desperation to discover the missing working class, he has now committed to 'deliver Brexit for people' instead of delivering them from it. To prove that he has leadership mojo in him, he is now intent on delivering Brexit for Theresa May's Tories, at any cost. Utterly devoid of a vision, his team offers no ideas, not even a few words to add to the Spartan text of Brexit bill. And, against this pathetic Labour, everyone else seem heroic: The SNP, despite the Nationalist in their name, looks internationalist; Liberal Democrats, despite their history of collusion, contrarians; Ken Clark, despite his age, hopeful; Theresa May, despite her incompetence, in charge; the Eurosceptic Tories, patriotic; even Boris Johnson courageous enough to lie for his cause and George Osborn fair-minded despite his crustiness. And, just as the Labour Party thought it has swatted away the Brexit fly, it has squarely landed back in their lap yet again, with the House of Lords attempting to guarantee the rights of the EU citizens living in Britain.
Indeed, this is the right thing to do. These are people, who are legally living in Britain, and any transition must take into account. The river-of-blood Tories may envision a population transfer of the kind they inflicted on India (and on many other places), but that will destroy lives and destabilise economies. The argument of the Tory government that guaranteeing their rights without corresponding assurances from the EU for British citizens living there would weaken the negotiating position is apparent nonsense: It is Britain who wants to leave EU and therefore, it is incumbent on the British government to make the first move. This threat is also counter-productive, as this allows EU to grab the moral high ground. The only cynical reason behind this could be that the British government wants to use this issue to divide EU countries - citizens of friendly countries get to stay - but, in a true Tory manner, this approach does not take human costs into account.
The House of Lords, the higher chamber not beholden to electoral fortunes, has done the thing they are for: Rejected this utterly cynical stance! But this has accentuated the Brexit crisis for labour: Where does Comrade Corbyn now hide? Indeed, politics has changed him and he has become the same reed-in-the-wind politician, betraying the hope of authentic politics that we once had. But while he was carrying on the pretencion, his pathetic guilelessness is now in the open. That politics of Britain is no longer Tory or Labour, but structured around the fissures of Europe, and now is posed as an existential question to the Labour leadership: Are they in favour of a population transfer, driving out not the rich bankers - bankers always get their way - but poor Polish plumbers, Italian waiters and Spanish students out of Britain? House of Lords may or may not get their way, but they have at least forced judgement day on Corbyn and his team.
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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