Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader of the Labour Party is a watershed in British politics. It's about time.
|Deep breath... (Image copyright: The Guardian)|
I’m not overtly political. If anything, I’ve always been lightly left-wing, believing that a society should look after its citizens who can’t look after themselves, which means robust social, health and educational services which people shouldn’t have to pay for. For me, that’s just basic humanity.
Lately, though, particularly in London, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Cameron glove puppet didn’t care about anyone who earned under 50 grand and/or contributed to Tory party funds. Everywhere you look, public services are being cut from under people who desperately need them, from rubbish collection and street lighting to closing or putting out to tender public libraries.
Free for all
It’s no wonder people are disillusioned with politics. The closure of my local library in Blackfen, due in April 2016, has been my first experience of dealing with local councillors. It hasn’t been encouraging. Despite a petition of several thousand signatures from people who passionately believed that the library is an important community centre, and personal appeals to local politicians for it to remain open – largely because of the needs of the unemployed and pensioners – the decision to close it had clearly been made before Bexleyheath council issued a ‘consultation document’ to garner the local population’s reaction.
Never mind that this makes a nonsense of democracy, the decision to close some Bexley libraries and keep others open was purely based on their geographical distance from each other. It’s absurd: hardly anyone uses Thamesmead library but they’re keeping it open; Blackfen, where as well as borrowing books and access to the internet, you’ll find regular coffee mornings, scrabble and reading groups – for children and adults – extremely conscientious staff who’ll help you with anything from council tax payments to Blue Badges for disabled drivers, is being closed. The newly-formed Blackfen community group, prompted by the closure of the library, hasn’t inspired much confidence either. So far, only one councillor out of 63 has bothered to turn up to meetings.
The great leap forwards
Against this general background of political indifference and arrogance, it’s an absolute revelation that “unfashionable” socialist Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour Party. Lest we forget, he only just scraped together enough votes to get into the leadership race at all; he’s also had to cope with almost blanket hostility, not just from the Murdoch media, but from his own party. Apart from the what-policy-am-I-on-this-week? leadership contenders Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, everyone from Tony Blair to Neil Kinnock has been queueing up to denounce Corbyn as the ghost of Militant Tendency past, a cancerous neo-Benn whose election would effectively make Britain a one-party state.
He condones Al-Qaeda, barracked someone; he’s taken donations from groups linked to Hamas, bleated someone else. To Corbyn’s credit, in the resulting media scrutiny he dealt with each and every criticism calmly and intelligently, and, I reckon, won over more supporters as he did so. His election with 60% of the Labour vote, in a society in which we’re led to believe public opinion is easily swayed by the media, is, for both moderate and radical left-wingers, inspiring and deeply moving.
Before Jeremy came along, political commentators would tell you that young people – i.e. anyone under 25 – weren’t interested in politics. I’d counter that by saying they were probably as fed up as most folks I know with the out-of-touch bunch we’ve have had sitting on both sides of Parliament for far too long. That Ed Miliband and David Cameron looked like they might be related is a neat, but rather sad, metaphor for how much each side of the political divide had come to look the same. This is a culture in which words like ‘integrity’ and ‘decency’ would earn you a cynical smile. It says it all that the main argument of Corbyn’s Labour critics for voting against him was to make the party re-electable. When all you’ve got to offer the electorate, apart from watered-down Conservative policies, is just the desire to be in Number 10 again, it really is time for a re-think. The demolition of Labour in Scotland proved that, and as Corbyn’s spent 32 years on the back benches, you could hardly accuse of him of wanting power for its own sake.
Before long, the media was reporting on how those fabled young people were turning up to Corbyn’s election meetings, and were enthused with the radical idea of – who’d have guessed? – creating a fair society. Corbyn’s tour was sold out and overflowing, while you could almost see the tumble weed blowing across the electoral trajectory of his opponents. As the reports proved, it wasn’t just youngsters who joined the crusade, but, basically, everyone who was fed up with austerity and the sense that everything good about English life is slowly being chipped away – libraries included. A renationalised, reunited rail network? Bloody hell yes.
It says a lot that on the day after he was elected, Jeremy turned down an appearance on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show to attend an NHS mental health trust’s fun day in his own constituency. Mental health trusts have been one of the major casualties of austerity cuts, and to see Corbyn’s show of solidarity with such a deserving organisation under threat made my heart sing.
Jeremy Corbyn, Prime Minister? After the revelations of last weekend, you never know.