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Why is Jeremy Corbyn so terrifying?

Corbyn on redJeremy Corbyn is a mild-mannered, softly-spoken man who expresses himself with reasoned arguments and believes strongly in letting everyone have their say. So how has this very model of a political gentleman come to be seen by our media as the political equivalent of an angel of death who would make Labour unelectable and who, if ever by some sad misfortune were to become PM, would lead the country to social and economic collapse?

To answer this question it is instructive to look at the outpouring of anti-Corbyn invective from the liberal commentariat. That the right-wing media has turned on its hostility taps is hardly a surprise. We just have to remember that they considered that Labour had “lurched to the left” under Ed Miliband! What is far more interesting and instructive is the avalanche of anti-Corbyn articles and editorials from liberal publications like the Guardian and Observer. Most of the Guardian/Observer writers have gone into overdrive to tell us just how damaging a Corbyn leadership would be. Journalists like Andrew Rawnsley, Martin Kettle, Jonathan Freedland and Anne Perkins and many others have returned to the theme again and again in order to persuade their readers that a Corbyn victory would be a disaster.

One of the striking features of this hostility is that almost none of it attempts to consider anything that Jeremy Corbyn actually says. The occasional attempt to do so (e.g. Sonia Sodha in the Observer) produces political nonsense. (She thinks that the irrelevance of his opposition to nuclear weapons is shown by the danger of the so-called Islamic State. Does she want to nuke them? She also asserts that nationalisation is an irrelevance in the age of Uber. Perhaps she thinks that we should be able to send text messages to order the next train.)

Andrew Rawnsley is a respected political journalist who has close links to many of the main players inside the Westminster bubble. He knows a great deal about the workings of the Labour Party and about the rise of New Labour in particular. His articles are often well-informed, interesting and even witty. So why is it that he has felt free to write three aricles in which he deals with Jeremy Corbyn in a way that one can only describe as uninformed hackery?

In the first article we read “Mr Corbyn seemed to think that he was there to sing the old tunes” that his path to the “promised land” would be a “route to the electoral wilderness” and that the argument that Labour has failed because it is not left enough would be put to the test by a Corbyn victory and would end up in the “destruction that it so richly deserves”.  In the second article he asked why are young Party members supporting Corbyn? His answer is that unlike their elders they were not “seared in the crucible of their party’s near-destruction at the hands of the Bennites“. Seen through “older eyes … the Corbyn surge is a nightmarish revival of demons that almost murdered Labour as a party of government“. Corbyn’s approach is “not a road back to power; it is a cul-de-sac at the end of which lies the brick wall of defeat“. In the third article he speaks darkly of a likely split but adds “to many Labour MPs it is so self-evident that a Corbyn leadership would be a calamity that they can’t see it lasting long”. His conclusion is that “The big truth that is being exposed by this battle is that Labour is really two parties and they can no longer stand each other’s company” with a strong hint that a Corbyn victory would make a split all but inevitable. In not one of these articles did Andrew Rawnsley feel it necessary to deal with anything that Jeremy Corbyn actually says.

Ann Perkins has also had three articles in which she tries to dismiss Corbyn. In the first article we are told that a Jeremy Corbyn leadership would take Labour into the “wilderness” for years. Parties that indulge in the “emotional spasm” are “parties of protest not government”. Labour Party voters are advised to think what kind of country they want for themselves and their children and then ask “…is Jeremy Corbyn in the middle of that picture? I don’t think so”. The second article declares “Corbyn is … a decent and honourable man who would unquestionably be a political catastrophe for Labour” and adds pompously and ridiculously “Game theory does not offer a way out of that particular dilemma”. In the third article we read that Burnham, Cooper and Kendall are conducting campaigns which “are based on the knowledge that there are five years’ hard graft ahead when they must rebuilt the voters’ trust“. The danger is that Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal appears to rest on challenging them, rather than on looking at challenging the facts. Again, as with Andrew Rawnsley, there is absolutely no discussion of Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas or policies.

It is as if people like Rawnsley and Perkins felt that Corbyn’s ideas are so toxic that even to discuss them would be dangerous. Nearly the entire anti-Corbyn onslaught in the liberal press has been argument through reference to such labels such as “hard left“, “extremist“, “far left“, “revival of arguments of the 1980“, “socialist solutions from a by-gone age” and so on and so forth. Andrew Rawnsley managed to top these hand-waving dismissals by writing about “people who think that there is a lot to admire about the thinking of Karl Marx “.

Rawnsley and Perkins are by no means exceptional. In fact they are in the mainstream of comment in the Guardian/Observer. To detail all the absurdities of this anti-Corbyn camaign would take an article very much longer than this one.

So why the fear? Why the hostility? Aren’t liberals the sort of people who welcome debate, who oppose unfair discrimination and who believe in a vibrant democracy?

The writers in question are in their comfort zone when the arguments are about the manifestations of social inequality, various forms of injustice, and the absurdities of our politicians and political parties. They can even rail against increasing inequality and social exclusion. But their arguments always remain within the confines of existing society. They do not question the fundamental mechanisms of society. In short, they accept liberal capitalism as the ultimate point of social evolution. This makes them a part of the social mechanism of that society. Their analyses and criticisms keep alive the idea that that our society is an expression of the desire of people to be free. The point is, however, that these same criticisms and analyses have strict limits.  They do not allow for a moment the idea that we could move beyond a society based on the search for private gain. They have fully accepted the view that liberal capitalism both an expression of freedom and the nearest we can have to a guarantee of prosperity. Any questioning of these concepts undercuts the roots of their liberal world view.

And that is why Jeremy Corbyn is do terrifying. It is not that he proposes an extreme programme. Other countries continue to have nationalised railways and other public utilities and not only seem to survive but appear be at least as successful as the UK if not more so. It is, therefore, not on the basis of any of Corbyn’s proposals that they denounce him – or when they do, like Sonia Sodha, they just look ridiculous. It is because Corbyn’s very mild proposals would shift the direction of travel. They would be the beginning of a reverse of the dismantling of the public realm through neo-liberal dogma now reinforced with austerity arguments. Even these modest proposals are seen as a major threat because they clearly question the neo-liberal consensus according to which market mechanisms are the best way of optimising social outcomes. What is worse, far worse, is that Corbyn makes no secret of the fact that he thinks that a different type of society is possible. He believes that a society not based on the direction of our main economic resources for the purposes of private profit is possible and that we should move in that direction albeit tentatively. He is a socialist. That is just too much for the liberal commentariat.

19 Comments

  1. please comrades, stop trying to build up your candidate to be something he isn’t – a major political figure. Benn and Livingstone were major talents, Corbyn is a back bencher, that is all there is to it. And further back Nye Bevan was a historical figure of major importance. Corbyn only acts as a lightning conductor for forces which existed anyway. And if anyone on this site has ever heard of Tories for Corbyn, they are keeping the fact very quiet.

    It is only because the party establishment thought he had no support they nominated him. Their mistake. He didn’t have enough left MPs to get him on the ballot paper.

    No one is actually frightened of Jeremy Corbyn, a man of integrity who has never had a job higher than a council committee. What they are afraid of is losing even more votes than they lost under Ed Miliband.

    If as Dave Ward of the CWU has said, this is not important, only principles count, fair enough. But don’t keep saying that Corbyn could win an election, if Miliband couldn’t, Corbyn has less chance. Perhaps this is why some have said he has promised a re-run in two or three years time. That, however is not a promise I have seen made officially. It is the best chance Corbyn has of winning this election, so lets know if it is official or not

    Trevor Fisher

    1. David Pavett says:

      Trevor, you are reacting to something I did not write. My purpose was not to “build up” Jeremy Corbyn and I do not believe that I did so. My purpose was rather to expose how feeble the efforts to knock him down have been. That is a rather different matter.

      I tried to show the political limitations of liberal journalists who have been churning out anti-Corbyn invective on no other grounds than that he is a figure of the left. That seems to me to be a point worthy of note.

      You are convinced that Corbyn could not win an election, along with the journalists I criticised. I am not aware of any good case being made for your view. I know that it is “obvious” to many but it is not to me.

      As to who is or is not a “major political figure” I have to confess that that is a debate that doesn’t interest me.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Well put.

  2. jeffrey davies says:

    the ninety nine percent who aint rich would back jc this party of blue ties should now go back to their bigger brother the tories but it seems they want to bring this party down by not going to them jeff3

  3. James Martin says:

    I’ve always hated the Guardian. Wafer thin so-called liberal coating with a nasty anti-trade union, anti-socialist and pro-war centre.

  4. dear david

    If you are not interested in who is a major political figure, that’s a case for abandoning politics. No doubt at all that the fact that Miliband was always polling below the Labour Party, and Cameron always above the Tory Party, played a major part in why the Tories won.

    In fighting elections, get someone who can win – Livingstone won the London Mayor election against Blair and the Labour machine because the Londoners could see he was the Right Stuff. I admire Livingstone for his political qualities. Corbyn? The latest version of George Lansbury. Sadly why the T&G knifed Lansbury in the back to get Attlee, and rightly so, the successor to the T&G is backing Corbyn.

    Labour actually lost the election after Lansbury was removed, but Attlee went on to be Labour’s most successful leader. Without being up to the Churchillian style of leadership, he was a PM. Can’t say the same of Corbyn

    Trevor Fisher

    1. David Pavett says:

      Trevor, I replied to your central point (that we should stop “building up” Jeremy Corbyn). You have not mentioned that in your response.

      “Major figures”. I am interested in the policies advocated by politicians but not in their ranking in some kind of political league table. I don’t see any reason to think that means I am “abandoning politics”.

      Atlee was surely a man with near negative charisma (the US press called him “the dullest man in British politics”) but that did not prevent him from leading a Labour government. So I don’t see how reference to him supports your case.

    2. Mervyn Hyde says:

      Trevor your style of argument is reminiscent of Tories who write in the CIF columns of the Guardian.

      Calling Ed Miliband a left winger shows the depth of your understanding of socialism, and really begs the question as to what you are doing in a Labour Party?

      Like so many MPs like Chukka Umnna, “we are all capitalists now,” clearly like you represent the business sector before the people that got you elected in the first place.

      I would remind you of the failing private sector that has told us over the last forty years just how much we need them, and just what they deliver.

      Trevor you are a Tory stop telling socialists they don’t understand socialism, and tell me when the private sector will start delivering the promise Thatcher made in the 1980s.

      Because I can tell you Never.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        This is from yesterdays Telegraph:

        This from Todays Telegraph:

        Labour must back big business, says Balls, as party lurches Left
        Burnham: Corbyn’s backers risk splitting Labour

        Says it all really.

  5. Sandra Crawford says:

    Alongside the myths that Corbyn is a “trot” 9 (a term of abuse that has no other meaning), there are myths that the desperate people who are joining the Labour Party to try and get representation are also entryist “trots.” The right wing papers who work for the corporations, are getting pretty desperate.
    They know that the Labour Party is being controlled by the well funded Progress Party.
    They all follow the same neoliberal line.
    An illuminating article here describes the situation well, and may explain Ed Milibands actual move to the Right. (Cuts and surpluses, rather than stimulus spending).

    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-7dd3-Who-are-the-real-entryists#.Vbvv7vNViko

  6. swatantra says:

    Because, by some fluke, he may have greatness thrust upon him. And he might just might prove his enemies (in the LP) that he’s right. And that is heresy. Come the moment come the man.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Well I find the idea of Corbyn leading labour to 15% of the vote in 202 and 30 years in opposition terrifying

    1. Mervyn Hyde says:

      John I find your comments lack credibility and it really does get boring, were you ever a socialist because I sincerely doubt it?

      1. John P Reid says:

        Well I’ve voted labour in every election I’ve had the chance to since 1988

    2. David Pavett says:

      Discussion which judges candidates by second-guessing the electorate is a poor substitute for political thinking. The point should be to work out which policies make most sense and then set about making the argument for them known to the public.

      All the argument about whether Labour lost because it was “too left-wing” or “too right-wing” are a waste of time. What matters is what policies are needed to solve current and future problems.

      For example does it make sense to run a railway system through a series of heavily subsidised private companies? Could it be that the type of quantitative easing carried out by Labour and Tory governments inflated the values of holdings of the rich and that we need to direct it to directly serve ordinary people. Both of these are Corbyn themes. The other candidates have nothing like this. Is he right or wrong about such things? That’s what we need to discuss.

      1. John P Reid says:

        Well if the issues needed to help the current time,that we had last time were too left wing then it’s not working out what’s needed now, and how do you define what makes sense

        Surely we were to the left of our previous policies and the Tories who are too the right of us won for the first time,so QED to get votes from those who didn’t vote from us excluding Scotland, we h Abe to get votes for people who voted for parties to the right of us,so we should swung towards the right, be in the centre.

        The nationalise the railways is a good idea because it’s popular, well popular doesn’t mean it’s right at this time,hanging is popular.

        1. Mervyn Hyde says:

          John:

          If you had a coherent socialist perspective, you would automatically recognise what Davis said in his last paragraph.

          What the other candidates do is talk in platitudes, we should create jobs, we should be fiscally prudent, but what they never do is outline how they would achieve those objectives.

          Yvette cooper says she will stand up for people and get businesses to create high technology high value jobs, how is she going to do that, it’s a pipe dream, don’t you think the Tories would do that as well if they could?

          Andy Burnham is going to stand up for us and fight for ordinary people, then when he had the opportunity to do so, he abstained showing the real calibre of his metal.

          Jeremy says what he means and does what he says, he produces policies that are his own not those passed down from the establishment.

          The deficit is a lie, so why do the other three keep reiterating it?

          The deficit is the difference between the money raised in taxation and the money needed for our public services.

          So why have successive governments reduced taxation creating a deficit problem; surely they should be like Jeremy, he advocates raising tax on those best able to afford it, closing loopholes and challenging tax evasion?

          The truth is, the Neo-Liberal agenda is about asset stripping the state and deliberately cutting public services to achieve it, and all the other three are part of that agenda.

        2. David Pavett says:

          Your syntax is too confused for me to make much of your reply. I could only construe something vaguely meaningful from your last paragraph.

          I didn’t say rail nationalisation was right because it is popular. I believe that it is popular because is right. People see that it is not in the interests of a good service to pay large subsidies to private companies to run a natural monopoly.

          1. Matt says:

            Great article, David – the anti Corbyn neo-liberal media consensus is indeed deeply disturbing, and as you say, one has to wonder what they’re so afraid of when Corbyn’s actual policies look very sensible, and are in fact what thousands of ‘real’ people are crying out for. But for some strange reason they don’t want to talk about that…

            I’d like to forward this article to some people, but I spotted a couple of typos that need correcting:

            “They have fully accepted the view that liberal capitalism both an expression of freedom and the nearest we can have to a guarantee of prosperity.”

            (Missing an ‘is’ ?)

            “And that is why Jeremy Corbyn is do terrifying”

            ‘so’ not ‘do’ I believe!

            Cheers!

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