The Labour Party lost a total of 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010 as it slithered to the right. But those responsible for this rupture of the Party’s base are deathly silent on the damage they did in picking up where Thatcher and Major left off. They prefer to rant instead about the ‘unelectability’ of Jeremy Corbyn.
After all, so vaporous is popular support for Corbyn, so unlikely is he to prevail in any election, that the Labour Party establishment has fought tooth and nail in the courts to have his name expunged from the ballot in the leadership contest that is currently unfolding; spent tens of thousands of pounds of its own members’ money in order to put a dent in his non-existent chances of winning that contest; eructed in Owen Smith a challenger who has purloined all of Corbyn’s ‘naive’, ‘simplistic’ and ‘utopian’ policies; and readily assisted the corporate media in their conduct of a vicious and sustained smear campaign against the MP for Islington North, who just so happens to have the strongest personal mandate of any party leader in British political history. In other words, an awful lot of effort has been expended in various quarters on discrediting a man whose ‘unelectability’ is supposed to be self-evident.
Of course, the fear among power elites is that Corbyn’s appeal seems in fact to be far wider than they and their stenographers in the press would have us believe — and that he is therefore the very opposite of ‘unelectable’. Indeed, the ‘unelectability’ canard can in part be exploded with reference to the political disengagement that has been rife among certain sections of the British public for a great many years now.
Average turnout across the last four UK general elections stands at 63 per cent, meaning that more than a third of those who are eligible to vote don’t usually bother to cast a ballot. Such epidemic levels of voter apathy are inevitable in a society like ours. Widespread worker insecurity, the never-ending evisceration of public services, the highly irrational dictates of consumerist ‘culture’, the centralised nature of state power, grotesque concentrations of wealth and the perception that all of this is unalterable are just some of the causes of our collective atomisation and helplessness, and the absence of a genuine public sphere.
But mass apathy is not exactly unwelcome for political and corporate-financial elites, as it allows them to continue to ride roughshod over the population, and especially the most marginalised, demoralised and defenceless sections thereof. Knowing that a big chunk of the electorate will not vote, or will not vote for them, and having as their raison d’être electoral success, political parties have, in spite of the lofty rhetoric that characterises election campaigns, been able, once in power, to neglect the poor and the sick, the disabled and the elderly, the unemployed and people of colour at very little cost, but with the measure of ‘legitimacy’ that, say, 37 per cent of the popular vote is said to supply.
What frightens the existing order about Corbyn is that he seems to have unleashed a social movement by, among other things, speaking directly to the concerns of the foregoing groups of people, who are of course over-represented among that portion of the electorate which does not tend to vote. Corbyn has for instance reversed the party line on austerity, which he knows to be ideologically motivated to its core — nothing less than class war waged in vicious fashion against the poorest and most vulnerable in society. He has moreover championed the rights of workers by pledging to arrest the shift towards complete deunionisation that neoliberalism demands, as well as through his commitment to do away with zero-hours contracts. He has called for the NHS to be put firmly beyond the reach of the rapacious private sector, and for greater public investment in services across the board. He wants to bring about a fairer system of taxation, one that takes into account the chasmic inequalities of wealth and income that exist up and down the country. And of course he proposes to renationalise the railways, abolish tuition fees, impose rent controls and refrain from participating in the terror Western states carry out and foment abroad. Popular support is burgeoning for most if not all of these policy positions, which in the main aim at benefitting the very groups of people who have been ignored and mistreated for generations by those in power.
There is a real danger, then, that millions of victims of the havoc wrought over the years by the Tories and New Labour could well snap out of their induced state of apathy and choose to cast their votes for a Labour Party led by Corbyn. And the election of Corbyn, if it came to pass, would help to propagate and normalise such common-sense social-democratic views as he subscribes to. This in turn might pave the way for at least a little redistribution of wealth and power. Thus it is no wonder that those who amount to directors of what Sheldon Wolin so astutely called our ‘managed democracy’ are worried about the groundswell of enthusiasm around Corbyn’s leadership.
After all, if Corbyn were genuinely ‘unelectable’, he wouldn’t be alone among British politicians in being able to draw engaged crowds of thousands of people on his travels; the Labour Party wouldn’t have won with substantially increased majorities three of the four by-elections it has contested in the last year; the ex-corporate lobbyist Owen Smith, now challenging for the leadership, wouldn’t be trying (rather badly) to impersonate Corbyn; and the likes of Tom Watson would not be spewing conspiracy theories in their latest deluded attempts to explain away the fact that New Labour is dead.
No analysis of the ‘unelectability’ canard would be complete without a denunciation of the corporate media, which has performed with furious desperation most of the legwork of obscuring and blunting the support that Corbyn enjoys. It is widely accepted — even by the impostors who squat on his own backbenches — that the Labour leader is a decent and honourable man, and yet no other politician in recent memory has had to contend with the hostility and nastiness that has been flung for more than a year now in Corbyn’s direction. Indeed, the conclusion of a recent study by the London School of Economics stated that Corbyn has been thoroughly and systematically ‘delegitimised [by the national press] as a political actor from the moment he became a prominent candidate’, and that he has been ‘represented unfairly… through a process of vilification that [goes] well beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy’. But one needn’t be an academic to perceive the unfairness and absurdity of most of the media’s coverage of Corbyn’s leadership, from the Guardian all the way rightwards. And one needn’t be a seer to predict that it will only get worse, what with the recent accession of Corbynites to the NEC, the strong likelihood of Corbyn winning in a landslide next month and the prospect of a re-selection process taking place in every constituency following the implementation of a Boundary Commissions review in two years’ time.