Jeremy Corbyn is set to become the next Labour leader according to a YouGov poll published last week. This socialist resurrection has horrified many Labour centrists and thrilled Conservatives, who think a Labour party committed to combatting austerity will keep the Tories in power for years to come.
For many, it’s easy to ridicule Corbyn. A columnist for the Morning Star, he insists on scrapping Trident, opposes reductions in benefit spending, would reopen the mines and rebelled against the Labour governments of 1997-2010 more than 500 times. It’s certainly reasonable to treat him with caution. He engaged closely with Sinn Fein well before the IRA campaign ended, and counts representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah among his political friends.
I’m not a fan of most of Corbyn’s politics which are entrenched in 1980s state socialism. But once you remove his outdated ideology Corbyn does at least stand for something rare and appealing in modern day politics – independent thinking.
So many politicians today clamber their way in to Parliament through unflinching commitment to the Party and then move up the ranks of Government or opposition largely because they have towed the Party line, even at the expense of their personal beliefs and values. Groucho Marx’s comment, “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others,” springs to mind.
Corbyn represents something different. He refuses to conform to mainstream political thinking and has the temerity to believe in something beyond simply getting elected.
In 21st century Britain holding such a position doesn’t wash well with the political elite and the mainstream media. Tony Blair has already warned that Labour will not win future elections with Corbyn in charge and has challenged him for keeping to his convictions. Last week he noted “When people say, “My heart says I should really be with that politics I say ‘get a transplant’.”
This is odd considering that, once in British politics, standing by your ideals, fighting for them and refusing to compromise and take the middle ground was considered a very noble thing. In the 1950s Aneurin Beven proclaimed, “We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road — they get run down.” In the 1980s, Thatcher declared, “The lady’s not for turning.” But today politicians are constantly turning, changing their views according to what those above them say or what certain pockets of the electorate think. The middle ground is the only way. Uncompromising has become a dirty word.
In recent months large sections of the electorate have made clear this is not what they want. They want politicians who stand for something different and distinctive and speak their mind. We saw this earlier in the year with the prominence of Nigel Farage and we’re seeing it now with the ascendency of Corbyn.
Corby’s ideas are irrelevant today and they may well be scorned by commentators across the political spectrum. But his view that there are more important things than getting elected and being popular should be commended and may, at the end, be one of the driving reasons as to why he is elected leader of the Labour Party next month.