Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In his own words?

I'm curious about this "Corbyn" phenomenon.

As an outsider to Britain now, I'm exposed to even-more-than-usually selective news about what goes on there. I know I have an impression of Jeremy Corbyn. But it's quite different from my wife's impression. How can I get some real information?

Let's start from the premise that all the press is biased. The Grauniad is mostly pro-Corbyn, the other broadsheets are virulently anti-him; wherever I see any discussion about him, it's couched directly in these adversarial terms, which makes it impossible for me to form any opinion of my own. That's - pretty worrying in itself, actually. A personality that provokes such strong reactions will find it hard to foster helpful and constructive debate. Corbyn will have to bend over backward to encourage free expression and exchange of ideas to compensate.

But I want to base my assessment on the man himself, not his supporters or detractors. What face does he choose to present to the world?

That's - actually, quite hard to find. His record at labour.org.uk was last updated in September 2015. Googling his name turns up 'jeremycorbyn.org.uk' - apparently all politicians nowadays have their own vanity domains - but he seems to have got bored with that back in April, it hasn't been updated since then. Besides, most of the material there is just transcribed from Hansard, which is pretty dumb because if I wanted to read Hansard I could read Hansard. (Actually that might not be the worst idea, and I may yet try it. But let's hold it in reserve for now, because it'd take a long time to piece together a position on a given topic from that record.)

One of the nice things about Mr Corbyn is that his name is distinctive - it turns up very few false positive search results. And so it's with some irritation that I discover his most current campaign has dropped it, and is just running as "Jeremy for Labour". (At a ".com" address, no less - none of your parochial ".uk" for the Jez.) This site appears to be up to date, but it's hard to tell because its own updates are undated.

(Contrast with Theresa May. Say what you like about her, at least her website is visibly maintained.)

Not impressed with Mr Corbyn's ephemeral online presence. It seems to me that "repeatedly switching between platforms" is pretty suspect behaviour in a party leader. If there is no continuity of platform, what does that tell us about the policies? Only that someone is, either intentionally or naïvely, making it gratuitously hard to check for continuity there.

Putting that aside, let's look at his current incarnation. Under 'Respect & Unity':

There should be no personal hostility and nobody should feel intimidated at any time. So no foul or abusive language will be tolerated and all candidates should be listened to with courtesy and respect at hustings, meetings and events.

In particular, there should be no demonstrations or protests targeting any individual candidate or outside any MP's office or surgery - and no personal heckling of any candidate at any hustings, meeting or event. [...]

There will be no tolerance of abuse on social media. All candidates should ensure that anyone who acts in an abusive way on social media is referred to the Party for investigation.

No heckling at hustings? What the heck is a hustings for, if not to heckle? No demonstrations or protests outside any office or surgery? "No tolerance of abuse" - without any definition of either "tolerance" or "abuse", this is basically a blank cheque for censorship. This is the very opposite of "encouraging free exchange of ideas". Indeed, it probably goes a long way to explaining some of the very strong adverse reactions.

But let's be generous, let's concede that the rules have changed and the idea of candidates being required to stand up for themselves and face down their enemies is... Well, actually on second thoughts let's not. Isn't that a pretty reasonable requirement for a politician ("someone who chooses to take a public part in the political process")? After all, if you can't stand up to hecklers within your own party, what chance are you going to have against a Putin or a Trump?

Enough of "respect". Let's move on to actual "pledges".

We will [...] guarantee a decent job for all

It doesn't say exactly how "we" will do this. There's the usual guff about investment and innovation and "new industries", but it seems to me that the only way to "guarantee" jobs for all is for the state to employ them directly. Jeremy: whether that's what you mean or not, please say so, so that we can talk about the idea on its merits.

We will end insecurity for private renters by introducing rent controls, secure tenancies

Oh gosh, where to start... This may be the only housing policy that's actually worse than the current "rent subsidies". One of the very, very few things on which Paul Krugman and Milton Friedman unequivocally agree is, rent controls are a bad idea.

We will give people stronger employment rights from day one in a job

I've seen this one from both sides, as an applicant and managing my employer's recruitment process. And I'm here to tell you, a probationary period makes the whole thing much easier. Do away with it, and employers will work around the law by giving people short-term contracts before offering them a real job. That's the same end result, but with more paperwork and less employee benefits. Don't do it.

NHS, education - I don't feel qualified to comment on those. Environment, though - this is my language:

We will deliver clean energy and curb energy bill rises for households - energy for the 60 million, not the big 6 energy companies.

Look, this isn't hard. The cleanest energy of all is what's never used. Give people heat pumps, low-energy lightbulbs and insulation, encourage them to trade in their old fridges and TVs and washing machines, and you'll do more to cut their power bills and improve their living conditions and cut their carbon footprint than any plausible amount of changing the mix of generation. But whatever you do, you'll need the energy companies' help to do it. Start off by casting them as The Enemy, and you're screwed before you begin.

I could go on, but it's as disheartening to do as it is, probably, tedious to read. I can see three possibilities, none of them good.

One, and I think this is probably the correct answer, is that he is so - disassociated from reality, from his own memories and life experience, and from the advice of anyone who's not a card-carrying, certified-ideologically-pure Old Labour apparatchik, that he really believes all of this is a good idea. No word of dissent is ever allowed to reach his ears, and his own memories have been effectively scrubbed by decades of brainwashing.

Two is that Corbyn is self-consciously (and clumsily) trying to drag the Overton window to the left. I could sympathise with that as an aim, but not with his way of doing it - which, instead of progressive socialist policies, self-consciously harks back to an imagined "golden age" of pre-Thatcherite Britain. Worst of all, if that is his aim, it comes at the cost of reducing the British Labour party to irrelevancy. That's bad for - well, everyone. I remember Neil Kinnock's battles with Militant in the mid-80s; at this rate, after Corbyn, the next sane leader - if one ever emerges - will have all that to do again.

Or three, that he's another Donald Trump: an incredibly vain man, who doesn't much mind what people say, just so long as they're talking about him.

A tool, a fool or a troll. I'm not sure which is worst.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm in Blighty, and I find it hard to form an impression, too. Most of what we hear about him comes from his many enemies, a situation more usually associated with successfully-demonised fringe parties like the BNP. Or of course foreign leaders we seek to demonise. Oh, and when I talk of demonisation, please take the qualifier "rightly or wrongly" as implied.

The yet more bizarre thing is that Corbyn's most active enemies come from within his own party. This may have roots in the extreme command-and-control Agenda that undoubtedly exists in the party Establishment, but also in Corbyn's long track record of rebellion against his party.

With the Labour party Establishment - surely one of the most sinister and anti-democratic organisations in the country - lined up against him, that makes me naturally somewhat sympathetic towards him (though I should perhaps add, that's the same sympathy I had with the National Front in the 1970s when they were being violently suppressed - it doesn't mean I support them, merely that I support Voltaire). This is reinforced by what we know about him personally: a track record that hints strongly at practicing what he preaches, in stark contrast to the usual lefty millionaires on corrupt gravy trains. On the other hand, that is tarnished by the stupid dishonesty of his latest stunt on a train, when he filmed himself sitting on the floor claiming (until debunked) that there were no seats.

On the "no tolerance of dissent", this is deeply ironic. It's been forced on him by his enemies within his party, who claim they are routinely targeted by harassment, threats, whatever from Corbyn supporters. They make it a womens issue by saying it particularly hurts them, and we know that anything that affects women worse than men is absolutely forbidden. So Corbyn is forced to condemn bad behaviour, and nothing he says can ever be strong enough so long as any dissent against his enemies persists.

Meanwhile, the Labour establishment use seriously vicious anti-democratic methods against Corbyn. I expect it's mutual, though there's so much manufactured anti-Corbyn propaganda it becomes hard not to give him the benefit of the doubt over many of the accusations against him.

I think the policies are again driven by the conflict between him and his own party. They actually look a lot like Miliband before him, with lots of nods to the 1970s (and lots of voters too young to remember Old Labour: it becomes like Russians nostalgic for Stalin).

Finally, I would outright dismiss your option "three". He actually has a remarkably low profile in public life for a leader of a major party. A tiny fraction of the media coverage of egomaniacs like Trump or Farage. His shadow chancellor has a much higher media profile, and indeed comes across surprisingly well.