The issue of class has never more prominent or salient in British politics than now. Clear evidence of this is the paroxysm into which Britain’s ruling establishment, Tory in every particular, has been pitched since Jeremy Corbyn first arrived in its midst as the most unlikely leader of the Labour Party imaginable in 2015.
Here he was, this slightly unkempt figure for whom socialism is a creed to live by rather than a pose to assume, having the temerity to be elected leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
Worse in the eyes of his establishment-supporting detractors was the fact that his abiding commitment to the oppressed and dispossessed at home and abroad was married to an absence of personal vanity and ego — this in an age when both had become coterminous with success in politics, the non-negotiable qualification for political leadership.
That British politics was in need of this kind of decency and authenticity was measured in the wave of support and inspiration that Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party catalysed, after five years of Tory austerity.
But as much as Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to assume the role of the confected establishment PR man invited their wrath, for the bastards of the establishment his biggest transgression has been the way that he’s dared lift the fog of obfuscation when it comes to what really matters. It’s a fog that has long prevented us from understanding that patriotism, deference towards the royals, nostalgia for empire, and a national identity rooted in war and martial might has only served to keep working class people on their knees, tied to the apron strings of the system and its guardians that are responsible for their oppression.
Ensuring that enough working class voters are beguiled into voting Tory, a key requirement when it comes to putting and keeping them in power, is a political conjuring trick that has bedevilled Britain since time immemorial.
It is even more relevant now after a decade of brute austerity, an economic bludgeon wielded against the most vulnerable among us in the interests not of fiscal responsibility or economic necessity, but to satiate the greed of the rich. This, by way of a reminder, is the same class of people responsible for the 2008 financial crash and recession, yet who in the last decade have seen their combined wealth increase by over 180 percent in what is tantamount to spitting on the graves of the 120,000 souls who’ve been lost to austerity in the same period.
There is no worse violence than poverty. Physically, psychologically and spiritually it crushes and maims — its victims locked in a permanent loop of desperation and humiliation made worse by the unending references to success and wealth that abound in our society. From every billboard, every magazine and internet ad, every celebrity interview and feature, they are bombarded with the message that they exist outwith society’s contrived circle of human worth.
The fundamental lie that drives Tory ideology is that poverty is self-inflicted, the product not of social and economic injustice, but instead personal character and moral deficiency. For centrists, meanwhile, Guardianista liberals entwined in a life long embrace with sanctimony, meritocracy is the answer to poverty and inequality, wherein equality of opportunity is substituted for equality of outcome. Put more simply, it’s the values of the lottery and scratch cards elevated to a political principle.
If Labour loses the election on December 12, it will be largely due to Brexit.
Brexit is our incest, to paraphrase Erich Fromm’s views on nationalism. It’s a desperate attempt to escape reality by turning the clock back to a supposed golden age when Britannia ruled the waves, when Johnny Foreigner knew his place, and groups of men covered in coal dust carrying lunchboxes walked with smiles on their faces after another shift down the mine. Nye Bevan once described a reactionary as a man walking backwards with his face to the future. Brexit is that man walking backwards in our time. It is proof positive that in response to the 2008 crisis of neoliberalism, and the collapse of the political centre ground supported by this capricious economic model, the right not the left has been winning the battle of ideas.
Labour’s policy on Brexit in the lead-up to the general election is the most politically and intellectually honest of any party. It starts with the recognition that on the issue the country is split almost exactly down the middle. A four percent majority does not come close to being consonant with the settled will of the British people on, this, the most seismic issue of our time. Those who argue otherwise are arguing for democracy as a zero sum game of winner take all.
This election, upon penetrating the disorienting fog of Brexit, is about the NHS, austerity, homelessness, inequality; its about delivering the country from the long dark night of Tory barbarism and cruelty. Thus, the extent to which people in leave areas of the country grasp this knettle will be key to the outcome.
Whatever happens, Jeremy Corbyn deserves tribute for the way that he’s weathered a veritable tsunami of establishment hate these past four years. Whether it be in the person of superannuated spooks such as Sir Richard Dearlove, war criminals such as Tony Blair, or anti-Palestinian racists and liars such as Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, he has attracted the ire of such people not for anything bad he has done or stands for, but for all the good he represents.
He’s neither a saint nor saviour, but he has allowed us to believe that we can be better than what we are — that cruelty doesn’t have to be a virtue or compassion a vice. At best he will be Britain’s next prime minister. At worst he has planted a seed that no amount of right wing reactionary propaganda will ever be able to prevent growing, until a society underpinned by human solidarity rather than human greed really is an idea whose time has come.