Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Karl du Fresne: At least he's consistently barmy

Jeremy Corbyn, the recently elected leader of the British Labour Party, has been described as a throwback to 1970s-style socialism. He even looks like one, his face being adorned with what one commentator described as a 1960s political beard.  
You could describe him as the accidental leader. When his name was put forward, few people took his bid seriously. His 32 years in Parliament were distinguished only by his record of voting against his own party whenever it deviated from cloth-cap leftist orthodoxy.
But the trade unions got behind him, party activists signed up tens of thousands of new members – mostly young, earnest and radical – and before you could hum the first bar of The Red Flag, Corbyn was the new leader.

I blame Tony Blair. Corbyn’s prospects must have been enormously enhanced the moment Blair warned the party against electing him.
The former Labour prime minister is widely despised, and deservedly so – not just for getting involved in the Iraq war on spurious grounds, but for his fondness for hobnobbing with people like the odious Silvio Berlusconi and his shameless money-grubbing since leaving Downing Street.

The term Blairite, which once stood for a “third way” between the extremes of doctrinaire socialism and ruthless capitalism, is now toxic – so much so that Blair’s disapproval of Corbyn must have virtually ensured his success.
The new leader certainly didn’t win the contest on the basis of his charisma. He’s a dreary grey Marxist. Even Labour insiders say his election has set the party back years.

For all that, I can understand why Labour members decided to give Corbyn a go. He stands for something.
His ideas might be barmy, but they seem sincerely held. What’s more, he appears to have been consistently barmy for more than three decades. As far as we can tell, he hasn’t wavered from his principles.

In other words, he personifies the politics of conviction – a rare phenomenon in an era when politics is largely driven by focus groups, PR spin, the news cycle and opinion polls.
Unfortunately for Corbyn, this otherwise admirable quality is likely to be useless as a vote-winner.

Conviction politics tends to be a dead-end street. Just look at the Green Party, apparently doomed forever to languish on the political fringes (although commentators have recently detected a diluting of its ideological purity), or Act at the other end of the political spectrum – a party grimly hanging on thanks to a dodgy electoral accommodation with National.
Look too at the hapless Tony Abbott, a conviction politician but a disastrously inept one.
Successful politicians are those who take a pragmatic centre line, such as John Key.
We don’t have a clue what Key’s values are. He’s never really told us.

Does he have a non-negotiable bottom line on anything? I couldn’t say. Does he have any fire in his belly? Not that we’ve seen.
Norman Kirk had fire in his belly. So did David Lange and even Robert Muldoon, although in Muldoon’s case the flames were often dark and malevolent.

But not Key. He represents a breed of bland centrist politicians who tack in whichever direction is expedient.
On some crucial issues – gay marriage, parental smacking – he jettisoned traditional values that a centre-right party such as National might have been expected to uphold. But he got away with it, and he’s won three elections in a row.

His admirer Malcolm Turnbull, the new Australian prime minister, seems cast in a similar mould, as does Britain’s bloodless David Cameron.
Barack Obama’s idealistic supporters in 2008 thought he was a conviction politician, but in office he has disappointed them. That’s politics for you.

What’s interesting now is that the main threat to Hillary Clinton’s bid to win the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency, which until recently was thought a sure thing, seems to be coming from a little-known Vermont senator named Bernie Sanders.
Clinton is a conviction politician only in the sense that she’s convinced of her entitlement to office. Sanders, on the other hand, is a genuine conviction politician and that rarest of creatures, an American socialist.

Both Sanders and Corbyn have gained traction partly because of a growing public distaste for entrenched political elites (which has given Donald Trump momentum too), but also because of a growing perception – and not just on the left – that capitalism has been hijacked by the greedy ultra-rich.
They won’t win, of course. But at least they remind us of what politics used to be about.

Karl du Fresne blogs at published in the Dominion Post.


Brian said...

Barmy Politicians... Hey has there been a change???
Jeremy Corbyn is a change, in fact he is a re incarnation way back to the cloth cap era of the 1920/30’s, and like them, he continues to look miserable. Probably with good reason, with all the Blairites and anti Unionists so prevalent in the BritishLabour Party
Nevertheless the Trade Union were desperate and what they got is a “Leader with a Vengeance”. But Jeremy did get a chance to actually shake hands with the Chinese President, and in the Halls of Power and Privilege too,. I bet he had a passing thought “Hope they the (Rank & File) do not think I am betraying them”!
I have heard his speeches, regretfully he is no Aneurin Bevin, at least he could begin his oration with the opening dramatic “Fellow Miners.” (I understand he had spent one week in a Coal Mine and had the good sense to get out of it quickly”) Still there was no one quite like him, especially when in full volume flight on the Tonypandy Massacre! The vocal Welsh take a lot of beating in Politics, and also in Rugby.
It is one of the worst features both in New Zealand and Britain that at present the Opposition Parties are virtually so weak, for a strong opposition is essential to a ruling Government.
On the other hand in the United States we have the very worst thing in electioneering, especially in a Presidential election; with a clown leading the Republican charge for the White House; what a Godsend to Hilary and Sanders.
Yes Karl, there is a growing tiredness with the Status Quo in the entrenched political scene in all democracies, but is this a “Fireball in Night.”..a prelude to revolution? Not in God’s Own while the World Cup is on thankfully.
The trouble with political change is the question of, is it actually a change? Even one of the Senators watching the oath of office being administrated to install George Washington whispered “ I fear we may have exchanged George the third for George the first”!
Jeremy Corbyn will not win but he might, just might, lull the Conservatives enough for another Labour Leader to come through. Andrew Little please take note, there is an “Ardern” admirer and supporter right behind you.

Dick Ryan said...

Not altogether balmy - from what he has said on economics I detect the sane words of a monetary reformer. It would be a blessed relief if he got into government and was able to stop the free market oligopoly printing all the money. Unfortunately he is likely to be howled down by the forces tied to the one percenters, as we social creditors are here.

Dave said...

Excellent summation of John Key, does the man ever have a real opinion on anything ? Pity we cannot have a leader who has firm convictions rather than which way are the opinion polls are swaying. The wasteful flag debate is a prime example, what does Key really think?.
The public are sick and tired of puppet featureless politicians that's why there is a move to listen too and give attention to "different" people like Trump who is refreshingly a man who says it like it is according to his views. You don't have to agree but at least he is not some PC obsessed puppet.