By Citizen Sane (@citizen_sane)
It seems fashionable once more to ask “what was your Kronstadt?” I’ve probably had three epochal political awakenings in my life, three incidents in particular that have made me re-evaluate my world view.
Number 1: Moscow, February 1992. On a college trip to Russia, the collapse of the Soviet Union still a contemporaneous event. We were a coach load of 17 and 18 year old A Level politics students, spending the entire week getting riotously drunk in a place where a champagne cocktail was about the same price as a first class stamp. We were privileged westerners taking a holiday in a bankrupt, crumbling country. You should have seen the department store in Red Square, probably the Russian equivalent of Selfridges: the shelves were practically empty. The locals, even if they had money to spend, couldn’t have spent it on anything worth buying. Different story for westerners, of course. If you had money of value, then Moscow was yours for the taking. We were bussed to a store exclusively for people with real currency (dollars ideally, sterling or Deutschmarks also welcome): effectively a duty free store in the centre of the city for people with the right passport. It was on the bus journey back to the hotel that I had an experience that’s stayed with me until this day. One of our history lecturers, an organiser of the trip, was riding shotgun with the bus driver and I distinctly remember the conversation where Tony (for was his name), an ex-fireman-turned-history lecturer, militant leftist, was telling the bus driver how the collapse of the Soviet Union was a Bad Thing, how the last thing the Russian people needed was the privileges and decadence of the evil West, that they were better off under the protection of Soviet communism. Easy to say when a few days later you’ll be getting a plane back to your comfortable house in Kent and returning to your safe job that doesn’t pay too badly. Let’s just patronise this bus driver before we go home to our stable democracy with its high standard of living and leave him in this decaying state. I was still young and impressionable but I remember thinking there and then, with utter clarity: “what complete balls”.
Number 2: London, June 1999. June 18th, to be precise: the J18 “Carnival Against Capital” protests that started at Liverpool Street in the City of London then spread, erupting into violence and vandalism. It all started peacefully enough – a work colleague and I took a stroll up there from our office near the Bank of England to see what was going on – basically a party atmosphere outside the station, lots of people wearing silly hats and playing drums, chanting vague slogans about ‘globalisation’ and the WTO. En route a pamphlet was thrust into my hand which explained, by way of a cartoon, how foolish we all were to be working in an office when instead we could be in the pub. Fine though such a sentiment is, it doesn’t stand up to rigorous intellectual scrutiny, and nor did much else I saw there. I started with some sympathy for the general theme of the movement – who doesn’t want a fairer world? – but finished with little but contempt for the woolly headed gibberish I was exposed to. As always, it was opposition to something rather than realistic alternatives being proposed. If you want an alternative to capitalism – which has actually lifted a billion people out of absolute poverty in the last twenty years or so – then spell it out. It amounted to little more than pampered western kids whining about things they don’t understand. The fact that it ended with riots was par for the course, given the usual thugs that attach themselves to such causes. Capitalism isn’t perfect, and its rougher edges need to be sanded down occasionally, but there is no better vehicle for raising wealth, living standards and – coupled with stable liberal democracy – life expectancy. If the choice is imperfect capitalist democracy or a poorly defined future utopia then I’ll take the former every time, thanks.
Number 3: New York, September 11th 2001. Of course 9/11 was a moment that defined my outlook forever. The sheer contempt I felt for some of the voices speaking in the weeks and months that followed that day still burns inside me today. Most of all I was affronted by the idea that we should somehow try to understand the motives of the barbarians who committed such an assault on a cosmopolitan city in a vibrant liberal democracy. And such voices were everywhere, nowhere more so than – where else? – the pages of The Guardian. This, by Seumas Milne, sticks in the mind more than anything else. 9/11 highlighted how much of the left is still polluted with anti-American & anti-western hatred, moral equivalence and sympathising with the worst people on the planet as long as their target is also the United States. Nowhere is this more apparent than the dreadful Stop The War Coalition which is dedicated to highlighting the ‘crimes’ of the west while the actions of Russia, China, North Korea and a host of others are routinely ignored.
So what does this have to do with Jeremy Corbyn? Well, everything. Because the Labour Party is now in the hands of people who think along these lines. Anti-Western, anti-American, anti-business, anti-Israel, “Stop The War” supporting throwbacks have, by some vile aberration, taken control of the party that I have, by and large, voted for in every election. And now, like many on the centre/centre left, I don’t have a political home. I have voted for the Conservative Party once in my life – in the London mayoral elections of 2012, when I would have voted for an abandoned refrigerator before I’d have voted for Ken Livingstone – but, protest vote aside, I don’t want to become a Conservative voter. Who does that leave – the Lib Dems? Might as well write an X on a piece of paper and stick it in the bin. No, when it comes to political parties with which I can broadly support, there are none. And this has been a drip drip drip effect since 2007 as Labour lost its focus on holding the sensible centre and drifted back to its comfort zone, licking its stitches like a recently neutered dog and losing the confidence of people who can actually return them to power. With the election of Corbyn, Labour has gone even further than its comfort zone: they’ve moved to the Outer Hebrides, erected a ten foot granite wall around themselves, wrapped themselves in a red flag and are firing anyone who is not sufficiently ideologically “pure” over the wall via cannon. Voters are turning their backs in their droves – an early poll shows that Corbyn has lost 20% of potential voters already – and I can’t see this situation getting any better over time.
Of course the rabid Corbynites are ecstatic. They’ve “got their party back” – finally those “Tory-lite Blairites” (you know, the people who made Labour electable) are on the run. The attacks and “smears” by the right wing media and the Conservatives show how terrified they are of a real Labour alternative. To be this deluded takes real effort, you know. From what I can gather, a defiantly socialist Labour are going to mobilise an elusive army of non-voters who have for years been alienated by the lack of real choice. Call me naïve, but I was under the impression that non-voters were called non-voters for a reason. Rather than trying to win back people who actually do vote, Labour are betting the farm on a dark pool of people who, most likely, aren’t even paying attention anyway.
Nick Cohen went public with an open letter of resignation from the left this week in The Spectator with a piece that is well worth reading and has been described as his “Hitchens moment” – a reluctant acceptance that the left has finally become something which he can no longer support. Fight or flight seems to be the choice in the Labour Party now, and I think the flighters are going to be bigger in number than the fighters. If Labour presents Corbyn as leader in the 2020 general election they are going to be annihilated, but the damage is already done: the last week has shown the country that Labour are still packed with unreconstructed leftists who, given the chance, will immediately return to the mistakes of 1983 and the unfounded belief that they are only unpopular because they aren’t left wing enough. It will be a hard lesson, all the more frustrating given that they’ve already learned this lesson before. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, etc.
Corbyn’s first week as leader has played out pretty much as expected: badly. The clumsy shadow cabinet selection, the appointment of a shadow chancellor who has supported the IRA in the past and who believes that printing money is the solution to the deficit, the national anthem debacle, the mediocre and toothless performance at prime minister’s questions. I fully expect Corbyn and company to build upon these calamities in the coming weeks, months and years as they continue to position themselves well to the left of the electorate and reap the rewards that this brings: electoral oblivion. They and their supporters can rejoice that they have returned Labour to its historical values: out of touch, out of control and out of power.
I hope that sanity can prevail, that Labour will shake off these fleas and reposition itself as a credible party of the centre left dedicated to economic success, prosperity, equality, liberty and international responsibility but until then consider my support withheld.