To many on the left, y’see, the Conservatives didn’t win the general election in May this year – even though they got more seats than any other party, and that is how you win an election – and Ed Miliband’s Labour didn’t suffer the party’s most catastrophic defeat since their infamous 1983 campaign.
No, what really happened (even if you don’t remember it like this) was that the British voters were victims of a con, perpetuated by the ‘smears’ of the ‘Tory media’, and the ‘Westminster elite’ (who were ‘running scared’); or the voters were just too stupid to realise what they really wanted, or what was actually good for them, and so, in their ignorance, they voted Tory – poor deluded souls that they are; or Labour’s manifesto was simply not left-wing enough, not radical enough – millions who voted Tory just a few months back did so with a heavy heart, thinking ‘if I only I didn’t have to do this, if only somebody were offering some genuine Trotskyite socialism!’
With Corbyn in charge, however, no one could say the public weren’t offered a real alternative. And so his defeat would prove once-and-for-all that they don’t actually want his ‘real alternative’.
But that part of me is sadly mistaken. For it underestimates the ability of blinkered ideologues to make any number of tortured excuses rather than admit they got it wrong. When Jeremy Corbyn loses the general election (as he is almost certain to), it will be anyone else’s fault but his.
Corbynites will be quick to blame ‘the Establishment’ for Corbyn’s defeat; it wasn’t that he couldn’t win, or that people didn’t want him to – far from it, people voted for Corbyn in droves, but ‘the Establishment’ wouldn’t let him win! It’s all a stitch-up, y’see!
(It’s worth pointing out that the amorphous cabal of nefarious busybodies which makes up ‘the Establishment’ is rarely, if ever, properly defined by those who claim to be held down by it – it is a term used to describe anybody one doesn’t like, or anybody who doesn’t share ones aims, or even anybody who does share ones aims but disagrees about the means. Essentially, ‘the Establishment’ can cover anybody who is not ‘one of us’. And thus, those who disparage 'the Establishment' paint themselves as maverick outsiders and freedom fighters; 'we' are virtuous, simply because 'we' are not 'them' [regardless of what views we actually hold].)
This was the attitude of the UKIP faithful (remember them?) shortly after the general election earlier this year. Nigel Farage, the Dear Leader, couldn’t possibly have been rejected by the voters of his specially chosen constituency, Thanet South – it must’ve been a fix. The hashtag #ThanetRigged gained some traction on Twitter as angry ‘Kippers hit out at ‘the Establishment’ for not allowing Beloved Nigel the shot at glory he fully deserved; journalists such as Isabel Hardman, who covered the Thanet South story, became the victims of abuse and harassment online – but then, that was no more than those Establishment shills and propagandists deserved.
This will, of course, be familiar territory already for anybody who followed the referendum on Scottish independence this time last year. If you weren’t a Nationalist – a ‘Yes’ voter – you were a traitor to Scotland. Facts and research which backed up the Unionist position were simply dismissed as ‘smears’ – even though they were backed up by cold, hard figures.
And anybody considering voting ‘No’ was not doing so out of his or her own free will. It was ‘project fear’ ‘scaring’ people into voting for something they didn’t really want.
This attitude is dangerous and worrying for two reasons. The first is that when you believe so uncompromisingly in your own unshakeable position, to the extent that any evidence which does not back up your predetermined convictions can simply be dismissed as somehow not valid, you turn your politics into a religion. Your political stance becomes an article of faith; unbending, even in the face of conclusive evidence to the contrary, or overwhelming popular opposition. Everything gets twisted to fit conclusions you have already drawn; facts cease to be facts, but become soft and malleable; you distort everything you see to ensure is allowed to betray ‘the cause’.
The second problem with this way of thinking, however, is how little credit it gives the public. The voters, you end up saying, are incapable of making up their own mind, or of having any thoughts of their own – they are mindless husks, herded by a malevolent media who serve only their masters in ‘the Establishment’, and who disseminate propaganda telling the poor, brainless electorate what to think.
@PCollinsTimes And revealing. They cannot believe people form opinions by themselves. Individuals have no agency.— Janan Ganesh (@JananGanesh) August 21, 2015
Not only is this terribly insulting – you are telling the very people you need to convince of your argument that they can’t think for themselves – but it makes very little sense. If individuals need to be told what to think, who tells ‘the Establishment’ and their lackeys in the media what to tell people to think? They, after all, are individuals too. How are they able to form their own views, and exercise self-interest, when us ordinary folk apparently cannot?
The remarkable thing is, so far, Corbyn has actually got off relatively lightly in the press when it comes to his links with various racists, religious fundamentalists, and other unpalatable individuals – even though politicians from a party perceived as right-wing, such as UKIP, would likely have been hauled over the coals (from the newly reopened mines, presumably) for similar transgressions. But viewed through a Corbynite prism, this comparative leniency is still tantamount to anti-Corbyn propaganda; anything in the media which isn’t actively cheerleading for Corbyn’s campaign is ‘biased’ against him.
However, pro-Corbyn commentators such as Owen Jones believe that this lack of support from large sections of the media (sorry, the 'Tory media' – we must remember to preface everything we don't like with the descriptor 'Tory', of course) is because 'they' are 'scared'. As I have already demonstrated on Genius, this is a simplistic and fatuous argument – but it is the automatic defensive position of Corbynites like Jones. Any criticism, any derision, any attack, must necessarily be cover for a deep-set and troubling fear. In the Corbynite world view, it is just not possible for anybody genuinely to think Corbyn is a bit rubbish; there are only those who love him, and those who fear his power and what it would mean for their cosy establishment hegemony.
But much as Jones and those like him might wish this to be true, I'm afraid it isn't; as Janan Ganesh points out in the Financial Times, the Tories who are mocking Corbyn don't secretly fear his might – they really do think he would be a laughable Labour leader. But pointing this out makes one anti-Corbyn, and therefore an enemy. Whoever you are.
Even staunch Labour members, councillors, or MPs – people who have dedicated decades of their life to serving the party – becomes 'the enemy' when they voice criticism of Corbyn. Guardian columnist Giles Fraser (whose inanity has featured on this Blog before), writes on Twitter:
The more of the old guard they get to trash JC the more emphatic I become in my support for him. No more Labour business-as-usual please.— Giles Fraser (@giles_fraser) August 19, 2015
Apart from being extremely silly to dismiss criticism of Corbyn based on who is doing the criticising, instead of on the merits of the arguments being made, it is indicative of how the Corbynites are only interested in granting credence to views which already chime with their own. Giles Fraser dismisses the Labour figures who are warning against the shift towards Corbyn's leftism as 'the old guard' – he paints them as has-beens whose advice is not worth heeding. Perhaps their advice isn't worth heeding. But who would Fraser and his ilk listen to?
If somebody very much 'of the left', who agrees with Fraser on many issues, and whom Fraser has always respected and listened to, suddenly said Labour should be wary of electing Corbyn would the response from Fraser (and others in a similar position) be: "OK, I didn't listen to 'the old guard' because I don't respect them, but this guy is someone I have always liked and who has always spoken sense – now that he is saying this too, perhaps I should reconsider my views"…?
No, it wouldn't be anything of the sort. Even if you hadn't been 'the old guard' up until now, disagreeing about Corbyn would suddenly make you 'the old guard'. Put simply, if you are considered 'sound' by the left, voicing criticisms of Corbyn (even well-founded, valid criticisms backed up by plenty of evidence) doesn't mean that those criticisms will finally be taken seriously – it will mean you will be denounced as a traitor, a secret 'Tory'.
This is the default Corbynite perspective – everyone who doesn’t agree with us precisely is a quisling and deserving of being put in the stocks for stopping the people getting what they really want (which is what we tell them they want, even if they haven’t quite realised it yet). The popular revolution, y’see, must not be impeded by it’s complete lack of popularity.
And thus, when the 'revolution' inevitably fails at the ballot box, it won't be the idealists who carried on pushing Corbynism in face of a huge body of evidence against it (because 'evidence' you don't like is just a 'smear' by 'the Establishment', of course) who are to blame. It will be everyone else. And the whole cycle will begin again.
Rafael Behr wrote an excellent and very apposite article in the Guardian quite recently on how so many people have lost the ability to admit when they are wrong. In it, Behr warns of the danger of 'echo chamber' politics, particularly on social media, where people only let themselves read or engage with content which confirms their pre-existing prejudices and reflects their own views. This is especially noticeable with the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon; no matter how much of a disaster the Corbyn experiment proves to be, nobody who insists they are right about it now will admit later than they got it wrong.
Jeremy Corbyn's almost certain victory, followed by Jeremy Corbyn's almost certain defeat, will prove nothing to those who will not allowed themselves to be swayed by any amount of evidence. There must be some other factor affecting it. They didn't really lose, at all. The fight must go on.