Friday, 7 August 2015

There are better '70s tribute bands than Jeremy Corbyn

If you want to book a nostalgic tribute band for your retro-themed party harking back to the 1970s or the 1980s, I don't suggest you book Jeremy Corbyn.  Sure, he plays all the hits – but without feeling.  He may look the part, but his performance is jaded and irritable, bordering on contemptuous.  Also, his rider was ridiculous, and he was half-an-hour late for soundcheck.

His announcement that he would 'reopen some coal mines' is final proof – if any were needed – that Corbyn doesn't care about serious, grown-up politics at all.  He doesn't care about making a difference in other people's lives.  He is only interested in posturing gesture politics of the kind most people grow out of by the time they're in their twenties.

What, exactly, would reopening coal mines achieve?

I can understand that Corbyn deplores the mine closures of the 1980s, and like many on the left of British politics, sympathises with the miners who came out on strike.  But you can look back on those times from a leftist perspective, and still acknowledge that today's world is utterly different.

Both politics and industry have been irreversibly changed in the thirty years or more since the miners' strikes of the early '80s; Corbyn may as well say that he will try to revive the chimney sweep industry, or that he will reopen the wheelwrights' businesses which closed as the motor car superseded the wooden carts and wagons pulled by horses which were once the primary mode of transport for goods and people.  After he has reopened the mines, will Corbyn also reopen the cotton mills of the nineteenth century?  Presumably, he is incensed that railway companies no longer employ stokers to shovel the coal on the engines?

Read more:  My analysis of Owen Jones' assertion that the Tories fear Corbyn

Corbyn is a quiet, self-effacing man – but in his own way, he is egotistically obsessed with past glories.  The announcement about reopening coal mines is worrisome not just because coal mines are a proud part of British industrial history, not a part of Britain's industrial future, but also because it is a window to how someone like Corbyn sees the world.

For Corbyn – and a deeply concerning number of what we must surely now call his 'followers' – the powerless 1980s, when the right wing ran the show and conducted sweeping ideological reforms of so many areas of British life, were actually the halcyon days of the left, and of the British Labour movement.  Coal mining, and miners' strikes, have become emblematic of that era, and of the conflict between right and left which defined the Conservatives' time in office during the 1980s; Corbyn, enthralled by the idea of doing ideological battle with the right wing – as if it is some kind of holy war – far more so than he is by the idea of enacting policies and passing legislation, is obsessed with reliving that time, even when everybody else has long since moved on.

A masterclass in only seeing what you want to see.

The business of government, or enacting ideas, does not interest him; for Corbyn, the glory lies in the struggle.  For Corbyn's faction of the Labur left, being powerless and ineffectual, but making an almighty scene about it, is somehow perceived as being more 'noble' or more 'worthy' than actually being in a position to tackle the social issues you claim are the reasons you went into politics.  The crusade is more important than the outcome.

Franz Nicolay wrote, in his aptly-titled track 'Do The Struggle':
"When the monkey throws himself against the door, he doesn't care if it opens, as long as it rattles…"

Like the monkey, Corbyn is more interested in rattling doors than opening them.  Maybe he thinks the rattling is more impressive – but I imagine that is little comfort to the people trapped on the opposite side of the door, the people Corbyn claims he wants to help.  He would rather be a noisy but impotent protestor – waving his placards and standing on his soapbox, shouting a lot and achieving nothing – than an efficient legislator; the former may provide more thrilling stories to tell your grandchildren, but it is the latter which actually allows you to improve people's jobs, homes and lives.

Reopening the coal mines will help nobody; it will push Britain back, not forwards; it is the rhetoric of somebody who is still obstinately fighting not the last war, but the war before that; it is the fanciful policy of a man who does not live in the real world.

For someone who is so often described as 'progressive', backwards-looking Corbyn conducts his politics in the past.  He cannot seem to accept progress, or that the world changes whether he wants it to or not.  Coal mines – and the totemic ideological battle they represent for so many people – maybe a part of Britain's rich industrial heritage, but there can't be much place for them in our future now, as things move on.  Jeremy Corbyn is King Canute, unable to hold back the inexorable tides of change; unlike Canute, he hasn't the humility to know that he cannot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Corbyn is not just talking about reopening mines as they were in the early 20th century, but as part of a long tern arge scale rebalancing of the economy to support developenent of industry.

If we can build on this redevelopement to reskill and develope technology to mine coal in a way that is safe and environmentally friendly then we should do this. Corbyn is sounding out ideas to how to go about addressing inequality even if those idea seem a bit radical, but he has made it clear he is open to debate about how best to achieve a fairer more equal society, and that is something we should all support

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