Monday, 27 June 2016

Jeremy Corbyn is the oldest 'Angry Young Man' in history

Billy Joel wrote that "There's always a place for the angry young man, with his working class ties and his radical plan, he refuses to bend, he refused to fall, and he's always at home with his back to wall…"

It is a song which could have been written specifically about Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.  The leader who will, despite losing two thirds of his Shadow Cabinet in under two days, still refuse to resign in the face of overwhelming criticism from within his own party.

"And there's always a place for the angry young man, with his fist in the air and his head in the sand…"

Corbyn is the embodiment of student politics.  He is the 'Occupy' movement made flesh.  He comes from a political tradition where people truly believe that change can be enacted simply by refusing to leave until you get what you want, and where negotiation and compromise – those bedrocks of sensible, grown-up politics – constitute 'selling out', treason, betrayal.

The mindset of such politics is that criticism can be defeated by shouting louder, stamping your feet harder, waving your placards higher and refusing to give an inch.  After all, why should you consider anyone else's point-of-view, when you truly know in your heart that you are right?

It is this intransigence and hubris which will lead him to cling grimly onto his position.  "And he'll go to the grave as an angry old man…"

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Choose your bogeyman

The politics of grievance requires a 'bogeyman'.  An all-purpose evil on which can be blamed everything that is wrong with life – and the only thing that stands between us and a vague promised utopia.

Bogeyman Politics asks you to believe that there is one simple cure for all of the interconnected problems of messy, complicated, fragile day-to-day life.  Can't get a hospital appointment?  Blame the Bogeyman.  Wages don't stretch far enough?  Blame the Bogeyman.  Can't get on the housing ladder?  Blame the Bogeyman.  Marriage breaking up?  Blame the Bogeyman.  It is a crass oversimplification, peddled by charlatans who want you to think that they alone, in this big scary world, are on your side.  It is a con.

For some, the Bogeyman is 'bankers', or 'neoliberalism'.  For others, 'Westminster'.  For many, it is 'immigration'.  For the majority of people who will vote to leave the European Union tomorrow, it is the EU that fills that role; the EU is the Bogeyman, responsible for everything bad about Britain, and the one and only thing that's holding us back from being truly great (or, if you are of a nostalgic bent, 'great again').

Real life is more complex than that.  More difficult than that.  Anyone selling you the idea you can fix all your problems with one fell swoop is not telling you the truth.

Which is why it is sad to see campaigners for the 'Remain' camp in the EU referendum rebutting the 'Leave' campaign's Bogeyman Politics with a few choice Bogeymen of their own.  All day today I have watched a steady stream of smug, supercilious Tweets and Facebook posts along the lines of "Oh, you think single issue x is to blame for everything bad? Ha! You fools! Can't you see that single issue y is to blame for everything bad…?"

No doubt the people posting this stuff think themselves very clever.  They aren't fooled by the narrative that the EU is the root cause of all our nation's problems!  They can see right through that!  They know what the true cause is.  But they have allowed themselves to be duped by a different narrative – one which is just as seductively simplistic, and just as destructively wrong.

As with most things, there is no one simple answer.  The 'Bogeyman' concept is attractive because it is comforting.  It is less frightening to be told you are a basically 'good' person who has been a victim of some malign conspiracy – and that you have it within your power to rise up and take back what is rightfully yours from those who have done you wrong – than that you are adrift on a rolling sea of entropy in the ever-changing, unforgiving, big wide world.  Having someone, or something, to blame – giving it a form, a name, a face – makes life easier to cope with.  At last, the question "Why do these things always happen to me?!" seems to have an answer.

It is an understandable, human reaction.  But political movements based on grievance, where politicians knowingly perpetuate the 'Bogeyman' narrative to mobilise great swathes of the general public, have a long and ugly track record of turning very nasty indeed.  And when campaigners for 'Remain' offer up an alternative Bogeyman as a focal point for the mystified anger of 'Leave' voters, they are guilty of it just the same.

The trouble (for both sides) comes afterwards – once the Bogeyman is slain.  The Bogeyman may have been defeated, but the problems of ordinary life have not gone away.  The hospital waiting times, the tax bills, the energy prices…  These things have not disappeared overnight.  The sunlit uplands of utopia glibly promised by the politicians who cynically played on people's fear of the Bogeyman to win votes seem as far away as ever.

And so, the search for a new Bogeyman must begin.  Something has to fill that void.  Something, or someone, has to be to blame.  Who do we think that might turn out to be?  When Britain votes to leave the European Union, and people's lives are not magically improved overnight, the public anger which did so much to drive the anti-EU movement won't just vanish – we should all be very concerned about what (or who) that ire might end up focused on next.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

#EUref – time to choose

There are now only five days to go until we in the UK vote on our continued membership of the European Union.  Frankly, it can't be over soon enough.

Whilst the campaign seems to have gone on forever, and the quality and tone of the debate has often been nothing short of cringeworthy, this is a big and important decision to make.  I can honestly say I've not been so conflicted about a political issue for a long, long time – I have been genuinely undecided for the majority of the campaign, and it is only really in the last week that I have begun to marshall my thoughts, and make up my mind.

I am planning to vote to 'Remain in the European Union'.  This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, because I feel any ideological attraction to the EU.  I am no fan of the European project, and there is much of it that I view with considerable suspicion – I am voting out of pragmatism, rather than any principled commitment to the EU – so I think it is worth explaining how and why I finally decided that I am leaning toward 'Remain'.

There are cogent, sensible, respectable reasons for wanting to leave the EU.  There is a very attractive vision of Britain outside the EU.  But sadly, I think the chances of a 'Leave' vote resulting in a Britain like that is practically nil.  The majority of 'Leave' supporters do not share my vision of post-EU Britain; the majority 'Leave' view is of an insular, curmudgeonly Britain which, liberated from the shackles of EU regulation, is free to be as bitter, intolerant and cantankerous as it pleases.

For me, if voting in the referendum included an opportunity to register my opinion on what direction the country should take post-Brexit, choosing 'Leave' would be much easier.  Without that option, I fear that any 'Leave' vote will automatically be taken as an endorsement of what we might term the 'Farageist' vision for the country after leaving.  That, I am afraid, is not something I am willing to put my name to.

Writing in the Guardian yesterday, Marina Hyde sums up one of the biggest issues I would have with voting to Leave:
There are many people I respect and admire voting leave – there are people in my family voting leave. I understand their reasons. But they must stomach the reality that a vote for leave will be taken by Farage and countless others as a vote for him, a vote for his posters, a vote for his ideas, a vote for his quiet malice, a vote for his smallness in the face of vast horrors. Is it worth it?
I'm really not sure that it is.

The EU has more than its fair share of faults and foibles.  It is certainly not an institution to which I feel any kind of emotional attachment; if I felt there was a good chance things would turn out OK afterwards, leaving it would cause me no pain.

'Remain' is the safer option.  'Remain' is a vote for continuation, not upheaval.  Despite what prominent Brexit activists might say, it is not 'scaremongering' to say that voting to 'Leave' is taking a leap into the unknown.  None of this means that Britain 'could not survive' outside the European Union, of course; 'Leave' campaigners who take a leaf out of the Scottish Nationalists' playbook by accusing those who point out these risks of 'talking Britain down' as being 'too small, and too poor' to prosper on our own, are tilting at straw men.  (And they probably know it, too.)

But just as I wrote last month that Jeremy Corbyn does not get to distance himself from the rest of the 'Remain' campaign and still be 'Remain', neither would I get to specify that my 'Leave' vote were somehow different from most of the people voting the same way.  No, my vote to 'Leave' would be lumped in with the votes of people from UKIP and Britain First – and it would be assumed that I had voted for the same thing they did, and that I want Great Britain to be the same the country they want it to be.

I don't.  And I don't hold out much hope for the voices of people like me being heard, in the event of a vote to leave the EU.  And that is why I think it will be best if I vote 'Remain'.

Of course Britain would prosper outside of the EU. Of course the EU isn't perfect. Of course it isn't racist to acknowledge that. But if you are voting 'Leave' for a more open, inclusive, positive, globalist Britain – as I would be, if I were to vote 'Leave' – you won't get it. We won't get it.

What we will get will be Nigel Farage and his ilk smugly parading around, pointing to the referendum result and declaring "See? We said most people in this country agreed with us! And look…!"

How ever little love I may have for the European Union, I really don't think I am prepared to vote for an option which will empower Farage and those like him to posture and preen and proudly hold my vote aloft as proof that the public shares their vision for Britain.

I don't share it. I don't endorse it. And I don't want – even accidentally – to get mixed up with those who do. I may not like the EU much, but I would rather vote to 'Remain' than see this brilliant nation turn into the type of country UKIP would like it to be, and know that I had had a hand in that.