Nicola Corbyn and the Myth of the Unelectable Left 1168

The BBC and corporate media coalesce around an extremely narrow consensus of political thought, and ensure that anybody who steps outside that consensus is ridiculed and marginalised. That consensus has got narrower and narrower. I was delighted during the general election to be able to listen to Nicola Sturgeon during the leaders’ debate argue for anti-austerity policies and for the scrapping of Trident. I had not heard anyone on broadcast media argue for the scrapping of Trident for a decade – it is one of those views which though widely held the establishment gatekeepers do not view as respectable.

The media are working overtime to marginalise Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour leadership candidate on the grounds that he is left wing and therefore weird and unelectable. But they face the undeniable fact that, Scottish independence aside, there are very few political differences between Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon. On issues including austerity, nuclear weapons, welfare and Palestine both Sturgeon and Corbyn are really very similar. They have huge areas of agreement that stand equally outside the establishment consensus. Indeed Nicola is more radical than Jeremy, who wants to keep the United Kingdom.

The establishment’s great difficulty is this. Given that the SNP had just slaughtered the Labour Party – and the Tories and Lib Dems – by being a genuine left wing alternative, how can the media consensus continue to insist that the left are unelectable? The answer is of course that they claim Scotland is different. Yet precisely the same establishment consensus denies that Scotland has a separate political culture when it comes to the independence debate. So which is it? They cannot have it both ways.

If Scotland is an integral part of the UK, Jeremy Corbyn’s policies cannot be unelectable.

Nicola Sturgeon won the UK wide leaders debate in the whole of the United Kingdom, despite the disadvantage of representing a party not standing in 90% of it by population. She won not just because she is clever and genuine, but because people all across the UK liked the left wing policies she articulated.

A Daily Mirror opinion poll following a BBC televised Labour leadership candidates’ debate this week had Jeremy Corbyn as the clear winner, with twice the support of anyone else. The media ridicule level has picked up since. This policy of marginalisation works. I was saddened by readers’ comments under a Guardian report of that debate, in which Labour supporter after Labour supporter posted comment to the effect “I would like to vote for Jeremy Corbyn because he believes in the same things I do, but we need a more right wing leader to have a chance of winning.”

There are two answers to that. The first is no, you don’t need to be right wing to win. Look at the SNP. The second is what the bloody hell are you in politics for anyway? Do you just want your team to win like it was football? Is there any point at all in being elected just so you can carry out the same policies as your opponents? The problem is, of course, that for so many in the Labour Party, especially but not just the MPs, they want to win for personal career advantage not actually to promote particular policies.

The media message of the need to be right wing to be elected is based on reinforced by a mythologizing of Tony Blair and Michael Foot as the ultimate example of the Good and Bad leader. These figures are constantly used to reinforce the consensus. Let us examine their myths.

Tony Blair is mythologised as an electoral superstar, a celebrity politician who achieved unprecedented personal popularity with the public, and that he achieved this by adopting right wing policies. Let us examine the truth of this myth. First that public popularity. The best measure of public enthusiasm is the percentage of those entitled to vote, who cast their ballot for that party at the general election. This table may surprise you.

Percentage of Eligible Voters

1992 John Major 32.5%
1997 Tony Blair 30.8%
2001 Tony Blair 24.1%
2005 Tony Blair 21.6%
2010 David Cameron 23.5%
2015 David Cameron 24.4%

There was only any public enthusiasm for Blair in 97 – and to put that in perspective, it was less than the public enthusiasm for John Major in 1992.

More importantly, this public enthusiasm was not based on the policies now known as Blairite. The 1997 Labour Manifesto was not full of right wing policies and did not indicate what Blair was going to do.

The Labour Party manifesto of 1997 did not mention Academy schools, Private Finance Initiative, Tuition Fees, NHS privatisation, financial sector deregulation or any of the right wing policies Blair was to usher in. Labour actually presented quite a left wing image, and figures like Robin Cook and Clare Short were prominent in the campaign. There was certainly no mention of military invasions.

It was only once Labour were in power that Blair shaped his cabinet and his policies on an ineluctably right wing course and Mandelson started to become dominant. As people discovered that New Labour were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, to quote Mandelson, their popular support plummeted. “The great communicator” Blair for 90% of his Prime Ministership was no more popular than David Cameron is now. 79% of the electorate did not vote for him by his third election

Michael Foot consistently led Margaret Thatcher in opinion polls – by a wide margin – until the Falklands War. He was defeated in a victory election by the most appalling and intensive wave of popular war jingoism and militarism, the nostalgia of a fast declining power for its imperial past, an emotional outburst of popular relief that Britain could still notch up a military victory over foreigners in its colonies. It was the most unedifying political climate imaginable. The tabloid demonization of Foot as the antithesis of the military and imperial theme was the first real exhibition of the power of Rupert Murdoch. Few serious commentators at the time doubted that Thatcher might have been defeated were it not for the Falklands War – which in part explains her lack of interest in a peaceful solution. Michael Foot’s position in the demonology ignores these facts.

The facts about Blair and about Foot are very different from the media mythology.

The stupid stunt by Tories of signing up to the Labour Party to vote for Corbyn to ridicule him, is exactly the kind of device the establishment consensus uses to marginalise those whose views they fear. Sturgeon is living proof left wing views are electable. The “left unelectable” meme will intensify. I expect Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest problem will be quiet exclusion. I wish him well.

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1,168 thoughts on “Nicola Corbyn and the Myth of the Unelectable Left

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  • lysias

    To the extent that there has been progress on racial issues here in the United States, it’s all as a result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed blacks to vote in the Southern states, which up to then had been prevented for the most part. That gave blacks a share of political power, so other institutions had to change. And the change was gradual.

    Ba’al, you are right to say that our Western so-called democracies suffer from gross inequality. But that is largely the result of the increasingly dominant political power of small elites. Working class and middle class Americans had had the vote for some time before 1932, but it was the Great Depression that mobilized them to vote overwhelmingly for FDR and the Democrats, and the result was the New Deal, which brought about much greater economic equality for a while. The similar mobilization of the UK during World War II brought about Attlee’s government, socialist measures, and again greater equality. But since then the plutocrats have consolidated their position, and they are more and more approaching a monopoly of political power. Piketty has written at great length in his magnum opus about the increasing inequality.

    To end that inequality, average citizens must be given more political power. And adopting some version of the Athenian system would be a long step in that direction.

  • lysias

    Perhaps he will conveniently and in a timely fashion, “kick the bucket” like Leon Brittan.

    I have also increasingly had that thought.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    …adopting some version of the Athenian system would be a long step in that direction. …that’s the version without the slaves, right? Would that still be the Athenian system, I wonder? Or would it be an acknowledgement that politics is the art of the possible, leading to an acceptance that the socio-economics of 400BC, while its slaves turn out very nice architraves, are not applicable to the socio-economics of today?

  • lysias

    I’m admitting your point that our lower class occupies a position to a certain extent like that of slaves in antiquity. I certainly don’t want to restore slavery. Rather, I want to see the position of our lower class at least ameliorated. And I do not believe slavery is necessary in order to have something like the Athenian political system.

    Even while our lower class is in its present immiserated condition, I maintain that a political system that takes away from the plutocracy its present effective monopoly of political power is desirable. And giving some political power to our lower class would greatly help to ameliorate their condition.

    Aristotle at one point in his Politics suggests that machines could take the place of slaves:

    And so, in the arrangement of the family, a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments; and the servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments. For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods; if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves. (From Book 1, section IV of Aristotle’s Politics, as translated by Benjamin Jowett.)

    To a great extent, we now have those machines.

  • lysias

    But, to the extent that machines do the work that our lower class now does (and this has already happened to a large extent through automation), it is necessary to find some other way in which they can be made to feel useful and productive. Giving them a real share of political power would help to bring that about.

  • lysias

    Anyone who has served on a jury knows how, when you give serious responsibility to average people, they take that responsibility seriously and then rise to the occasion.

    The Athenian Council (Boule) of 500, the upper house of their legislature (the lower house was the Assembly (Ekklesia) which all adult male citizens were entitled to attend and vote in) was made up, to a large extent, of average citizens. This follows from demographic arguments because of its size of 500 and because of the facts that no one could serve on it more than twice, one had to be at least 30 years of age to serve on it, and the citizen population was the size that it was. Service on the Council was paid. Athenian Democracy: a brief overview: the Council:

    Through most of the 5th and 4th centures BCE, citizens were paid for their participation in the Council (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 62.2), and each citizen could serve on the Council twice in his lifetime (Aristot. Ath. Pol. 62.3).

    Anna Missiou argues persuasively in her recent book Literacy and Democracy in Fifth-Century Athens that it was precisely through service on the Boule that most citizens of Athens (which had no state-funded schools in this period) developed practical literacy and became capable of functioning as active citizens.

  • lysias

    If average citizens are given civic functions to perform, that can be a way in which they are enabled to feel useful and productive. A reading of Aristophanes will show how important the performance of civic functions was in the lives of average Athenians.

  • lysias


    Hmm, if France were to offer asylum to Assange, I wonder if that could be used to work his release from captivity in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Could, for example, France sue for his release in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg or in some other venue. Only nation states can bring suit in the World Court in the Hague. Could France sue there claiming that the UK is violating international law by not allowing him to enjoy the asylum he has been granted in France?

  • Mary

    Another YCNMIU from the BiBiCee

    Barack Obama interviews Sir David Attenborough at the White House

    The distinguished broadcaster and naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, has been on a visit to the White House at the personal invitation of US President Obama.

    The president, who is said to be a great admirer of Sir David’s work, wanted to discuss the future of the natural world.

    David Sillito reports.

    Watch ‘President Obama in conversation with Sir David Attenborough’, on BBC1 at 2230 on Sunday 28 June.

    I am sure that Obomber is really really interested in the future of the planet having done his worst for it and its inhabitants for the past 8 years. He is obviously seeking a ‘new improved’ persona for life post 2016.

  • lysias

    There’s an interesting review in the latest New Yorker by the distinguished Scottish historian of India William Dalrymple of the new book Midnight’s Furies by Nisid Hajari about the partition of India, which I happen to have just finished reading on my Kindle. I mention the book, because I feel obliged to correct and amplify my previous criticism of British rule for causing the split between Hindus and Muslims in India. Many British politicians and administrators do bear blame, most notably Winston Churchill and many Tories of his day, but the book says — and I have no reason to doubt — that Attlee’s government and Lord Mountbatten opposed partition and wanted to keep India united even after independence, until the mounting anarchy in India forced them to decide that there was no sensible alternative to partition.

  • lysias

    Doug, you may well be right that Janner will escape prosecution, to judge by the latest article in The Guardian on the matter: Janner prosecution review must be published, says alleged victims’ lawyer: Independent review of decision not to charge Labour peer over alleged child abuse must be made public ‘to dispel coverup suspicions’:

    A lawyer representing nine men who say they were abused by Greville Janner is calling for the publication of the independent review into the decision not to prosecute the former MP.

    Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, is expected to reveal next week whether the formal review by an independent QC will reverse her decision not to charge Lord Janner with a string of sex offences in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

    . . .

    Garsden said his nine clients remained “incandescent with rage” over the decision not to prosecute Janner. “They all want me to pursue a judicial review if this review, which we expect any day next week, does not lead to charges.”

    The lawyer said he had asked the CPS to allow him to see the four medical reports on Janner which informed the decision not to prosecute him and the advice the CPS received from the lead counsel, Eleanor Laws QC, an expert in child abuse law, which recommended the peer be charged.

    But he said he had not received any documents relating to the case and this made it important that the independent review – which had seen all the documents – was published.

    I can certainly understand the victims’ rage.

    Meanwhile, Exaro News is carrying a commentary by “Jane”, the woman who claims to have been raped by Leon Brittan: Commentary: my frustration over rape probe into Leon Brittan: Ex-minister attacked me ‘with such a practised air of entitlement’, writes complainant. And what was the police’s reason for not pursuing the matter?

    After an intense interview, I was told: “Because you did not say ‘no’, it was not rape.” I was outraged>

    So I suppose there was rage there too, but no better result.

  • lysias

    For some reason, my comment on the bailiff thread about the dubious CIA origins of the term “conspiracy theory” was removed, even though I was very careful not to say anything that I thought could cause deletion. I mentioned the fact that the official account of 9/11 is obviously itself a conspiracy theory, and said that I would not give any opinion on whether or not I thought it was true, because the rules of this site do not permit that. I have no idea what caused my comment’s deletion. It was in response to what other people were saying about conspiracy theories on that thread.

    Anyway, the heart of what I said was that the use of the phrase “conspiracy theory” to mock and discredit theories that differ from official accounts originated in a 1967 CIA document, CIA Document 1035-960, which urged using the phrase to discredit accounts of the JFK assassination, and that the phrase has ever since been used to discredit theories that governments do not like. There is no reason why the mere fact that a theory is a conspiracy theory means that it must be false. Some conspiracy theories are false. Some are true.

  • Afrend

    [mods: retrieved from spam filter]

    [cm-org-uk – this comment permitted tho O/T so ********** users know the ********* is aware of software problem.]

    There is no ******** *******. Repeat. No software *******. I wish I could say more. I **** bitcoin ** *** mouth. Tomorrow will come *** **** **** ** ******** ***. If any messages still get through tell Baal I forgive him. Lo siento, no puedo decir más.

  • lysias

    Lo siento, no puedo decir más.

    For those who don’t know Spanish, that means, “I’m sorry, I can’t say any more.”

  • RobG

    You’re allowed to talk about other stuff here, but obviously the most pressing issue on the planet at the moment is Craig’s council tax woes.

  • Macky

    Lysias; “A reading of Aristophanes”

    Funny enough there’s a mention of Aristophanes in this, but the irony of discussing Fuedalism in Classical Greece, is that if Greece doesn’t vote “No” on the 5th July, it very much may return to Modern Greece courtsy of the EU !

    I quite like the way Tsipras worded the decision for the Referendum;

    “The Greek government was asked to accept a proposal which accumulates unbearable new burdens on the Greek people and undermines the recovery of Greek society and its economy, not only maintaining uncertainty, but by amplifying social imbalances even further.

    The proposals of the institutions include measures which lead to a further detribalization of the labor market, pension cutbacks, new reductions in public sector salaries and an increase in VAT on food, eateries and tourism, with an elimination of tax breaks on the islands.

    These proposals clearly violate European social rules and fundamental rights to work, equality and to dignity, proving that the aim of some partners and institutions was not a viable and beneficial agreement for all sides, but the humiliation of the entire Greek people.

    These proposals prove the fixation, primarily of the International Monetary Fund, to tough and punitive austerity…

    A while ago I convened the cabinet, where I suggested a referendum for the Greek people to decide in sovereignty.

    The suggestion was unanimously accepted…..

    To this autocratic and harsh austerity, we should respond with democracy, with composure and decisiveness.

    Greece, the cradle of democracy, should send a strong democratic answer to Europe and the world community.

    I am personally committed to respect the result of your democratic choices, whatever those may be…. “

  • nevermind

    freely lipread from the news….Obama: So, Sir David, what in your view, is the greatest threat to mankind? what would you say causes most global warming.

    Sir D.A.: well Mr. President, its us really, we are in dire need of a global war to minimise our impact here on earth back to a manageable level
    ( BBC version)

    what he really said was ‘its really our wars Mr. president, they attract the greatest expenditure of energy, destruction and pollution.’

  • Mary

    Three snippets of BLiar news. Wonder where the £1m bail came from?

    Tony Blair’s former Sedgefield home for sale: Take a look as …
    Gazette Live-26 Jun 2015
    Myrobella House in Trimdon Colliery became Tony Blair’s constituency home with wife Cherie when he was elected MP for Sedgefield.

    Labour’s John Cruddas urges ‘rehabilitation’ of Blair legacy
    The Guardian-25 Jun 2015
    Jon Cruddas believes the former prime minister Tony Blair should no longer ‘be booed’ at party gatherings.

    Cherie Blair helps get bail for Rwandan spy chief fighting extradition Jun 2015
    Cherie Blair helped secure bail for a Rwandan spy chief as he fought extradition to Spain in connection with alleged war crimes. The wife of the …
    Rwandan spy chief granted £1 million bail Jun 2015

  • Mary

    I was watching some of this on the Parliament Channel. The two representatives from Atos Healthcare, McKillop Clinical Director and Haley Client Executive, did not impress.

    It was suggested that Atos’s profit could be as much as £40m. They would not confirm or deny but said they would look into the matter. They were also questioned on the competence of their operatives.

    ‘MSPs set to quiz Atos bosses over disability reform assessments
    23 June 2015

    ‘Abandoned’: Carers are being left alone to cope with the demands of looking after the sick, elderly or disabled.
    Welfare reform: MSPs’ concerns.

    Bosses from the company tasked with carrying out assessments as part of controversial disability reforms are to be quizzed by MSPs.

    Members of Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee will question senior figures from Atos and its subcontractor Salus.

    The session comes after research for the committee found about 120,000 people in Scotland would lose an estimated £2600 a year as a result of UK Government plans to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

    Committee convener Michael McMahon said concerns had been raised “about the role played by Atos and its subcontractor, Salus, in their carrying out of assessments for the new PIP scheme”.

    The Labour MSP added: “Making the transition from DLA to PIP is clearly a worrying time for many vulnerable claimants and we will be asking questions of the process involved and problems experienced.

    Dr Barrie McKillop, the clinical director of Atos Healthcare, and David Haley, the client executive for PIP, will be questioned by MSPs, along with Salus general manager Mark Kennedy.

    In a submission to MSPs, Atos said it had conducted almost 93,000 assessments for people living in Scotland.

    It added: “Claimants in Scotland are currently taking approximately four weeks to go through the assessment process (which includes the initial review, assessment and report submission). This compares to approximately 14 weeks to go through the assessment process in Scotland this time last year.”

    Assessments are carried out by health professionals such as nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and paramedics, with Atos insisting: “Compassion, sensitivity and commitment to delivering the best possible service to claimants is critical.

    “The role of the HP (health professional) is not to diagnose an individual’s condition or conditions. It is to understand how the person manages the conditions that they have and how it affects them on a day-to-day basis. This information forms the basis of the report that the HP provides to the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions).”

    The company continued: “We always consider how we can do things differently and have been implementing innovative improvements to the service we deliver to PIP claimants.

    “With the claimant in mind, we’re currently trialling a number of innovative initiatives to make their journey through the PIP process as positive as possible.”

    This includes trialling the use of video technology for assessments, which could help people in more remote parts of Scotland be assessed more quickly.’

  • Mary

    The Commons did not sit on Friday 26th June.

    On 21st July they go off until 7th September. ie a 7 week holiday.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Mary, most MPs do a lot of constituency work during these breaks. Whatever one may think of their politics, most MPs do work very hard, as do most local councillors and MSPs and so on.

    However, unlike, say, the Scottish Parliament, Westminster does hold to somewhat archaic traditions drawn up in a different era.

  • Mary

    You are having me on there about MPs and councillors working hard Suhayl. 🙂

    Feathering their own nests, outside jobs, expenses scams and that’s just the MPs.

  • Mary

    ‘Having finished her demolition, Toynbee then literally erases Corbyn from the race, arrogantly debating the prospects of “the three main contenders” before settling on the shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper as the most promising candidate.

    Toynbee’s argument echoes the feelings of a large section of the so-called progressive, liberal intelligentsia. “I could probably live with any of the other candidates”, noted Labour MP and BBC commentator Alan Johnson about Corbyn, likening his politics to electoral “suicide”. Ditto the Guardian’s Martin Kettle (“Corbyn offers a programme of prelapsarian socialist purity”), the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, (Corbyn is proof “crazy Labour is alive and well”) and Blairite foot soldier David Aaronovitch.’

    Polly Toynbee, Jeremy Corbyn and the limits of acceptable politics
    Ian Sinclair 29 June 2015
    If anyone is “out of touch” with British public opinion it is not Jeremy Corbyn, but the liberal intelligentsia.


    See Craig’s pieces
    Polly Toynbee, Counter-Revolutionary
    Oct 15th 2014
    It is amusing that Polly Toynbee attacks Russell Brand on the grounds there is a real difference between Labour and the Conservatives, on the day Ed Balls argues immigrants must be kept out by amending the EU treaties – in the same paper! I have never been a great fan of Russell Brand’s media persona, […]

    For Scotland, The Spirit of Tony Blair
    Jul 22nd 2014
    New Labour has officially voted to support austerity, benefit cuts, government spending cuts, Trident missiles and rail privatisation, and done so without serious internal opposition. Polly Toynbee reckons that this is a sign of maturity, and that it is great that the party now has the approval of “Westminster” – her word, not mine. She […]

  • Mary

    Cuadrilla get the thumbs down.

    ‘MASSIVE news just in – people power has stopped fracking in Lancashire. [1] Local residents, supported by thousands of us from across the UK, persuaded the council to vote down the frackers’ plans.

    Lancashire Council voted to reject the planning application by 9 votes to 3. And without planning permission, fracking can’t happen.

    If fracking had got the go-ahead there, it would have been a first foothold in the UK for this controversial and dirty industry. The oil and gas corporations were determined to make this happen. [2] David Cameron was determined to make it happen. [3] But instead, people power has won the day.

    38 Degrees members all across the UK can be proud of the role we’ve played. ‘

  • Suhayl saadi

    Mary, the expenses scandal certainly revealed corruption. It’s sad, though, that as with all public services – education, social work, NHS, local govt, etc. – our democratically elected members too have become systemic targets for media opprobrium. As with the 35-year assault on other public service sectors, this type of casual negative attitude actually has been fostered by very reactionary forces as a sustained attack on the vestiges of democracy and governance in this country. The vast majority of local (and national) elected politicians in this country – even the ones with whom we may have profound political differences – on a local level work really hard for their constituents.

  • Mary

    Alan Milburn: Labour must realise Tony Blair was great like Margaret Thatcher
    Former health secretary urges party to learn lessons of New Labour to win again as he endorses Liz Kendall for the leadership

    So says the ace privatiser of healthcare, would be privatiser of the NHS and a board member of Bridgepoint private equity, whose health portfolio includes this list of companies.

    Company owned by Alan Milburn had £663,000 profit increase in 2013-14
    AM Strategy, owned by former Labour health secretary, generated income primarily from private healthcare consulting

    ‘A company owned by former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn recorded a £663,000 increase in profit last year, with the income generated primarily from a string of consultancy roles to the private healthcare sector.

    Accounts filed with Companies House show that AM Strategy Ltd generated the income in 2013-14 at a time when Milburn worked as a senior adviser to Bridgepoint Capital, owners of one of the UK’s largest private companies delivering NHS healthcare, as well as working with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Lloyds Pharmacy and others.

    The same accounts also show that the amount of cash held by the business – which Milburn jointly owns with his wife – increased by £463,000 to £1.76m as of the end of March 2014.’

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