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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  • Ba'al Zevul

    Deepgreen – good thinking, IMO. You mention the quasi-religious aspect of the mindset. A large proportion of immigrants to the US through its history have been fleeing religious persecution. Not a few groups of these refer to the Old Testament – whether formally or not, whether Jewish or not – as their prime authority; fundamentalism remains strong in the US. And their descendants inherit the tradition of taking measures to prevent any repeat of the the oppression they fled. So is this actually ‘quasi-‘? The Pilgrim Fathers, for instance, regarded America as the new Zion, the god-given property of their particular brand of Christianity, and the rot started there. The Old Testament is shockingly explicit about what you should do to the ungodly – which, in the context of an immigrant society, means everyone else.

    Also, it may not have been intended by the Founding Fathers, but the right to bear arms is no longer an effective counter to the excessive power of a rogue US Government (any citizen’s militia staging a coup wiould be vastly outgunned by the state), but the illusion of citizen potency is still a very useful diversion from the decline of democracy and state surveillance: ‘hell, we can take out Obama any time we want….we imagine…’

    The above is pure opinion, has not been fact checked and is in breach of my undertaking to lay off posting.

  • Macky

    Node; “A google search for “Macky” and “Lysias” yields 113,000 hits.”

    And a google search for “Node” & “overdoing it” yields 125,000 hits !

    So there ! 😀

  • Jay

    Agreed Mark the government as well as the parents are responsible for children who are some of the most dependent in society as such greater empathy should be employed to serve their needs.

    With regard to the work shy and lazy some form of government intervention would also be beneficial and would also serve those that are dependent. Education and recreational resource funding is also required.

    The government is doing its best and those with the most need get the most funding in some cases.

  • Mary

    Some background on Charleston.

    June 24, 2015
    The Reverend E. X. Slave’s Raid on the Capitol
    Set This Flag on Fire!
    A version of this article ran in the April 2002 edition of CounterPunch magazine.

    For the last 53 years, the state of South Carolina has flown the Confederate flag above the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia, a noxious emblem of the state government’s unremitting animus toward civil rights laws and desegregation.

    The flag was hoisted in 1962 as a show of defiance against the Supreme Court and the Civil Rights movement. It soon became a war banner for the segregationist minions marshaled behind Strom Thurmond’s Southern Manifesto. The flag has remained a shameful glorification of the ante-bellum, slave-holding South and a daily blight for South Carolina’s black population ever since.

    Recall that South Carolina was not only the ignition point for the Civil War, but the Wal-Mart of the slave trade. Many of the black Africans brought to South Carolina as slaves for the plantation owners were sent into the swampy rice fields, which proved to be malarial death camps, where people perished in nearly unimaginable numbers. Nearly two-thirds of the black children in the rice plantations perished before reaching the age of sixteen.


    Sorting out the gun lobby would be a start.

    From my cold dead hands…..

    Charlton Heston “My Cold DEAD Hands” NRA Speech


  • Macky

    Mary; “Mad”

    Indeed; “Millions of law-abiding Americans truly believe that it is safer to own a gun, based on the chilling logic that because there are so many guns in circulation, one’s own weapon is needed for self-protection,”

    Mary; “Sorting out the gun lobby would be a start.”

    Again, indeed; “After a mass shooter murdered 35 people in Australia in 1996, the nation enacted strict gun control laws — and as of 2013, they hadn’t had a mass shooting since, Will Oremus wrote at Slate. The plan included many ideas that would be anathema in the United States: Australia repurchased more than 600,000 shotguns and rifles, nixed private sales of firearms, and dramatically raised the bar for would-be gun owners.”

    Both quotes from;

  • Republicofscotland

    SCOTLAND will contribute to the £150 million renovation of Buckingham Palace through general taxation. The money given to the Queen through the Sovereign Fund will include money from people living in Scotland.

    However, it’s worth noting that renovations in Edinburgh’s Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, have been paid for entirely by Scots.

    Although owned by the Crown, Historic Scotland are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the palace.

    Between 2012 and 2014, the Scottish Government agency tasked with looking after the country’s historic “environment” paid £2,179,000 for the palace’s upkeep.

    Yes Mary Holyrood Palace is another, plush address of the Royal parasites that citizens of the UK,well Scotland anyway, have to pay for.

    Meanwhile HRH Lizzie swans around Deutschland, at the taxpayers expense, whilst the royal arselicker Nicolas Witchell,praises the Germans for their uber red carpets.

  • Macky

    Jon; “I’ll happily give my thoughts on paedophilia if it is related to the topic of Charleston”

    I was going to let this go in the spirit of love & peace, but you do really need to know the difference between somebody asking you how you think White Supremacy factors into a specific incident, and between somebody asking you specifically & in general, what are your own personal views are on White Supremacy, especially in the context of a debate where accusations of racism towards you have already been insinuated. In calling that sly, I was actually being rather polite.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Australia in 1996…

    Australia didn’t have the NRA, though. This has always been the block to gun law reform in the US, even if public opinion swung far enough (despite incessant NRA propaganda). The NRA is well-organised, rich, and one of the top three US lobbyists – as is AIPAC. Usual story: help with election campaigns given to both sides ensures that someone indebted to the lobbyist ends up in power.

  • Republicofscotland

    This rather interesting.

    Former Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi received over half a billion dollars from the Saudi government 13 days after the fall of Mosul city by the ISIL in 2014, according to one of the documents gained and released by the Yemen Cyber Army after its May hacking of the Saudi Foreign Ministry.

    The Saudi Foreign Ministry was hacked by the Yemen Cyber Army in May, and a copy of its information was sent to FNA and another one to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

    One of the documents released by the YCA showed a letter written by Director General of the Saudi Interior Ministry Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Nujaifi saying that Riyadh had deposited $575m to a Turkish bank 13 days after Mosul’s fall on June 10, 2014.

  • Macky

    @Ba’al which asks the question, are Lobby Groups incompatible with Democracy ?

    I guess a distinction needs to be made between groups that lobby for things that benefit the whole Society, like hands-free car phones, or reflect majority support, like the ban on fox hunting, and between those groups that lobby for their own minority and/or vested interests, (or even foreign interest as in AIPAC). It is in the second group that corruption arises, and therefore why should they not be banned ?

  • lysias

    Why are people concentrating so much on my likely mistaken argument from a Google search, and so little on the revelation (first-hand, through testimony of the victim) that Janner sexually abused a nine-year-old boy in a chapel in the Palace of Westminster? Which is more important?

  • Republicofscotland

    The Obama administration opposes any Security Council consideration of a United Nations report on last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

    How arrogant and disrespectful can one country be, America constantly throws its weight around within the UN,and the UN hasn’t the gumpton to do anything about it, god help Europe if these spineless UN leaders,give into the USA’s demands over TTIP.

    We challenge the very mechanism which created it, John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said Tuesday, a day after the report’s publication.

    And so we’re not going to have a readout of this, he said. We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it.

    We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all UN reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Good question, Macky. Would it be irritatingly impartial to say you either ban the lot or permit the lot? I’m not even sure you could suppress lobbies benefiting a sectional interest as opposed to the general public – we’d get Monsanto registering as a charity in response. OTOH, there should as sure as hell be no financial inducements, whether to parties or individuals, or individuals’ friends and relations. So maybe that would be a starting point when putting together a beta version of democracy.

  • lysias

    No need to dream up a new version of democracy. Just imitate the ancient Athenian system of choosing officials and legislators by lot, at least for part of the government. It worked in Athens. It can work now.

    Would you rather give power to average citizens, or to professional politicians?

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Would you rather give power to average citizens, or to professional politicians?

    Looking around me, that is also a rather good question…do I prefer shit in my shoes or shit in my pockets? Which of course sounds elitist. But think about it. A lottery ensures that the proportion of the public happy with accepting sweeteners* is fully represented, and I doubt this is any less than the proportion among politicians. Tempting, but no cigar.

    And first there’s the question of how you get there.

    *and any other vice to which humanity is inclined. Which might lead to the UK government devoting its entire budget to winning the soccer World Cup.

  • lysias

    RT claims the Russians are developing a technical system for jamming satellite guidance. If this is true, and it works, it could neutralize the delivery of nuclear weapons that rely on such guidance, but also cruise missiles, airplanes, and all sorts of other weapons systems.

    I’ve long wondered if there could be a technical means of neutralizing the nuclear weapons with which Israel has been threatening the world. This could be the way to do that.

  • lysias

    It worked in Athens. If you think average Athenians were so much superior to people today, just read Aristophanes, or any of the Athenian orators.

    It worked in Athens. Why couldn’t it work today?

  • fred

    “American Neo-Nazi David Duke has predictably weighed in to the issue of banning the Confederate flag with an online article called “The Jewish Attack on the Confederate Flag”. Presumably, he fails to realise that the Confederate flag in the form that we know it (my mistake not the earlier ‘stars and bars’ but the one nicknamed the ‘stainless banner’ came about because elements of the southern Jewish community/fighting forces preferred the St. Andrew’s cross to the St George’s cross flag that was originally suggested – possibly because England expelled its Jewish population whereas Scotland (which also felt that Edward I was bad news) didn’t.”

    It had nothing to do with England or Scotland. The original flag was objected to because the cross is the symbol of Christianity, the saltire isn’t of any religious significance.

  • Macky

    @Ba,al, taking out the Lobbists money/support in politics is a long overdue must; going back to fundamentals, aren’t public interest group lobbies already inherently part & parcel of Democracy ? It’s really the corporate & sectional interest lobbies that invests money (ie corrupts our Democracy) into getting political support for their material benefits/advantage; shouldn’t the criteria be that only lobbies that have the Pubic Interest as their “raison d’être”, be permitted ?

  • Ba'al Zevul

    PS. Athenian democracy. And see –

    In which – page57 – …lack of remuneration realistically enabled only rich men to participate fully in the democracy at the highest level. It was these men who ran for the higher offices of state and who controlled Athens through regular public speaking in the Assembly

    So a fairly familiar system, then.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Macky – sound argument, and in a perfect world true. But I see that line ending up with bogus public-interest groups which, say, just happen to promote zero-hours contracts (to benefit the public at large by making sure their McDonalds burger is affordable). The reason I am so despairing of democracy is that the weasels always find a way round it.

  • lysias

    Ba’al, that sounds like a description of Athenian democracy in its first 40 years, before payment for jurors was introduced. Athenian Democracy:

    Payment for jurors was introduced around 462 BC and is ascribed to Pericles, a feature described by Aristotle as fundamental to radical democracy (Politics 1294a37). Pay was raised from 2 to 3 obols by Cleon early in the Peloponnesian war and there it stayed; the original amount is not known. Notably, this was introduced more than fifty years before payment for attendance at assembly meetings. Running the courts was one of the major expenses of the Athenian state and there were moments of financial crisis in the 4th century when the courts, at least for private suits, had to be suspended.[36]

    The system showed a marked anti-professionalism. No judges presided over the courts nor did anyone give legal direction to the jurors; magistrates had only an administrative function and were laymen. Most of the annual magistracies at Athens could only be held once in a lifetime. There were no lawyers as such; litigants acted solely in their capacity as citizens. Whatever professionalism there was tended to disguise itself; it was possible to pay for the services of a speechwriter or logographer (logographos), but this may not have been advertised in court. Probably jurors would be more impressed if it seemed as though the litigant were speaking for themselves.[37]

    . . .

    At times the imperialist democracy acted with extreme brutality, as in the decision to execute the entire male population of Melos and sell off its women and children simply for refusing to became subjects of Athens. The common people were numerically dominant in the navy, which they used to pursue their own interests in the form of work as rowers and in the hundreds of overseas administrative positions. Further they used the income from empire to fund payment for officeholding. This is the position set out by the anti-democratic pamphlet known whose anonymous author is often called the Old Oligarch. This writer (also called pseudo-Xenophon) produced several comments critical of democracy, such as:

    1. Democracy is not the rule of the demos qua citizenship in the interest of the entire polis, but the self-interested rule of a sociological faction. 2. The collectivization of political responsibility for decisions and agreements in a democracy leads to dishonesty and the tendency to scapegoat individual speakers or magistrates. 3. Because it is an integrated system, democracy seems incapable of internal amelioration, yet because of its inclusivist tendencies, especially in regard to citizenship, it coopts its natural enemies and so generates few active opponents. 4. There is a strong relationship between a democracy’s domestic and foreign policies; a rational imperial democracy will be likely to foment democracy among its subjects. 5. Democracy depends on naval power; naval power in turn depends on the control of capital resources; ergo a democracy will tend to be aggressively acquisitive. 6. Democracy’s core values of freedom and equality are not exclusive to the citizen population; noncitizens are also treated more equitably than is seemly. 7. Democracy tends to blur the distinction between nature and political culture, thereby blinding elites to their own best interests and luring them into immorality.[57]

    Aristotle also wrote about what he considered to be a better form of government than democracy. Rather than any citizen partaking with equal share in the rule, he thought that “Virtue understood as embracing courage and temperance and prudence as well as justice turns out to be the chief determinant for shares in rule. Those who are superior in virtue should receive greater shares in rule.”[58]

    As the passage from Wikipedia shows, Athenian democracy had its flaws: imperialism, slavery, oppression of women. But there is no reason why we cannot adopt the system of random selection without adopting those flaws. Athens may have needed the tribute it exacted from its so-called “allies” to pay officials, but that is not necessary today.

    If you think Athenian democracy was just another disguised form of plutocracy, just read the criticisms of it by the likes of the Old Oligarch, Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle.

    In fact, Scott Horton argues in his book Lords of of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Warfare that ancient Greek democracy was the perfect counterexample to Robert Michels’s Iron Law of Oligarchy. And the great Marxist ancient historian G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, who was as familiar with the ancient texts as anyone in recent years has been, certainly regarded ancient Greek democracy as genuinely democratic in his 700-page masterpiece The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    …missed the obvious jest re, the ‘Pubic Interest'(sic) there. Bit slow, today. Of course sex workers should be allowed a lobby.

  • Habbabkuk (la vita è bella)

    After a series of long and wearying posts on how Iraki “democracy” was apparently subverted by the CIA in 1963 (all because I called Saddam Hussein a tyrant and asked a certain poster if he agreed 🙂 ) we are now back on to the virtues of 500BC Athenian democracy and how it would be perfect for the world of the 21st century.

    But I shall give our friend a rest this time round, all the more so as Baal seems to have landed a couple of heavy punches (15h35 and 15h42)

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Lysias: I think you are glossing over the fact that societies now are enormously bigger and more complicated than a Bronze Age community in the Peloponnese. Probably with a lot less cohesion and common purpose, too. My question – how do we get there? stands. Allowing that it was the best system since before the digital toaster for sliced bread, at all, that is.

  • lysias

    For a detailed description of the working of ancient Athenian democracy, a particularly good book is Mogens Hansen’s The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: Structure, Principles, and Ideology.

  • lysias

    Ba’al, the Athens of developed democracy was not a Bronze Age community in the Peloponnese. The Bronze Age ended around 1200 B.C. Developed democracy started in Athens with the reforms of Cleisthenes in 508/7 B.C. Athens ceased being a fully independent state after its defeat in the Lamian War in 322 B.C., but Athenian democracy was not abolished until Sulla did it in 86 B.C. The city-state of Athens was outside the Peloponnese, separated from it by the Isthmus of Corinth.

    The Athens of Pericles was not such a simple system. Athens itself had a population in the hundreds of thousands, and for a time it presided over an empire that included dozens of other Greek city-states. A reading of Hansen’s book will show you how involved the governmental system was.

    As for how to get there, I think the most important step is to make people aware of how the Athenian system worked, and the fact that it did work. Then, the developing failures of our current nominally democratic systems will increasingly make the attractiveness of a system like that of Athens more and more apparent. It could, in my country of the United States, be adopted in isolated cities and states, and then people could judge it by its results. Individual small countries like Scotland and Ireland — or Greece or Spain or Iceland! — could also adopt it.

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