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October 11th 2017 print

Christopher Carr

The Key Matter of Authenticity

Prompted by Jeremy Corbyn's performance in the recent UK election, Paul Kelly fears socialism's comeback. Rather, might it not be the Labour leader stands for something, however flawed, while Theresa May, like another alleged conservative leader much closer to home, represents nothing at all?

may corbynIn his Weekend Australian column, Paul Kelly starts as follows:

Within the Anglosphere, the ideological lines are being drawn sharply and Britain leads the way. Speeches from Tory leader Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have raised the existential question: Are we returning to socialism?

He quotes The Economist as saying, “the unthinkable image of a left-wing firebrand in 10 Downing Street is increasingly plausible”, and he reports the bookies have Corbyn favourite to be the next prime minister — probably an exaggerated call, as Kelly cautiously notes.

The aftermath of the British election is perceived by Kelly as marking a seismic shift to the Left. Jeremy Corbyn, dismissed before the election campaign as an anachronistic irrelevance, now appears to hold the political and ideological high ground. Paul Kelly quotes Niall Ferguson’s concern that socialism is making a comeback, particularly among the young in educational institutions. This longer term trend in a supposedly educated section of the younger generation reflects both a disturbing ignorance of recent contemporary history and another marker in the long march through the institutions by Cultural Marxism.

However, it is hard to see the outcome of the British election as somehow a mass conversion of the British electorate. Paul Kelly is pessimistic about the possibility of reform from a conservative limited government perspective. But there are risks in over-reliance on extrapolation from particular events. After all, just a few weeks before the election, Theresa May’s conservatives were riding high in the opinion polls and Labour  under Jeremy Corbyn was a busted flush. There is no evidence that the opinion surveys before the election campaign were wrong, nor that the students, attracted to socialism, had any impact on the election outcome, and no evidence that socialism made a sudden quantum advance during the short weeks of the campaign.

Indirectly, Paul Kelly points to Theresa May’s central problem: as the supposed official champion of free markets and limited government, she does a terrible job. After the usual bromides about the values of the freedom, equality, rights, responsibilities and the rule of law, her practical policy prescriptions are a defensive shift to the left. So she pledges more funds to education, a better health system, urgent action to confront housing affordability, price caps on energy bills and intervention to limit student debt. Corbyn responds with brutal logic that if these interventions are essential, then let Labour do the job properly. As quoted by Kelly, Corbyn mocks May by demanding she “go the whole hog, end austerity, abolish tuition fees, scrap the public sector pay gap”. Kelly does not follow through with any suggestion that May’s shift to the Left may be part of her problem.

Kelly is suggesting, however indirectly, that Corbyn may seem disreputable in his policy positions but nonetheless is becoming mainstream. He argues that British conservatives have made two shocking mistakes:

First, they overestimated public abhorrence towards a radical left agenda, along with their own ability to demonise Corbyn. Second, their astonishing and accumulated ineptitude – as shown in politics, policy and business – has created the serious option of the most decisive leftward shift for more than half a century. The dominant story of the times is conservative failure.

Theresa May’s denunciation of Corbyn as a dangerous leftist is “increasingly ineffective. Young people are unconcerned and unpersuaded. They live in the present, not the politics of the past”. One might ask what these “young people” were thinking a few months before the general election, when the Conservatives were riding high in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. If we accept that these “young people” are attracted to a revived socialism, we should assume that they were already unquestioning supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and played no role in that dramatic swing to Labour. We are left with the prosaic answer. The dramatic loss of support for the conservatives during the campaign was caused by a considerable number of voters who both supported Brexit and hitherto had indicated support for the Conservative Party, deciding to support the Labour Party.

Over the longer term, politics is a contest of ideas, but Kelly seems to be reducing politics to an abstract intellectual contest. Dramatic swings in campaigns can hardly be explained by a kind of intellectual reductionism. If Kelly is to be believed, Theresa May lost support because she lost the battle of ideas in a remarkably short time, rather than because she ran a lousy campaign. No, I believe that she lost support because she failed to sustain a clear and simple narrative and failed the test of authenticity. By contrast Jeremy Corbyn may be a little mad and his stated ideas off the charts, but he is perceived as genuine, and that is what counts. Is this also an opening for genuine conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg? In The Spectator of July 15, 2017, James Delingpole wrote:

‘We need to talk about why the internet is falling in love with Jacob Rees-Mogg, because it’s not OK,’ warns a recent post on the Corbynista website The Canary. Its anxiety is not misplaced. Polite, eloquent, witty, well-informed, coherent, principled — Jacob Rees-Mogg is the antithesis of almost every-thing the Labour Party stands for under its current populist leadership. And far from putting off voters, it seems to be a winning formula. Even sections of the elusive and generally very left-wing youth vote appear to be warming to the idea that our next prime minister shouldn’t be (alleged) man-of-the-people Corbyn but yet another plummy, Old Etonian millionaire…

This ought to make no sense at all. If there’s one lesson the Conservative Party’s strategists have learned from Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in the polls — at the time of writing he has an eight-point lead — it’s that Britain has had enough of conservatism. Actually, the word they use is ‘austerity’ but it amounts to the same thing. So widespread is the panic in the party that even its more fiscally responsible luminaries are coming round to the idea that, from university tuition to the NHS, the only way to beat Corbyn is to talk and spend like socialists.

Jacob Rees-Mogg scorns any notion of intellectual abdication to the Left. And yet in front of audiences which one would normally expect to be left wing, he is a star.

The lessons for Australia are obvious. Voters are searching for authenticity. Expect outsiders such Cory Bernardi to move even more firmly into the spotlight as months go by.

Comments [12]

  1. Keith Kennelly says:

    Who in Australian politics is authentic, polite, eloquent, well-informed, coherent, principled or even a bit witty?

    • Egil says:

      Leyonhjelm , Bernardi and Costello come to mind.
      Not necessarily in that order.
      Sadly Costello is, for good reason, too smart to participate
      in what should be a bipartisan effort for Australia’s betterment.

  2. Keith Kennelly says:

    Are we really so far up the creek we no longer see commonsense?

  3. Jimbob says:

    “The lessons for Australia are obvious. Voters are searching for authenticity.”

    No doubt all of us are motivated by principles of one sort or another. But if we were to be honest, the major principle which drives socialist, communist, fascist, capitalist alike is the principle of self-interest. Voting is all about who aligns most closely to our perceived self-interest. Just by way of example;

    Academics (particularly in the social “sciences”) will almost invariably be left-wing socialists, communists or greens in Australia because the idea of publically funded education with its’ comfortable sinecures matched with the unparalleled opportunity to dumb down young and impressionable future voters aligns most closely with their self-interest.

    Successful business-people and more often small business people, will almost invariably be free-marketeers and unashamed capitalists. The idea of being free of overreaching strictures of government planning and fulfilling your own destiny in accordance with your own strengths is timelessly appealing.

    Students will vary in their principles; we expect altruism as a mark of youthful “innocence” and “inexperience” but depending on the choices they make and how reality dawns on them, today’s students could end up anywhere on the political spectrum and will end up voting for those who they perceive or believe will maximise their social and/or financial benefits.

    The “working classes”, totally let down by the lawyer run bruvverhoods, could vote radically left or radically right and anywhere else in between with their voting preferences generally corresponding to the level of their financial success. All this shows is that despite the great battle of ideas, there are really no lasting “mass conversions” to any political system.

    There are of course, temporary conversions, the glow of which doesn’t take long to dull and diminish (see Kev 07, Mal Sep 15). Whichever way Australia goes, there will be winners and losers. The issue for politicians if they want to gain power is to ignore the rusted-ons in the middle, the people of unchallengeable “principle” or those seeking “authenticity” because (and I’ll try and be as kind as I can) their brains have generally stopped working.

    As for self-interest, let me just say this. In my opinion there is only one politician in Australia who has really understood this and it’s Pauline Hanson. Like her or loathe her, she has hit a chord with a group of voters who think their main interests have been ignored by the political classes. It looks increasingly like, that the size of this group of voters will ensure that she will be more powerful than any future “king” or “queen” that the majors (if they last) may want, because she will have it in her power to grant the crown.

    Belatedly, another politician has learnt that same lesson the hard way (being humbled is often the pre-cursor to becoming great) and it is not Corey Bernardi. It is Tony Abbott.

    I like and admire Corey Bernardi but his appeal is narrow, a gentlemanly politician if ever there was one. Abbott on the other hand, is hated by his enemies both within his own party and without. He causes them apoplexy! But that’s a very good sign and quite OK with me because he has finally hit the nail on the head. Surging power prices through policy madness, falling living standards, choking cities with constant streams of unmotivated to work rent-seekers, arrogant and aloof politicians, the gradual stupidifying of future generations of Australians by academia and an already stupid press and the fear and trembling of these same politicians at even the sound of the burps and farts of certain minorities have created a whole bunch of voters who will see their interest diminished and ignored. He’s certainly tapping into that and almost singlehandedly setting the national political agenda…now that’s a lot of power for a humble backbencher. Let the emperor walk around naked, at least there is someone cutting to the chase.

    • Salome says:

      The problem with Tony Abbott, even if we overlook his limpness over section 18C, is that he has and old, tribal party of toffs behind him–and they’re not all behind him.

      • en passant says:

        Salome,
        I worked 7-days a week for 45-years to build a business. I supported Tony Abbott, but resigned from the Liberals after 31-years {before Turnbull rose from Hades} over their failure to even attempt to remove 18C.

        Am I a toff?

    • whitelaughter says:

      Jimbob, you are putting the cart before the horse. The decision to become an academic, a businessman, civil servant or perpetual student isn’t made in a vaccuum; our beliefs determine where we think it is important to be.

      • Jimbob says:

        I’m not denying what you’re saying WL but “where we think it is important to be” is not the same as what we become – beliefs play a role in what we are likely to become but would not the main determining factors be ability/talent, hardness (or otherwise) of work and opportunity (old fashioned luck)? Beliefs change anyway as life experience “bakes” us but all I’m saying is that once we’re in a particular work environment, we tend to take on the culture and “beliefs” of that environment. Seriously, would any academic become a Vice Chancellor of a G8 university if they openly supported Pauline Hanson?

  4. Egil says:

    Marxism, rightly written off as a massive failure in the 1990s, is now, day by day, moving closer to being mainstream politics.
    In perfect accordance with the stated policies of “The March through The Institutions”.
    What was boring common sense up until a couple of weeks ago is now “far right”.
    I suspect PM Turnbull, Pyne, JB and Brandis
    are quietly terrified of being branded “far right” which is why they now are Labor politicians,
    if 2005 or even 2010 standards were to be applied.
    Firm believers in the principle of “Whatever will get me another term in office”.
    Presenting/selling shallow ineptitude as a positive, they are perfect enablers of the defensive crawl to the left.

    • ianl says:

      > ” … the defensive crawl to the left”

      The lefty crawl being a defence against the continuous, mindless onslaught from the MSM. Pointing this out is derided as cynical – a method of deflecting the issue with ad homs.

  5. Jody says:

    I hope the UK ends up with a dose of socialism a la Corbyn. They can then spend the rest of their working lives paying for it. That’s fair.