There is panic among the hard heads in the British Parliamentary Labour Party and some of the old guard – Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, et al – at the prospect of longstanding fringe backbencher Jeremy Corbyn becoming opposition leader. Here in the UK, where I am visiting, he has moved from rank outsider to the bookies’ odds-on favourite. Why would an out-and-out socialist ever be elected by the 600,000-plus party members eligible to vote?
Not to be unkind, his competitors — Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper — are hardly his equal in the charisma stakes. But, the real problem is democracy. Giving individual party members, each with an equal vote, the power to elect leaders is fraught with risk. The ALP take note. You never know who is doing the voting.
Progressive organisations, like ‘38degrees’in the UK, ‘GetUp!’ in Australia and ‘MoveOn’ in the US, are adept at using social media to draft fresh members. Clearly this is being done to give Corbyn an extra lift. The Labour Party is desperately trying to prevent new Corbyn-friendly members joining; using one pretext or another. I saw one very young lady, interviewed on BBC TV, who was ropable at being rejected; pronouncing that she would never vote for Labour again if not given the chance to support Corbyn.
There have even been suggestion that closet conservatives have joined Labour to ensure a Corbyn victory. It is not hard to understand why. Sir Gerald Kaufman, a Labour MP since 1970, famously denounced Michael Foot’s left-wing Election Manifesto in 1983 as “the longest suicide note in history.” Though it is important not to denigrate Foot by comparing him with Corbyn, Kaufman now suggests that electing Corbyn would “be committing suicide all over again.”
When I (briefly) joined the Liberal Party in NSW there was a push by some to give more power to members in choosing parliamentary candidates. I was sympathetic to that push. I no longer am. The age of the internet and social media has made it too easy to sign members up and stack the deck. And, it is best to face up to the fact that left-wing organisations have a better ground game than do those on the conservative side.
Polling points to Corbyn getting support of over 50% of party members and winning in his own right. Mind you, getting over half the vote still leaves room for improvement. There are plenty of loony lefties and deluded idealists out there. The Guardian polled its readers in late July and 78% of them favoured Corbyn. Why are they loony and/or deluded? Who else could possibly support him?
Corbyn wants to reopen coal mines in South Wales. So with a healthy appreciation of the benefits of fossil fuels in creating jobs and wealth you might think he can’t be all bad. The catch is that the coal mines are uneconomic and he only favours the use of coal stripped of its carbon dioxide emissions. It is a recipe for massive taxpayer subsidies. This doesn’t faze him.
‘People’s QE’ – printing money – is one of his methods of funding public infrastructure. Borrowing and, of course, increased taxation on the rich and on companies are others. He favours nationalising energy companies and renationalising the railways. Free tertiary education and better health services and more goodies beyond are to be conjured up. Surely no-one of sound mind, with Greece so much in the headlines, would buy this guff? Not so.
Unfortunately, Corbyn’s international persona is monumentally worse than his domestic one. He favours the UK leaving NATO and abandoning its nuclear deterrent. He favours more open borders to refugees at a time when Europe is being inundated by swarms (to use David Cameron’s word) of asylum-seeker refugees from Africa and the Middle East. It is forecast that Germany will be swamped by 800,000 (that is not a misprint) of them in 2015 alone. The problem is mind-boggling in its size and in its implications for the future of European society as we have known it. Everything else is small beer in comparison.
More than that, Corbyn keeps bad company. He has referred to representative of Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends”. He associates with Islamists; .e.g., Dyub Abou Jahjah, now banned from the UK; and with the Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. He sides with the Palestinians and curiously with Putin; and perhaps less curiously, in the circumstances of his own policies, with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
People like Corbyn have always been around in one guise or another. But they have occupied the fringes and that is where they have always remained in Britain. It will be a seminal and inauspicious event if Corbyn is announced the winner on 12 September; even if the Labour Party manages to effectively dump him shortly thereafter (at the annual conference in Late September), as is now being mooted.
What is happening in Britain can happen elsewhere, including in Australia. Whatever is going on in Western society, it augers badly for the sway of common sense. When callow 18-year-olds (and probably, in future, 16-year-olds) can be drafted en masse to elect extremists into office we are in trouble.
So far as possible, the tide must be held, taking a leaf from the ancient Greek model of democracy, by ensuring that a few wise heads choose political party candidates and that parliamentarians choose their leader. At this level, grass-roots democracy is untenable under the assault of activist organisations and social media.