As the grouse-shooting season began, I took my first-ever step into the febrile world of UK party politics. Yes, I registered to have a vote in the Labour leadership election. This was not because I have suddenly become a convert to the party of Keir Hardie and Peter Mandelson. My act of entryism was inspired by the wish to give our main, and apparently enduring, Opposition party a hefty poke in the grillocks by helping to produce a leadership election outcome that does not follow the Westminster script. I will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn, despite the loopier excesses of his youth, and for Angela Eagle, the leader that Labour actually needs.
Is this just mischief-making? Not really. The consensus amongst the political intelligentsia seems to be that General Elections are won from the centre ground, the way that the last two were not, and that Corbyn is unelectable. On that last point, there is a delightful irony in the prospect of an ‘unelectable’ politician being unexpectedly elected. More important, I think, is the narrow vision of those who write Corbyn off. At the last couple of General Elections, around one-third of the electorate did not vote. No doubt they had many reasons, but I bet that a fair number of that one-third were voters who simply could not bring themselves to choose between two Centre-Right parties, both committed to free-market monetarism. A party that can offer a well-managed mixed economy that uses public ownership to reduce profiteering from the basics of health, energy, education, water and public transport could find a lot of support amongst those non-voters. Corbyn may be unelectable by an electorate that would vote for Cooper or Burnham, but other shades of voter are available.
Perhaps, too, a radically-different Opposition would have the decency and backbone to challenge the prevailing rhetoric on migrants. One expects drivel from the Daily Mail and Metro, but when the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister start talking about displaced people in terms that would not have been out of place in 1930s Munich, then something is seriously amiss. One of Cameron’s finer moments was his proposal to send more ‘sniffer dogs’ to Calais. To sniff what? People? And where will these additional dogs be trained? How long will that take? In short, does the PM know whereof he speaks? The whole messy, complex subject is being subjected to the scrutiny that might be expected in a golf club members’ bar. Meanwhile tens of thousands of people displaced by war and famine seek the opportunity to rebuild their lives. The UK Government responds by showing its very worst instincts and its lamentable depth of ignorance. A different UK reaction can be seen on social media, an awareness of Britain’s shared responsibility for the political instabilities and economic collapse that drives people from their homes and a concern to treat migrants as people, not as a threatening ‘swarm’. And is Harriet Harman’s Labour party leading this principled stand? Of course not. One of the genuinely tragic aspects of Charles Kennedy’s premature death is that he would have made the humanitarian case with his usual pithy clarity and implacable decency.
This has been an unintentionally angry post, but that’s the response prompted by the current state of British politics. Could a change of party leadership make that much of a difference? I really don’t know. Maybe a Corbyn/Eagle Labour party, starved of donations and vilified in the popular press, would have to compromise or face collapse. But at least for a while some views other than the complacent Centre-Right would have had a hearing. And that would be no bad thing at all.
PS. Go back to the third sentence. Have you ever seen Keir Hardie and Peter Mandelson mentioned in the same sentence? No, I thought not.