In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity isn’t just the temporary insanity that afflicts all parties after election defeat.
If Jeremy Corbyn wins the race to lead the Labour Party, his campaign will provide a masterclass in political insurgency. Devoid of charisma, disrespected by his colleagues, given a mascot’s place on the ballot, this North London Barry Goldwater looks set to be Labour’s most extreme leader ever.
He calls Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends”; he has has not denied funding a campaign by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen; he has described a convicted hate preacher as an “honoured citizen”; he would leave NATO; and he re-open the coal mines. He has mused about putting the most successful leader of his own party on trial for war crimes, and he would allow private sector tenants to force their landlords to sell their houses to them. He divorced his second wife partly because she wanted to send their son to a grammar school.
This is only what has come out in the last few months. Think of what the Conservative Research Department will find out about, say, Corbyn’s sympathy for the Irish Republican Army (IRA), when it has four and half years to investigate.
This isn’t just the temporary insanity that afflicts all parties after election defeat. We are witnessing an act of organized political theft by anti-democratic extremists that were thought to have been expelled from Labour’s bloodstream. How have they done so well? There are four main reasons.
The extreme left know what they believe, and therefore what to say. Capitalism has failed. It is a tool of the “neo-liberal one percent.” It exploits people at home and abroad. “We are the only people who will tell you the truth.”
And they are organized: Trade unions have supplied more than £75,000 in grants and loans to Corbyn’s campaign. Their individual campaigners have been efficient and unscrupulous. A Labour friend was called up by a Corbyn canvasser who insisted that anybody other than their man was a “Tory.” A reasonable compliment if applied to Liz Kendall, perhaps, but a preposterous absurdity to Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham.
Social media changes everything. Old-style leadership campaigns happened in the Westminster village. Relationships with trusted journalists and commentators mattered. The members were consumers. Now, particularly on the left, where Twitter is far more popular, they have become the transmission mechanism. Social networks have a tipping point: Once something is shared enough, it crosses a threshold and appears far more popular than it really is.
Corbyn’s campaign, reactionary in content, has taken a boost from technology and sowed panic among his opponents. A 1990s-style centralized media management has gone the way of floral ties and over-sized suits. With today’s technology, it is essential to create at least the appearance of grassroots support, if genuine popular support is then to be obtained. “Astro-turfing,” as this is known in the trade, is no longer an optional extra.
It is easy, if you’re left-wing, to surround yourself with like-minded people and expose yourself on highbrow media that confirms your prejudices: When did you last hear a right-wing comedian on BBC Radio Four? Perhaps P.J. O’Rourke, but he had to be imported from America.
Left-wing people rarely have to confront anyone making good arguments for, say, banks’ role in the financial system, or the need for defense spending, or that not everyone on benefits might be claiming them entirely legitimately. Insofar as they are aware of these positions at all, they hear them as caricatures. Corbyn’s campaign appeals to these prejudices, his opponents’ have to compromise with them.
Corbyn’s biggest advantage has been his rivals’ failure to argue against the substance of his platform. They may have criticized it for being too left-wing to win support in middle England, but not for being wrong in principle. When Gordon Brown tried to win over Corbyn supporters by arguing that his support for Hamas and Hezbollah would make it harder to reduce world poverty, he did not avail himself of the strongest arguments against those organizations.
Corbyn’s rivals have thus, facing an electorate dominated by idealists, conceded the moral high ground to Corbyn’s team. His fellow-traveling with terrorism and anti-semitism, or with Vladimir Putin’s homophobic government, or his endorsement of Venezuela (where peaceful opposition leaders are imprisoned), has gone largely unremarked, while their attacks on his economic policies have lacked the necessary detail.
Perhaps tactically-wise, for his rivals are hoping to win Corbyn over, this moral weakness has been a strategic blunder.
Though he will lose a General Election if still in place, Corbyn will not prove an immediate political disaster. Expect him to benefit from a honeymoon as disgruntled Labour left-wingers return from the Scottish National Party and “red UKIP.” Do not, however, expect the honeymoon to last. In the Conservative Party, he will face a tougher and more ruthless opponent.
*[This article was originally published by Conservative Home.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.