The Labour leadership candidate's new young supporters are naive, but his political opponents are intellectually lazy
Corbynmania: Young people across Britain are flocking to Jeremy Corbyn’s cause (photo: Chris Beckett/Flickr
The late Tony Benn seldom missed an opportunity to scorn weathercocks: those slippery, chameleon-like characters who populate both the government and opposition benches in alarming numbers. Infinitely preferable to be a signpost, according to Benn, and stick staunchly to one ideology regardless of public opinion or shifting political zeitgeists. Of course, there is a substantial degree of truth to this. The last great British statesman, Lady Thatcher, stood firmly by her principles despite strong opposition from both the public and members of her own Cabinet. Her opponents — Gorbachev and trades unions alike — may have despised the Iron Lady’s politics, but they certainly respected her grit.
Benn’s protégé Jeremy Corbyn, however, is an altogether more dangerous species of signpost. His extreme left-wing rhetoric is peppered with moral absolutes, imbuing what would ordinarily be laughably arcane policies with a degree of credibility. He talks about social justice and solidarity with such earnestness and zeal that even I, an erstwhile President of the Oxford University Conservative Association, find myself forgetting that Corbyn is a man who believes that reopening coalmines, printing banknotes and holding peace talks with ISIS are sure-fire routes to a more prosperous and harmonious society.
Hardly surprising, then, that my contemporaries are flocking in droves to support Corbyn’s campaign. In an age where political activism has been reduced to Facebook witch-hunts and Twitter debates; where blaming inequality on the straw man of capitalism is easier than engaging in meaningful introspection; and where an entire generation has grown up insulated from the grim realities of life in the Soviet Union, young people across Britain are parroting Corbyn’s ill-conceived platitudes on renationalisation and ending austerity. At Oxford, the website of a student group calling itself Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century decries the injustices supposedly inherent in any capitalist society while lionising Lenin and Trotsky — both practitioners of mass killings and torture — as “great revolutionaries”. Even the formerly moderate Oxford University Labour Club has officially endorsed Corbyn’s campaign, calling for “socialist democracy” with the sort of hypocrisy that only a group of largely white, privately-educated Home Counties kids can pull off. But I can just about excuse the youthful naivety of my peers; surely the wisdom that comes with age and a better acquaintance with the works of Orwell will teach them that unreconstructed Marxism is not a political bandwagon they ought to be jumping on.
The intellectual laziness of Corbyn’s political opponents, however, is inexcusable. Much of the centre-Right, having decided that Corbyn poses no great threat to the Conservative majority, has resorted to lampooning him at every opportunity. He has been caricatured by Toby Young as a Japanese soldier emerging from the Burmese jungle, unaware that the Second World War has ended and ready to refight long-settled battles. David Cameron himself has declared it “fun to watch Labour make a mess of things”. Most distastefully, numerous grassroots Conservatives have paid £3 to register as Labour party supporters in order to vote for Corbyn, gleefully documenting their efforts on social media under the banner “Tories for Corbyn”.
It is enormously disappointing that so many Conservatives are treating Corbyn’s rise from 1980s throwback to political heavyweight so flippantly, particularly when the consequences of his election as Leader of the Opposition would be nothing short of devastating for the working class and minorities in Britain — the very groups he claims to represent. As a working-class British Muslim born to Pakistani parents, I am adamant that Corbyn does not represent me — indeed, his policies are only notable in that they appear to be designed to keep me and my ilk on the very lowest rungs of British society.
During a recent interview with former Respect leader Salma Yaqoob, Corbyn stated his desire to “increase levels of multiculturalism” and assured British Muslims that they have a right to “be treated as part of the community” before dismissing the Prime Minister’s assertion that multiculturalism has failed. Of course, Corbyn neglected to mention that a multicultural society is, by definition, one in which minority groups exist in relative isolation, without integration into the wider community. The conflation of multiculturalism with diversity is a trick often deployed by the Left but I am surprised that Corbyn, a man who claims to despise yah-boo politics, would sink to such tactics.
This self-proclaimed champion of social mobility sees nothing wrong with a ghettoised society in which British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis exhibit lower rates of social mobility and employment than any other ethnic group in Britain, with 42 per cent of British Pakistanis and 48 per cent of British Bangladeshis in possession of no academic or professional qualifications. Nor does he see any contradiction in moralising on human rights while endorsing a multicultural Britain where more than 1,200 women of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi origin undergo forced marriage each year and a further 137,000 British women have been subjected to genital mutilation. Most alarmingly, he has never once acknowledged the link between multiculturalism and the radicalisation of some 2,000 Britons who have travelled to Syria to fight alongside ISIS.
Corbyn has made it abundantly clear that he is willing to court minority votes with the same cheap platitudes as Yaqoob’s predecessor George Galloway, while endorsing policies that consign British Muslims to the socio-economic scrapheap without any hope of self-betterment. Much like Galloway, he is fond of criticising the “high levels of Islamophobia” in the media, even though his own dealings with hate preachers such as Raed Salah (who recently called for the establishment of a “global caliphate”) are far more distasteful to many British Muslims than the occasional sensationalist tabloid headline.
Corbyn, it seems, is more concerned with maintaining his carefully cultivated persona as a moral messiah — a saviour of the downtrodden — than with listening to the needs or wishes of the socially and economically disadvantaged. This man who takes tea with terrorists and has at his disposal a vast army of useful idiots can no longer be treated as a figure of ridicule. While Labour would undoubtedly flounder in the next general election under Corbyn’s leadership, his extremist views would still be granted a gilded platform were he Leader of the Opposition. In a political landscape where any discussion of morality is deemed gauche and in which ministers dare not repaint their bathrooms before consulting a focus group, I can hardly blame the public for being intrigued by Corbyn. The government might begin to counteract this reactionary firebrand by readopting Lady Thatcher’s language and moral courage. Where Corbyn calls for socialism, the government should respond: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other peoples’ money.” Where he uses divisive language, we must reply: “The spirit of envy can destroy; it can never build.”
In May, ethnic minority groups and those on lower incomes voted for the Conservatives in huge numbers — the government must not betray their trust.