By Daniel Margrain
From my personal experience, discussing political matters with many of our friends on the other side of the Atlantic, often takes somewhat of a surreal bent. To quote Shaw’s famous phrase, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this.
A few weeks ago, I heard a contribution from a right-wing American political commentator called Charlie Wolf on LBC bemoaning the fact that the U.N are probing into (justifiable) allegations of human rights abuses by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) against British citizens. “How dare this external organisation poke their noses into the workings of a long standing democracy like Britain”, he exclaimed (or words to that effect). “The democratically elected Tory government are entitled to cut benefits to the most vulnerable people in society because they have a mandate to do so”, he continued.
It’s a refrain that many of us have heard repeatedly but of course does not stand up to the basic of critiques. Firstly, Cameron came to power in a “landslide” with only 24.4% of all those eligible to vote. Secondly, and just as significantly (but rarely ever mentioned), is the fact that there is no process by which leading politicians’ can be recalled. Hence, they can, and often do, redact on election manifesto promises without any legal redress from those adversely affected by such decisions.
But in the case of Iain Duncan Smith, whose controversial policies are at the centre of the U.N’s probe into the workings of the DWP, it’s worse than that: He wasn’t even in the public domain prior to the election to answer questions from journalists about these policies and, therefore, be held publicly accountable for his decisions. After the election, the government then disingenuously claimed it had a mandate to introduce severe benefit cuts for the most vulnerable in society when no mandate existed. The then standing leader, and self proclaimed champion of women’s rights, Harriet Harman, abstained on the vote to challenge the said decision whose impacts negatively affect women the most. The election of Corbyn put and end to this cozy Tory-Labour consensus.
The mainstream media and the establishment and political elite cannot handle the idea that Corbyn can be both a campaigner and a leader, or that decision making can be a democratic process emanating from the bottom up. They just can’t seem to get to grips with the fact that a politician like him answers questions directly and comes across as person with principle and integrity who offers to debate and discuss policy issues with colleagues before formulating them.
But in the harsh political climate of spin and the behind the scenes buying of political influence, this kind and humane approach is likely to work against a man who the corrupt establishment cannot buy. To quote a fellow comrade, “Compromise will be Corbyn’s enemy. His detractors – the current crop of BBC and Guardian political commentators included – will focus upon any inclination towards compromise in order to split Corbyn’s support.”
His concessions to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that compromise the democratic wishes of the mass membership are likely to create the foundations upon which the corrupted mainstream media, whose interests the former share, will pounce. The media’s strategy is to exacerbate the wedge between the Blairite elements within the PLP hierarchy and the mass membership. Here’s an example. Two days ago, BBC journalist, Laura Kuenssberg asked Corbyn a question she would never dream of asking any other leader, namely, whether he would ever envisage a circumstance where he would press the nuclear button? He answered directly with a “No”.
The reply is consistent with Corbyn’s stated opposition to nuclear weapons which he reiterated in his speech to conference. This was portrayed in the media as if it was the craziest thing any politician had ever said and, as all readers familiar with the editorial line taken by the Daily Telegraph will know, is apparently akin to treachery. It was also deemed to be treacherous to have the temerity to wear a beard, the failure to straighten up his tie, wear a brown jacket and not sing a stupid song about an extremely rich elderly woman living off state handouts who got even richer by pillaging the resources of black people in a faraway continent.
Corbyn’s intervention came despite Labour’s official policy to support the £40 billion renewal of Trident. Labour’s position in favouring this weapon of mass destruction is based on the protection of jobs that would inevitably be lost if the renewal plans were scrapped. This is a bad argument in the same way that hypothetically supporting those who produce weapons of torture from losing their jobs is a bad argument.
Corbyn said he would try to change Labour’s official support for Trident but he would live with it if he couldn’t. The media as one, jumped on the bandwagon by declaring Corbyn to be a weak person. I was unaware that listening to what other people have to say prior to formulating policy was a sign of weakness and immaturity. The fact that he actually listens to what other people say and then makes up his mind accordingly, is clearly too much of a revolutionary concept for some, including Kuenssberg, to handle.
The intervention by Corbyn, raises the prospect of Labour voting to renew Trident nuclear weapons but having a leader who has vowed never to use them. But surely the right and moral position to adopt is to insist that all leaders’ of all countries’ should vow never to use them. This is because there are no circumstances in which Britain or any other nation state would launch a nuclear attack. Shadow Defense Secretary, the Hawk, Maria Eagle, said Corbyn’s admission that he would never authorize the use of Britain’s nuclear weapons was unhelpful because, according to her, it undermined Britain’s defenses.
This is nonsense. Her claim only makes sense if one was to believe that Britain would be attacked by a country that has nuclear weapons. Only in this circumstance would it undermine Britain’s defenses. Corbyn rightly said, being in possession of nuclear weapons didn’t help America on 9-11. No country that has nuclear weapons will be stupid enough to launch a nuclear attack on another country that has nuclear weapons.
There are five declared nuclear weapons states’ in the world and three others that have nuclear weapons out of a total of 192 nations. 187 countries don’t feel the need to have a nuclear weapon to protect their security. Why should those five need it themselves? Corbyn said, “I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons. I am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons. I want to see a nuclear free world. I believe it is possible”
Of course it is. It merely requires the political will to make it happen. Why in the 21st century can’t it be possible for the leaders of the nations that comprise the UN Security Council to sit around a table and say something like: “We know we are never going to use weapons that have the potential to destroy life on earth that cost hundreds of billions. How about instead, we use that money to save life on earth”?
This is not in any shape or form a radical idea but a humanistic and moral one. Corbyn said, “If I could persuade the whole of the Labour Party to come around to my point of view, I would be very happy indeed. I will do my best”. But pressed on whether he would concede defeat on the issue, he noted, Well, if I can’t, we’ll live with it somehow.”
To me, this sounds like the words of a wise man. But to others in the media who are depicting Corbyn as some kind of bearded hippie freak, they represent the words of a traitor and imbecile. On twitter, Mark Steel, in typically ironic style, said the media “established that Corbyn is an extremist, because he won’t press the button to fire nuclear missiles round the world”. Krishnan Guru-Murthy added: “Why is it some are treating the bloke who says he wouldn’t nuke anyone like HE’s the crazy person”?
Meanwhile, in responding to Laura Kuenssberg’s hatchet job interview with Corbyn, Colin Campbell commented, “Shocking! Corbyn says he wouldn’t incinerate 1000s of civilians and create birth defects for generations.”
But being servile to establishment power is the role Kuenssberg and others within the mainstream media play. By creating a schism they will attempt to undermine Corbyn’s authority. His straightforwardness is of a course a great quality to have in a politician, but I do fear that his good intentions will paradoxically lead to his downfall. I hope I’m wrong.