On Thursday Iain Dale, a presenter on LBC tweeted: ‘Is this the most right wing #bbcqt evah?’ Dale, a friend, is not a leftie. He once tried to get selected as a Conservative parliamentary candidate. Yet he seemed to have been discomfited by the blatant political bias of the Question Time panel that night. Cat Smith, a newish Labour MP and Shadow Minister For Women had to take on the Government minister Nick Boles, Ukip MEP Patrick O’Flynn, Kelvin Mackenzie and Camilla Long of the Sunday Times. Angry viewers complained to the Corporation, as is par for the course. These little flurries maintain the illusion that this is a lively democracy where all views are taken seriously by our beloved Auntie Beeb.
Here’s the hard truth: our most powerful institutions and individuals are Conservative (with a capital C). This Government, the royal family, the leaders of the armed forces, newspaper proprietors and most editors, the Institute of Directors, CBI, shareholders of commercial broadcasting companies, Oxbridge chancellors, our ambassadors, key government advisors, peers, those now appointed to quangos and public service boards share core beliefs about wealth, privilege, capitalism, militarism, individualism and self interest. They ensure that citizens keep to the right.
Thatcher’s heir was Blair; Cameron is the love child of both. Clegg and Brown tried to stand up for fairness, but were too feeble or easily seduced by the trappings of high office. Bitter, leftover Blairites carry on as if there is no alternative. Some modern trades unions have also surrendered to the dominant credo and become political eunuchs. Arrogant, amoral neo-liberalism expects never to be challenged or to have to give way to other models.
For years now, the police, governments and secret services have spied on, infiltrated and tried to discredit or criminalise those fighting economic injustice, racism, environmental devastation and state surveillance. Most Britons passively accept these and other illegal state activities and do not challenge the status quo. In this age of tweets and blogs, sound and fury, the established order remains firmly in charge.
This is why Jeremy Corbyn deserves much respect. With his biblical beard and gaunt face, he is a David taking on not just one, but an army of political and economic Goliaths, plus grouchy, pro-New Labour journos. I am not a Corbyn groupie, just a socialist who believes we can and must be a more equal, open and mature democracy, not one owned or controlled by vested interests. A free society is one which allows real policy choices between parties. We haven’t had that for over 35 years. It is time.
Last week Corbyn made an impassioned speech at the Fabian Society conference and said he wanted new legislation to ensure that senior executives would not be paid astronomically higher incomes than their workers: “Pay inequality on this scale is neither necessary nor inevitable.” In 1980 the ratio was between 1:14 to 44; in 1998, the average was 1:47. Now in the FTSE 100 companies, one CEO earns 780 times more than his staff, and many others, including the boss of Next took home around 450 times more dosh than those who toil for him. Among the G7 nations only the UK and US have such gross differentials.
Corbyn also floated the excellent idea that restrictions should be placed on shareholder dividends if the companies do not pay a Living Wage to all their staff. (Only a quarter of FTSE 100 firms do).
Now tell me, are these policies outlandish or communist? That is how they were reported in almost all the media outlets. Let’s look at Trident next. Kevin Jones, described laughably as a “moderate” Labour MP, has been sounding off about how his leader has a “duty” to support the nuclear “deterrent” – which sure isn’t daunting Isis or Russia at present. There is no rational or political case that can be made for this monstrosity which will cost more than £100bn. Field Marshal Lord Carver, a former Chief of the General Staff, remained opposed to Trident till he died in 2001: “What the bloody hell is it for?”
In May last year, on the BBC’s This Week, Michael Portillo, a former Defence Secretary, came out against Trident renewal: “Our independent nuclear deterrent is not independent and does not constitute a deterrent against anybody that we regard as the enemy. It is a waste of money.” But it makes its builders filthy rich and its backers feel virile. So on this issue, Corbyn is not being a loony lefty, but a defender of the realm and its revenues.
The Tories were smirking but are now a little nervous of this iconoclast. New members, many of them young, are joining Labour in extraordinary numbers. Cameron is suddenly finding his compassion for the poor and hopeless. I suggest this comes from a realisation that Corbyn speaks to and arouses those who believe mainstream politicians do not give a damn about those who are not middle class. The young, too, are becoming more emboldened: the representatives of striking junior doctors have shown guts and moral leadership which shows just how timid and useless older trades union members have become.
Corbyn does make mistakes and I think he is too soft on Muslim extremism. Some of his ideas and appointments are questionable. He isn’t smooth, cool or dashing. But he is an honest broker who takes on the dark forces of conservatism. So, too, are some other emerging leaders across the west. Even in the US, where socialism is feared more than Ebola, Bernie Sanders, 74, fighting for the Democratic nomination, describes himself as a “democratic socialist” and is forging ahead.
Real democrats from right to left should welcome this revival. Competition is good for society. Ask any capitalist.
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