Yesterday was the last day of the Labour Party conference in Brighton and for many esteemed political commentators, the temptation to spend column inches tearing down former leader Jeremy Corbyn has proved too delicious to resist.
Nevermind that current leader Keir Starmer kicked off the conference by haggling over changes to leadership election rules, instead of providing clear, positive messages for voters, or that Starmer’s truly lacklustre performance over the last 17 months has muddied the waters to a point where no one’s really sure what Labour actually stands for anymore.
Nevermind that the current Labour frontbench could be holding the shabby, deceitful and grotesquely selfish bunch of clowns running the country to account over food and fuel shortages, avoidable Covid deaths and the likelihood that we’re heading for another “winter of discontent” that will surely devastate the poorest and most vulnerable people in Britain.
No, it’s far easier and more fun to keep going after Corbyn, sneering that he’s better off on the sidelines, belittling those who support him and pronouncing Labour a “serious party again” now he’s no longer leader.
There’s a real culture in the media of certain commentators painting themselves and people who share their views as the “grownups” in the conversation. Anyone with the temerity to hope for a fairer Britain, for the many, not the few, is relegated to the status of “silly child” or “hard left loony”.
It’s a way of defending the status quo, of making sure that no one who wants to tackle injustice and poverty gets ideas above their station. They’re making sure we know that common sense, fully-costed policies like free, universal broadband, a social house-building programme, a 50 per cent tax rate for the highest 1 per cent of earners and an ethical National Care Service – policies that would actually transform the lives of ordinary people (and can’t in good faith be described as “hard left”) – will never get a fair hearing.
There’s absolutely zero recognition from most quarters that Corbyn got more previously apathetic people interested in politics, made more people feel seen and the realities of their lives recognised, and inspired more people to get out and campaign, than all of the current Labour drips on the frontbench combined.
Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Labour as members under Corbyn’s leadership, and an “exodus” took place as Keir Starmer made it his priority to ensure Corbyn’s supporters felt as unwelcome as possible.
Far from there being a weird little cult of personality around Corbyn, he was greeted by crowds in cities up and down the UK because people felt that someone was actually speaking up for them and providing a compassionate alternative to Tory austerity. These people have been disrespected and disenfranchised under Starmer, and they are still being disrespected by the commentators who talk about them like they’re some bizarre sub-species, “the Corbynites”.
It still feels intensely disappointing that Corbyn’s leadership was marred by a sustained campaign of media smears, something that Starmer has not been subjected to. Starmer has had a cushty ride in the press compared to his predecessor, despite failing to stand by the manifesto promises he was elected leader on, failing to unite the party – indeed, going out of his way to alienate people – and failing to take the fight to the Tories in any meaningful manner.
There’s no good having a lacklustre “B team” opposition, that people choose when they’re fed up of Tory lies and incompetence, and then end up getting something that’s not particularly different in terms of policy. Jeremy Corbyn offered something different, and he’s still being crucified for it.
The media loves it that Corbyn’s back on the outside, but he brought with him a message of hope for a great many people who have been long failed by the political establishment, and that’s never been fully appreciated.
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