Jeremy Corbyn and the changing times

By Jill Segger
August 18, 2015

It has been said that when the Conqistadors' ships first sailed along the coast of Chile in the 16th century, the indigenous South Americans were unable to 'see' these vessels because they were so outside their frame of reference. Whether this is true or not, it does seem to illustrate the phenomenon of the political establishment’s reaction to Jeremy Corbyn's candidature in the contest for leadership of the Labour Party.

Some profoundly undemocratic and morally incoherent kneejerking has ensued. This ranges from seeking to stop a contest – of which the rules had been agreed – after it was under way, because the outcome looked increasingly unwelcome to some, to urging those who opposed Corbyn to pay their (previously discredited) £3 and vote for someone else. This would have been comical if it were not so damaging to trust, integrity and the standing of democratic processes.

Unedifying though this is, it may be less worrying than the wholesale abandonment of plain sense and of the failure to think beyond the tram-line tropes of machine politics. Apart from some belated recognition on the part of Andy Burnham that the energy released by Corbyn should be embraced and that voters, fed up with “the way, particularly Labour, has been conducting politics in recent times”, are indeed looking for something different, the other contenders appear to have been wholly wrong-footed.

Even Burnham's partial insight is apparently beyond the comprehension of Yvette Cooper who seems distressingly unable to abandon the robotic, pre-cooked and therefore slightly off-beam responses she offers to all questions and challenges. There is little point in insisting on “credibility” when every utterance illustrates precisely why so many voters no longer find much that is convincing or even interesting in the words of politicians.

The interventions of past Labour leaders, have, for different reasons, demonstrated an equal failure to comprehend how much the political landscape has changed or of the extent to which they have become yesterday's men. The constant attempts to make our flesh creep with references to the shambles of the late 70s and early 80s is futile. Not only because Jeremy Corbyn is so patently not Derek Hatton, but because the climate of 35 years ago now carries little meaning.

When I reached voting age, any attempt to scare me with the real or perceived failures of the Labour Party of my parents' youth would have made no impact on me at all and it would have been right that it should not. Bob Dylan's lyrics have never seemed more timelessly true:
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

Paradoxically, the changing times have thrown into sharp relief the strength of an older politician. Corbyn, at the age of 66, has not only lived through the decades glibly evoked by opponents who were then still children, but he has, throughout a long political life, shown remarkable consistency and steadfastness in his core beliefs. In an age of politicians so drilled in spin and bound with leading-strings of anxiety to focus groups that they are tongue-tied for changing times, his integrity speaks clearly and has found a receptive audience. Those who have been made afraid of this seem to be without resources of understanding. I hesitate to overload readers with poetical references, but Milton's Lycidas has something to say here.

It is at this point that I should say I am not a member of the Labour Party and that my union, the NUJ, is not affiliated to any political party. So I have no vote in this contest. But, like millions jaded with political-speak and close to despair over the destructive cruelty of neo-liberal socio-economics, I dare to hope for something better.

Whatever happens on 12 September, Jeremy Corbyn has released an energy that will not be easily put back in its box. Whether by refusing to indulge in reciprocal mud-slinging, by demonstrating faith that justice is brought about through bottom-up politics, or in understanding that conflict can only be resolved by having the courage to talk to all sides, the member for Islington North has, in words often used by my mother and which I will always cherish, helped us to “find a better way.”

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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