Jeremy Corbyn is a force for good in British politics. He holds sincere beliefs. He wears socks under his sandals. He is the headstone of a grassroots political surge that offers an alternative to the mainstream political narrative. Miliband failed to find the public’s erogenous zone (milifandoms aside). Perhaps Comrade Jezza’s frowsy sorority will fare better.
But, as a Labour voter myself, I cannot see myself voting for him.
Why is this? As a young and impressionable student, shouldn’t every sinew of my body be bloated with revolutionary blood? Here is my problem with Corbyn.
A vote for Corbyn is a vote for pacifism. Superficially this will manifest itself in his probable foreign policy. He would personally like to leave NATO, although he admits that there is no “appetite” among the public to leave the body. He sees NATO as a redundant force and a provocateur in Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. Democracy is frequently at the heart of Corbyn’s message and yet he fails to apply it to his foreign policy. Even if we shelve the Ukraine debate, what seems to be non-negotiable is the fact that several Baltic States are willing members of NATO and rightly feel safer for it. Comparing NATO to the Warsaw Pact is easy and unfair. Corbyn has been careful never to openly commend Putin, and doubtless he has real concerns over his human rights abuses, but his sympathy for Russia’s perceived grievances is concerning.
Take Putin’s recent unilateral air strikes on Syria. Whatever you think about Syria, and as complex as it has become, Putin is exerting his hand on the world stage. Discussion is all very well until someone decides that it isn’t; and then pacifism leaves you as a bystander. Welcome to the real world – where some people can’t be negotiated with. Corbyn has recognised this much with ISIS, the very heart of evil, but would he actually act outside the sphere of civilised dialogue? Sometimes we can’t negotiate, and sometimes we shouldn’t want to either. As recent chair of the ‘Stop the War Coalition’, his views on British foreign policy are fundamentally different to mine. In my view, pacifism is not a moral position.
To Corbyn’s credit, he does hold true to his convictions. When he invited the IRA to parliament, or consorted with Hamas in Gaza, I believe that he believed in what he was doing. His opponents argue that by giving the IRA hope that their armed struggle was working he actually prolonged the conflict, and many also point to Hamas’ charter as another point of objection. Whether or not you agree with him though, it’s clear that Corbyn believes in what he preaches. He is very much in spite of the consensus – and that’s what politics is about. Division. Fight. But will this still be true of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership?
His diehard pacifism makes him less desirable in my eyes, but it also has the potential to destabilise the party. This is because Corbyn applies his foreign policy ethos to inner party politics. He says he will “persuade” those who would disagree with him, in what is actually one of the more dishonest things he has ever said. How exactly will he convince people in his party to forego Trident?
The answer is that he isn’t going to and he shouldn’t be aiming to either if he wants a cohesive opposition. He needs to make executive decisions. Mimicking the Green Party by giving all members a voice in policy formulation is just nightmarish. Corbyn is trying to please too many people, feed the five thousand, and although general philosophies will stick for now, further down the line, when he needs to start laying out specifics, there will be problems. Despite this, I don’t think that the party will split. Labour will remain a ‘broad church’, but with a Jane at the alter – effectively trying to settle the differences between the Abrahamic faiths – it might well be an ineffectual one.
Britain is essentially a conservative country – conservative with a small ‘c’. Centrist politics, although we complain and moan about it, usually sits just about fine with most of us. See the decade of Tony Blair and the decadeless Michael Foot for further details. Centrist politics wins elections. Will Clause IV galvanise the public? I doubt it – but it doesn’t really interest me either way – you’re either a socialist or you’re not. What people need to decide is whether they’re happy with Corbyn’s pacifism. Politics is about settling conflict amicably, but it is also about recognising points of difference that cannot, and sometimes should not, be reconciled.