There were Jeremy Corbyn shirts everywhere.
Now in fairness, I was in his constituency on election night, but still – in Britain one votes for a party, not for the leader, for she or he can be toppled.
In the lead up to the election in early June, Labour supporters had become Corbyn fanatics; a hero to save Britain’s faltering economy and struggling citizenry in a post-Brexit land. A man sent to save the poor and stop the corporate greed.
And yet there came a point where Labour didn’t seem to matter anymore; the focus was solely on Corbyn, the one-and-only professor ordained by the deities of democracy. Particularly among the younger generations, Corbyn is seen as a saintly figure (despite his apathy towards the nation’s Brexit problem). His views on domestic and social issues are favorable, but that doesn’t really answer a question I’ve been asking since he became Labour leader:
Is he the leader the people need him to be?
There is a difference between politics and governing; the former is a blood-sport, the latter is the tough job of diplomacy. To be effective as a national leader you need to compromise to take onboard ideas from all sides – from the extremes to the centrists – and then put together something which helps the most, and is for the most people. Simply: you cannot govern from only one side, from stubborn-minded principles, regardless of how popular you are.
Voices like Corbyn’s, and his US equivalent in Bernie Sanders, are effective in legislative bodies. The same can be said of the Ted Cruzes and Jeremy Hunts (we’ll ignore the abhorrence for a moment). A plethora of ideas is crucial in order to come to effective, and imperfect, solutions. But these men are hardliners, seeing policy in absolute terms, struggling to see slight opposition to their own opinions.
Corbyn and Sanders, however unintentionally, have introduced a new trait in the political sphere: purity testing. You only deserve to represent people if you are perfection personified, preferably with the same, exact views of Corbyn/Sanders archetypes. And if you fail the purity test then you best just shut up. We can see this in the often vitriolic responses by supporters of Corbyn and Sanders, the refusal to agree with anyone not entirely agreeable. For the Democrats, it was Bernie or Bust; for Labour it’s Corbynism, or Shut the Fuck Up.
Take the issue of the US minimum wage increases discussed during the 2016 Presidential Primaries: Sanders said $15 per hour, Hillary Clinton said $12. Sanders said $15 was a livable wage, Clinton said many rural areas, where living costs are not as high, would struggle to pay $15 in their communities. Sanders was a hero for the people, Clinton was a corporate shill. In reality? One was idealistic, the other, pragmatic.
Now don’t misunderstand me; Corbyn’s and Sanders’ voices are important and should be a large part of the conversation, not just for the weight they carry with their followers. But this all-or-nothing approach demonstrates an unwillingness to work with others. It sets in place these various absolutes which are either impossible to meet or will fail to win over huge swaths of a nation. Bernie or Bust proved this in November: Hillary wasn’t pure enough, so either votes went to Jill Stein or remained at home. And the result? Donald Trump and Theresa May.
Absolutes in politics are where governing fails, democracy crumbles, and pushes for improvement are resisted. So let’s discuss the alternative.
Moderacy. It is wildly uninspiring. It is boring in its specifics, and will make many want to hit their head against a wall. But it is also where progress is acquiesced by the obstructionists, where the majority of people, not just a party base, are considered.
The Affordable Care Act is an example of this: at inception it was met with significant resistance despite it being relatively moderate health care reform. Yet now, at a time where it could be repealed and replaced by god-knows-what, more people are suddenly asking about extreme options, like single-payer.
Purity politics established within the Sanders and Corbyn camps may see a push leftward for left-wing parties. And it is good to have these principles, to clearly stand for something instead of the tiresome bullshit most politicians utter in their non-answers to very simple questions. But dissent must be allowed to create pragmatic solutions or to just reaffirm said principles.
You’re always going to piss someone off in politics, so why not ensure that number is low? Moderacy may be imperfect, but it is practical. It opens the doors for more voices to be heard, including Corbyn’s and Sanders’.
The needs for an entire populace is not always going to be a populist partisan line. But this isn’t politics – it’s governing.