Monthly Archives: September 2015

Corbyn, Conference, Commentariat

I haven’t said or written too much lately.

1) I’ve been thinking
2) I’ve been listening (to borrow from the new Labour leader’s speech)
3) I’ve been reading
4) And perhaps… I’ve been holding my breath

Conference is a beast. It’s long, it’s tiring – that’s democracy for you. Motions are debated and defeated or carried. People huddle furiously in corners, rewriting wording, writing words, lobbying, networking, finding the fringe. By the end, everyone is exhausted – which is more or less the point at which Jeremy Corbyn had to give his so-called make-or-break speech.

I am not uncritical of Corbyn. His attachment to mismatched jackets reminds me of English teachers from my 1970s childhood – but it’s not a deal-breaker and it’s shallow enough of me to even mention it. More substantially, the autocued performance in his speech today was a bit distracting. And the repetition about his mandate is starting to wear thin. Still, that’s nit-picking and I am glad I voted for him. Let Corbyn get on with his big tent, bottom up approach to policy and see where it gets us. It’s an experiment, there are no guarantees, but at least there is hope for a robust opposition and an alternative message for many of us – something that has been lacking for a long time.

I woke on the morning after the last general election fearful that the country I live in had gone mad. That my neighbours and colleagues were all closet Tories. That society was gone to the dogs and it was every woman, man jack for themselves. When I hear Corbyn speak, I see it is not so. When I watched people at conference today, getting to their feet, applauding, I feel it is not so. When strangers on Twitter confess to a tear in their eye when Corbyn speaks about mental health for all of us, I know it is not so. For now, that’s enough for me.

As conference wends its weary way home tomorrow, the commentariat will be left clucking for the next story. As autumn turns into winter Corbyn is not probably not knowingly going to give them one – they’ve had their initial feeding frenzy after his election, after all.

The fact is that true democracy is a cumbersome creature. It is based on consensus, collaboration, debate and negotiation. It can take hours to navigate and achieve – in action, its daily operation is boring, punctuated by the odd high (and low). Democracy in action is not the headline-grabbing duel that parliamentary ritual makes it out to be. It is not the abusive, name-calling, character-attacking charade that the print press constantly twist it into. Corbyn’s respectful approach will make the jobs of those attached to that modus operandus harder going forward. At the risk of using a double negative: I can’t say I’m not sorry.

For the first time in my life, I can actually see, hear and read what the Labour Party have to say for themselves, unmediated by the media. That’s a privilege; I intend to use it wisely. I hope I will not be alone.

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JC: The Crucifixion

I often wake with ideas, most of which I forget, but the one this morning seems to have stuck. This morning’s metaphor was slightly muddled, but bear with…

I woke with a strong association between Jesus Christ, who I like to think of as a radical humanist activist and teacher (that’s courtesy of the philosopher Don Cupitt at Philosophy Bites) and the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The similarities are obvious and go slightly deeper than their initials and a beard. The religious thing is trickier, as Corbyn is an atheist. In terms of the minor particulars, no-one knows if Jesus wore a vest, or if he refused to sing the Roman national anthem.

Jesus was popular with the people. He decried the money lenders and he defied the establishment. The powers that were back then in Jerusalem weren’t having any of it, so they arrested the trouble-maker at night but nailed him to a cross in broad daylight.

Jeremy Corbyn is popular with some of the people. And the majority of the media are keen to crucify his reputation and principles by butchering his interviews for decontextualised soundbytes, whilst incessantly ridiculing his values and beliefs. (I am aware the Garden of Gethsemene comparison would work better if the newspapers were less a digital creation and the news still broke at dawn with the paper hitting the mat).

The country could be divided down one line this evening: on one side those of us who couldn’t give a toss whether he moved his lips to music in a church with others, to those who feel that failure to fully partake of a musical ritual, whilst not wearing a suit, is an abomination on the face of this earth.

Is it the same line that divides those of us who think that refugees are first and foremost people and should be treated in a humanitarian way, or those of us who think it’s all a crafty ploy to get an easy life, and potentially smuggle in a member of ISIS whilst one is at it? Probably not, people are more complex than that… aren’t they?

If nothing else, Jeremy Corbyn’s election is serving to show me how this country sees things. Oh, and I never knew anyone could be crucified over a song.

Clearly I have taken a somewhat reductive approach to a burning issue, but I am boggled by how worked up people get about honouring war, the monarchy, and the singing of a rather rubbish song. I asked my children what they thought – they said they don’t even know the words to the national anthem. I think I’ll leave them in their ignorance, until they move into politics or the armed forces, or the guides.

O Frabjous Day

The results of the Labour leadership election were announced today. I was pretty confident that it would be Corbyn who was victorious, not least because Paddy Power paid out on the bets backing Corbyn weeks ago on August 18th. When a bookie pays out early – you know. Jeremy Corbyn was returned with a stunningly wide share of the vote 59.5% overall – a mandate that will surely stun the naysayers into silence until Christmas, at least.

The last Frabjous Day the blog enjoyed was the Scottish Independence Day.  Except it went a bit awry, and lost a bit of frabjousness along the way, because one too many of our Scottish brothers and sisters voted the wrong way.

Now today is the one true Frabjous Day and although we may have to wait a little while for the denouement, in which our own dear beamish boy Jeremy Corbyn slays the Jabberwock at the despatch box, in the media, and beyond, currently the blog is pretty stoked.

And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

I don’t agree with everything that JC says, but, his main themes: equality, pacifism, social justice through anti-austerity and a humanitarian approach to displaced people resonate. Not since Tony Benn have I found a politician quite as compelling in terms of values and vision.

It’s not a slick vision. Like me, it’s a bit snaggle-toothed and whiskery round the edges. On a bad day it’s a bit crumpled and snappy. But it’s real and it makes sense and it offers hope.

But it can’t be delivered to us, the public, by the politicians alone – not even JC can achieve that. What’s needed is for all of us to step up, to speak out, to live the values everyday that politicians are so good talking about. Jeremy Corbyn, to his credit, understands this. After the event where he became the Labour Leader, along with Tom Watson as his deputy, he attended a march of solidarity with refugees. Then his team dropped Labour members an email. I’ll be holding David Cameron to account on Wednesday at PM’s Question Time. What do you want me to ask him.

Now, that is democracy in action. Don’t watch this space though – get up and play your part because we all, all, all have a part to play.

We just need to figure out what it is.