Something has been happening in politics in the UK this summer. At first, it seemed inconsequential: a bearded rebel entered the Labour leadership race, let in on a whim and a prayer at the eleventh hour. And like another bearded rebel (though maybe with less messianic, more measured zeal) a movement gathering momentum around him, as crowds flocked to witness the phenomenon of a politician with a track record of doing his job not only preaching hope, but revealing through policy what many of us have known for some time: that Emperor Dave of Austerityland has no clothes.
I first heard Corbyn speak on a Newsnight clip posted on Facebook. Up to that point, I had been more inclined to vote for Cooper. While I was impressed by the directness of what he had to say, I was cautious. The turning point for me (and I suspect for many others) was the vote on the Welfare Bill. It became abundantly clear that there was no opposition, no one who would challenge growing inequality, no conscience left in the race other than Corbyn. Only careerist politicians who would rather toe the party line for their own self-aggrandisement rather than face the obvious truth that Labour had lost the election so ignominiously because it now served the advancement of the few rather than the many.
Essentially, it’s linked to two concepts which have become foreign not just to British politics, but politics worldwide over the last 40 years: that of conscience and compassion. It wasn’t always thus. But the rise of political assaults on the concept of society and the ties that bind us as human beings has created an illusion of rampant individualism. To a certain extent, this has proven successful in the time-honoured tradition of divide and conquer. You’re either an economic aspirant in the mould (in the UK) of a New Labourite or Thatcherite barrow boy (or girl); or you are an affront to the system. Either get with the neoliberal agenda, or get left behind in the economic Darwinian Utopia. The mentality of ‘As long as I’m alright (Union) Jack, I don’t care’.
There come moments in politics when an outsider is desperately needed. I can only remember one other such authentic breath of fresh air in my lifetime, and that was when Mary Robinson, the rank outsider, overtook the then odds-on favourite Brian Lenihan due to his involvement in a political scandal, and went on to become the President of Ireland. Robinson was an Independent TD (equivalent of MP), known as an outsider, who re-shaped what the Presidency meant in Irish political life and, to an extent, Ireland’s standing internationally.
Corbyn, as is well-documented, is also an outsider. In Westminster, though it seems as if on a personal level he is universally liked, he is seen as part of the ‘awkward’ brigade, a political anachronism i.e. an MP with a conscience. After decades of cronyism, corporatism, flipping homes, expenses scandal, and hints of a looming sex scandal, Westminster is radically in need of an overhaul.
Nowhere has this been starker than in the current scandal engulfing No.10 i.e. PigGate. Besides the obvious ‘Schweinenfreude’ of the PM being caught out in an act of porcine necrophilia lies another story: i.e. the elite groups that run this country engaging in acts of debauchery that for most people would be beyond the pale, and those groups binding each other together in symbiotic lifelong relationships built on deep-buried secrets. At least we can be thankful (unlike in Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’) that the pig was dead; but there is still a macabre air of disrespect pervasive in the whole escapade that is mind-boggling for the majority of us not used to the bizarre rituals of the Oxbridge elite. According to contemporaneous sources (like Roswynne Jones in the Mirror) these were far from isolated incidences.
Added to that is the assumption by characters like Lord Ashcroft that they can buy their way into a position. Now obviously he didn’t; but given the damage this revelation has wreaked on Cameron personally, rather than the party as a whole, it is wildly apparent that hell hath no fury like a Lord scorned, and there had been an expectation that was not fulfilled. The very fact that there can be this expectation in Westminster speaks volumes about how politics in the UK has been corporatised and bartered for, and when the last #Hameron joke has been told and the laughter has died down, this is the issue at stake: can any truly democratic system sustain this kind of politics anymore?
I believe it can’t. I’ve lived in the UK for 17 years, and for 12 of those it was by and large a fairly tolerant society. We’re at a nadir in political life here after a 5 year onslaught against the poor, the vulnerable, the young, and 4 decades of Gekkoist political practice. If I were to put this biblically, the glorification of Mammon has risen to a cruel height, obfuscating the real purpose of politics: to work for and with people. This was most obvious as well in Corbyn’s first week, where he was pilloried for doing his job, rather than engaging in political sporting propaganda. It says a lot about the need the media, corporations, and the government have to brainwash the population with jingoism when so much column space is directed negatively at someone standing and (in line with his well-known republican beliefs) respectfully not singing. Maybe one could argue that the same could be said of Cameron i.e. that his youthful act of porcine fellatio was not directly hurting the dead pig – however, there is something inherently invasive and disrespectful about it. Even leaving #PigGate aside, his scripted, repetitive, spin-drenched responses to the questions posed to him by the public through Corbyn further served to reveal the huge chasm in thinking of the elite 1% versus the real-life toll that ideological austerity is taking on the 99%.
In the words of Kant “He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Certainly in the light of that statement, many of the inherently anti-human policies Cameron has endorsed (including most recently his compassionless reaction to the plight of the refugees) over the last 5 years should be called into question. Those who voted the Tories back into power on a majority (however slight) need to call into question their own values therein. Because in the cold hard light of day, who appears to be more fit to be Prime Minister: the bearded outsider who has a proven 32 year record of working hard for the people he represents, and wants everyone to aspire to a better life, where the basic needs of food, housing, healthcare set the lowest bar of a thriving democracy ; or the brash Oxfordian with a penchant for bestial necrophilia whose main raison d’être is to advance the interests of his corporate chums in a non-inclusive playground?