Thursday, 16 July 2015

Self-evident truths

I hold this truth to be self-evident, that Donald Trump is an unelectable oaf* who can do nothing for the party he wants to lead except turn it into a laughing stock. And I'm not alone. The more his opponents see of Trump, the more gleeful they become.

Trump's not the only leadership candidate some people are dismissing as a joke who can only hurt the party he's standing for. Some on the British right seem to believe that it is just as self-evident that if the Labour Party elects Jeremy Corbyn, or gives any of his ideas the time of day, the party will  inevitably become an unelectable joke, so they're urging rightists to back Corbyn in order to sabotage Labour's election chances for the foreseeable future.

To me and people who share my point of view Corbyn may not be 'leadership material' (whatever that would look like), but, unlike Trump, we don't see his pronouncements as mere aggressive, incoherent self-promoting bluster:
If Jeremy Corbyn is pulling ahead now, it is largely because the other candidates have had so little to say. Yes, of course we have to win elections, because the people we represent cannot afford the luxury of oppositionism. But we need values, a clarity of vision and an understanding that you do not win by aping the political framing set out by your opponents. It’s argued that Corbyn as leader would lose the next election – but, in all honesty, has anything we have heard from the other candidates suggested that they can bring back those millions of voters who have deserted Labour, either for UKIP or abstention, since the high-water mark of 2001? 
In other words he's giving his party a sense of direction (and not, as in Trump's case a direction that will lead them over the edge of a cliff).

Three considerations spring to mind:
  1. As far as I'm concerned, Corbyn makes some reasonable points - there are plenty of economists who'd agree with him that austerity and deficit fetishism were bad ideas which haven't worked. It also seems reasonable of him to point out that it doesn't look like a winning strategy to copy the policies of your opponents, only with a bit less conviction, especially when their policies are built on such shaky foundations.
  2. Although he does (in my opinion) make a reasonable case, it might be that, rational or not, his arguments lie so far outwith the prevailing Overton Window that Labour's best strategy is to go Tory-lite, bide its time and maybe hope to sneak through a few vaguely progressive bits of legislation, should the Conservatives make enough mistakes, or have enough bad luck ('events, my dear boy, events') to give their opponents the opportunity to govern. But a weak, me-too opposition that's permanently on the back foot is precisely what the Conservatives would like most, isn't it? Which brings me to my third consideration:
  3. The Telegraph seems to believe that it is a self-evident truth that Corbyn (or a Labour Party which accepts his views) is unelectable. But do they sincerely believe that? Maybe they're just spinning the idea that 'of course' adopting any political programme that deviates from the orthodoxy of the last few years must be a suicidal mistake and smearing the only person promoting those ideas as the loser the Conservative would really like to be up against. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that what people of a Telegraph frame of mind would really like is an opposition that has conceded the battle of ideas to the Tories and lacks the confidence to challenge the staus quo either in opposition or government.
Do the right really see Corbyn's candidacy as a Trump-style joke, or are they just pretending, in order to make mischief? I don't know for sure, but I suspect that they fear his relatively coherent ideas rather more than American liberals fear whatever assortment of semi-digested nuggets Donald Trump's next bulimic brain dump will heave up.

Mind you, maybe we shouldn't always dismiss the threat of the actual joker in the pack. After all, we already have our own self-promoting, incoherent, xenophobic bombastic, Tronald Dump equivalent in Britain and his unexpected appeal looks like a real problem (and not just for the right, as some people, including me, once complacently predicted).

*Bonus trivia factoid - I've only just found out why the word 'oaf' is used to describe a foolish person:
Oaf. A variant of the old English ├Žlf ('elf'). A foolish lout or dolt is so called from the notion that an idiot is a CHANGELING, a child left by the fairies in place of a stolen one.

Changeling. A peevish, sickly child. The notion used to be that the fairies took a healthy child and left in its place one of their starveling elves which never thrived. The word literally means 'changed person'.
From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

I'm guessing that J R R Tolkien, as a professor of Anglo-Saxon, must have been aware of this, although in his fiction, the noble, beautiful, immortal elves hardly fit the picture of elves as clodhopping oafs. Maybe he just opted to ignore this piece of folklore when creating his mythos, or perhaps he reasoned that elves are some kind of appalling eugenicist master race, banishing any less-than-perfect child to be raised by the human untermenschen, leaving an eleven society composed only of healthy stock. Maybe somebody who got further than the first few chapters of The Hobbit and knows more about Middle Earth that merely having seen a couple of the film adaptations might know a bit more.


Anonymous said...

Alas I have a gut feeling that Jeremey Corbyn may be unelectable.Your earlier post exposing the other-worldly view of the Greek crisis promulgated in the FT, a purported financial paper,shows how narrow and controlled the Overton Window has become.One only has to talk to people about Climate Change where a proven scientific fact is dismissed or denied to realise that any deviation to the prevailing heterodox will be ruthlessly crushed.Anything that threatens the wealth and power of the ruling elite will attacked in the MSM.I remember what happened to Neil Kinnock even Ed Milliband received the treatment,you can imagine what is going to happen to Mr Corbyn not only his politics but his character will be traduced.People look to simple narratives in a world that is too complex for them.I would prefer a Labour leader who puts principals before mindless pursuit of power just dont hold your breath waiting for them to become PM