Democraton: A democratically elected and operated vessel incorruptible by personal conviction if at the expense of an informed public vote or sentiment.
Seeing old-school lefty Nick Cohen’s diatribe (which I suggest you read to make sense of this piece) against, well, other old-school lefty and (lowercase) new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made all and no sense to me.
I won’t say I agree with or condone all of Corbyn’s past, current or future affiliations or views, but that ignores the beauty of his dedication to democratic leadership: he can be formally swayed by the public opinion – and may well have been in his EU stance – and, much more apparently, he’s the best out of an institutionally and uniformly dire situation.
Attributing extremist commentary and criminality to a ‘Corbyn left’, as if Corbyn himself retains any modicum of responsibility for their behaviour, isn’t a good start by Cohen. Quoting BTL Guardian trolls as evidence of a ‘menacing’ force behind Corbyn’s wholly democratic success and operation is what’s ‘ridiculous’. Not to excuse the behaviour, but it’s endemic across the political spectrum.
He asserts that those on ‘the left will head for the right’, which may be the case for Blairites and those occupying centrist (read: contextually rightist) ground, but why would those with true left-wing views opt to squander their support on a government as far right as Cameron’s, as Cohen suggests? Why on earth would those on the left opt for austerity over renationalisation of public services; war and confrontation over peace and rapprochement; an Etonian automaton over a legitimate human being; a stuck-up douche over a genuine and self-declared democraton?
Cohen paints Owen Jones (who’s article he seems to have ignored) as having ‘abandoned journalism’, acting as ‘Corbyn’s PR man’. Though I shan’t excuse shoddy journalism, which I don’t find Jones guilty of domestically, I think he is performing a public service that, in the long term, will benefit our country more than actively defaming Jez will. He’s the best of a rotten bunch in many respects and by a long, long shot. By all means, we should comment, criticise and call Corbyn to account, but discrediting the first meaningful opposition this country’s produced in my whole lifetime isn’t going to get us very far. That Cohen’s highlighted the issue of people swaying to the right whilst instigating exactly that in the same column speaks much of his conflicted principles – which we will get to.
‘The left is why’ people on the left ‘leave the left’, Cohen says – and he’s right. The left isn’t fun, leftist politicking isn’t enjoyable and you will forever have turncoats of all (mostly pin)stripes. ‘Better the centre right than the far left’, they used to say, but now Cohen reckons they’ll say ‘better the centre right than the far right.’ I think this is a misinterpretation of the political landscape, shot through with Peter Hitchens-esque defeatism: a misunderstanding of what is happening, what is now possible and what needs to be done en route to making ‘it’ happen.
The Overton Window (the realm of acceptable political debate, often decided as history is: by the victors) is already aligned in such a way that all the general public can accept, or even see, is right wing: Ed Miliband, proposing modest caps on energy bills whilst still conforming to the politics of austerity, was painted as a communist for crying out loud. Corbyn’s offer of a democratically constructed and accountable alternative to the current Establishment should be lauded and nurtured, not dismissed on account of his personal political beliefs or affiliations, given they don’t intrude on public policy – an unmanageable caveat for the consensus of politicians.
But Corbyn doesn’t go by the consensus, hence his cumulative momentum. He is the first vessel for a legitimate democratic overhaul of the Establishment there has been in several decades: he could represent his personal convictions but he has openly and commendably chosen to represent the public instead – democracy’s paramount. This is not something to be rubbished, it is something all disenfranchised should treasure dearly. He seems incorruptible.
Sadly, being incorruptible isn’t enough in the UK, where Murdoch holds sway over a disproportionate amount of British media.
The Conservatives weren’t elected on account of compassionate policymaking or competency – that’s for fucking sure – they were elected pursuant to a mass, coordinated media campaign forced through mainstream channels down the throats of people undecided as between voting for Cameron (austerity with some credibility) and Miliband (austerity-lite with zero credibility). And the rest is Horrible Histories.
Corbyn’s people politics (trolling the Tory party conference – inspired) is an attempt, perhaps mindful, at bypassing the bollocks of mainstream media (or “MSM”) and empowering the masses through old-school demonstration and protest. He’s not giving the media an awful lot to latch on to…
The more humanity and normality he radiates, the MSM’s attempted counterweight becomes evermore desperate, ridiculous and a lot of people (are at least starting to) see right through it.
He is a run-of-the-mill, standard-issue person, supporting normal people in a room full to the embroidered brim with privately educated, corporately connected and publically disconnected politicians ensuring their ilk become richer at the expense of those below the upper crust of our increasingly unjust and unequal society.
The politics of hope has finally returned: we should be on the streets commemorating and demonstrating and celebrating a voice that has vowed to speak in the interest of voices that have gasped for democratic air for too long.
Why throw this chance away?
Well, let’s address this issue in as pragmatic and reasonable a manner as one can (because nobody fucking else is). The essence of Nick Cohen’s exception to Corbyn is his historically dubious affiliations, or, rather, his preference to engage, reconcile and avoid confrontation, verbal or otherwise. Cohen, in turn, makes the assumption that an affiliation is an endorsement (does this cheapen Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba and Iran?).
Ethically, it’s not an ideal position to be in, but Corbyn has no intention of putting principle before practicality when it comes to his politicking, he wouldn’t be shelving his personal views for those democratically directed he did.
Cohen gives a series of strong examples. I won’t lend credit to the affirmation that ‘the Labour party has just endorsed an apologist for Putin’s imperial aggression’ because of an appearance on RT, and I’ve not the time, patience or knowledge to trawl through each, so I’ll talk a little on one which I do – Iran.
Without delving too deep, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a huge, ancient, populous, predominantly Shiite and Persian (not Arab) country that’s been historically humiliated by the UK (and US) for more than a century. It was ruled for a quarter-century by a savage Anglo-American-installed dictator who was in turn overthrown during a beautifully authentic popular revolt known as the Iranian, or Islamic, Revolution of 1979. It was, like too many revolutions before and after, hijacked by a band of megalomaniacal cronies before democratic implementation could take its course. Since, it has suffered the most grotesque attacks upon any non-combative nation ever (Iran has never invaded any nation): diplomatic, economic and military assaults include being dubbed part of an ‘Axis of Evil,’ having murderously crippling economic sanctions inflicted upon it for decades and having cyanide gas exploded on its civilian populations by a Western-back dictator (you may have heard of) respectively – all directly or indirectly instigated by the US and UK. (Had you heard the rest of the world’s version of Iranian history before?)
Corbyn’s position on Iran is consistent with his position on other countries with entire societies scarred by colonial hangovers and economies razed by western sanctions (that have been shown not to achieve what they are meant to (factually, the opposite viz. Iranian discontent with the West, Ahmadinejad support, public rallying around nuclear issue)) – the carrot rather than the stick; conversation rather than confrontation; let’s aim to be friends rather than foes.
In view of the current British government opening an embassy in Iran (surely more of an ‘endorsement’) whilst our militaries increasingly deepen cooperation in respect of the Iraq and Syrian situation, all the while selling state of the art arms to the arguably more brutal and repressive regional competitors about the Middle East, what’s Corbyn’s sincere approach in comparison? Is it too lacking in cynicism? Or too lacking in the self-defeating ‘us or them’ approach that Cohen, and the late Hitch, would advocate with such regimes? It achieves nothing more than a token feel-good pride at the expense of the innocent who continue to suffer (if anything, worse so).
Compromise with unsavoury regimes is never ideal, but it’s much better an approach than the current government employs and the hypothetical cultural war Cohen and Hitch would have had us wage. Some do.
I fucking despise theocracy. I’ve a visceral hatred for the Iranian Mullahs and particularly regret how they opportunistically counter-revolutionised gains popularly made in 1979; I doubt they much impress Corbyn either, but we’ll be in a better place ten years down the line on account of politicians like him cooperating with regimes like this rather than ‘confronting’ them. (Or should Obama have bunker-bombed Qom instead?)
It’s not a nice place to be, but it works – and it’s working. Even the US has made compromises throughout its negotiation with the regional power: at no point did Kerry say, ‘Fair terms, this could immeasurably improve the geopolitical scene and global stability, but as I’m opposed to the IRGC’s conduct, I believe we shouldn’t cooperate on this or other issues.’ (By the by, who on earth would cooperate with the US or UK on anything if this was the standard?)
It’s frustrating that principled stances come at the cost of meaningful dialogue or political practicality; that’s why the German’s coined the term ‘realpolitik.’ Realpolitik is the reason the US is too chummy with Saudi Arabia, the UK too cosy with Kazakhstan and the otherwise unlikely relationship between China and Pakistan exists at all. Realpolitik is the reason behind the shutting down of the French Riviera for the Saudi royal family’s visit and the UK’s tallest and most superfluous skyscrapers having Qatari owners.
What you can be sure of, is that the UK will be taking one helluva more principled stance in both domestic and foreign policy if Jez ever takes the helm. (I could link to evidence ad infinitum, but I can depressingly assume you’re well aware of the British penchant for selling billions of pounds worth of state of the art war machine to countries on its own human rights blacklists.)
What Cohen wrongly accuses Owen Jones of doing – being a PR man for Corbyn – is what I will be accused of for writing these words. I’m a cheerleader for Corbyn because he’s the best of what’s Left, a sad and happy thought in many respects and contexts, but the best he still is.
The dichotomy between the left of peace and rapprochement and the left of principle and argument (read: self-defeating confrontation) is clearer now than ever before. Why force the split, indeed any split, with the potential of a man with a self-declared committal to entirely democratic service having a possible, palpable, shot at governance?
Why ‘resign’ and defeat yourself and your cause rather than work to change what you can with your dwindling democratic clout? Why would such a vociferous proponent of free speech squander this most important of liberties on account of a democraton’s relentless dedication to diplomacy?
I was wrong to have expected Cohen to cheer Corbyn, I’ve read enough of him and the Hitch to have known better. It saddens me to see that he hasn’t supported Jez We Can, if not agreed with all of Corbyn’s personal affiliations and beliefs.
Looking at the demonstrations, hearing his Prime Minster’s Questions, feeling the hope he’s inspiring across generations – why try to deflect the first ray of (genuine) hope felt by anyone in decades? (The warmest ray I’ve had the nonpleasure to feel was shone from Russell Brand’s ass during his Newsnight tirade.)
For all of the leftist ‘movement’ across the EU, for all the (evidently fatuous) social media offensives and headless chickening in general, I cannot find a true British lefty having achieved anything close to a feasible revolutionary atmosphere in several long and miserable decades.
Jez has in a few short weeks.
It’s been sat in British air for too long: a heavy, heady mist of highly combustible public discontent that mainstream politicians have been uneager or unable to ignite, instead allowing it to collect frustratingly on our persons. We stink of it. I fucking reek of it.
So, if Cohen could excuse so many of the outrageous views of the Hitch, what’s the issue with old Jezza?
Well, principle comes at a price. Cohen and the Hitch knew this better than any of their journalistic contemporaries before, during and especially after beating their war drums along with the MSM march on Iraq. Cohen was happy in attempting to rally an unwilling and unprecedentedly demonstrative British public behind creating a Mesopotamian atmosphere heavy with the mist of depleted uranium and thermobaric cocktail. Who the fuck is he to take this domestic atmosphere from that same war-weary British public?
Jez illustrates the dichotomy here nicely: “We should be for human rights, not military interventions”.
Cohen will die on his sword, as he was happy for too many to do in Iraq at the expense of he and his fellow armchair generals, writing toward a fairytale war: flitting through an unfeasibly diverse and ancient land, ‘flash some phosphorous here; win some hearts and minds there.’ A dying breed with notions naïve.
Corbyn’s spirit and cause, however, is imperishable. Sure, compromises need to be made, but fewer will be made by his hand and with far fewer ethical implications.
The leader of the first politically legitimate and democratically accountable opposition in a quarter-century: I reckon in five years time he’s either going to be assassinated, which can be realised in more than one sense of the word, or Prime Minister.
But, as Cohen wisely states, “prophesies are for fools”.
Do you agree or disagree with these words? Perhaps you like some more than others? Why not like, comment, share and criticise them on social media.
Ideally, I’d like Nick Cohen to see this piece so he can respond; if you could tweet it to him @NickCohen4, it would be hugely appreciated.