It was refreshing to see the rise of a socialist voice in the run up to our last snap election, a call back to the roots of Labour and a steer away from the centrist economics of New Labour. Watching Glastonbury last weekend one couldn’t help but be moved and excited by the appetite for a new kind of politics and rhetoric, reinforced by the mantra: for the many, not the few.
This is certainly an ideal I cling to; that our society should be fairer and its wealth and success more evenly distributed. That ‘success’ is determined by how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable in society and not by the profits of large companies that are showering bonuses on their executives and stock-piling assets off shore to avoid paying tax.
But the clamour for Jeremy Corbyn has me worried and is perhaps worryingly a symptom of the very problems that we find ourselves challenging today. Our elections have become a popularity contest between individuals; a contest that is driven by spin, slogans and machinations. This is perhaps why Corbyn has been so successful. Because at his core he seems honest and unwilling to engage in this kind of political display. And it also perhaps explains Theresa May’s utter capitulation since calling the snap election, refusing to engage with the public and regurgitating slogans ad nauseam.
However this is the means by which politicians are judged now. We elect parties based on their leaders rather than their policies. In America this is understandable with a two-fold electoral system; one for the President and one for the House. This is not the case in the UK but we have become so used to the cult of the individual that it is almost impossible to see past this.
A key part of this problem is that it undermines the premise of what we are voting for at national elections. Foremost we are voting for our representatives in parliament; the person we want most to be the voice for our constituency in Westminster. Yes, we align these individuals according to a national party and its values but generally a successful MP is regarded as one that serves his constituency and not necessarily one that serves his party. This is perhaps the problem of party politics, where tribalism, allegiance and blind loyalty become the driving force of conversation; centralised dogma determining localised decision making and messaging rather than debate, dialogue and legitimate representation.
I have said it before but our system is broken.
First, our voting system is unrepresentative. Just look at some of the statistics from the Make Votes Matter and Electoral Reform Society websites to see how poorly a significant proportion of the country are represented at parliament. The First Past the Post system favours the larger parties and ignores those that come in second or third place. Nationally we can see how the percentage of votes cast seldom compares to the percentage of seats won: UK 2015 General Election. This ultimately leads to a parliamentary system that neglects those whose voice sits outside the main dialogue.
This inequality is reflected in the very fabric of Westminster itself, a building that pits one side against another in a them and us battle over the lives and governance of British people, rights and values. The building is an anachronism of a two-party state (originally the Whigs and the Tories before the arrival of the Labour movement in the early twentieth century). It is a division that is manifest in the very architecture of the building – MPs jeering and booing each other across a symbolic mace. It is a parliament that emphasises competition and division over collaboration and partnership.
In the run up to our recent election we heard the oft-repeated mantra ‘coalition of chaos’. Well for me government must be a coalition – a collaborative endeavour to reflect the views across society (“for the many, not the few” again). If you look at most modern parliaments the emphasis is on diversity, on accommodating a range of voices in debate. The buildings that accommodate parliament are often circular to support this unanimity of democracy. Yes allegiances form, majorities and minorities emerge. But that is a part of democracy. All voices should be heard (even if we don’t like what they have to say).
So back to Jeremy Corbyn. I am excited by a rise in the support for Labour and socialism. Particularly the rise amongst young voters; those whose future has been threatened by almost 40 years of Neoliberal capitalism. However I am concerned that the momentum for this is hanging on the shoulders of one person. With one person an idea can rise and fall. With a movement an idea can become a wave that overcomes obstacles.
So agree with Corbyn, challenge the status quo, but do more than chant “oh, Jeremy Corbyn” and stock up on novelty t-shirts. Be part of a movement, protest, shout. Make your voices heard and demand better from our current system. I would love Corbyn to be at the head of this wave but please don’t force him to be the fulcrum for it.
On first reading I wholeheartedly agreed with you however a niggling part of me is wondering if this would translate positively to the Glasto chanters and the like. We need people to get interested in politics to then be able to then grow their thoughts into more mature, long term, deeper, global views. At this time I would take a chanter over a disengaged, apathetic non voter.
Beautifully written and insightful as ever Cole x