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I voted for Jeremy Corbyn today - and here's why

I was expecting to abstain, but in the end, I voted Jeremy Corbyn, says Neal Lawson. 

Today I surprised myself. So far I have been horribly and deeply ambivalent about the Corbyn Surge. I loved the fact that the glass ceiling on austerity, public ownership and Trident have been shattered. The energy it has released has been a joy.  But I worried deeply about a political project that might not be plural, carried at least traces of left elitism, didn’t understand our emerging network society and had little by way of an organisational or electoral strategy. I was going to abstain. 

I still worry deeply about those things.  But I voted for Jeremy Corbyn, with no illusions, although Compass, the organization I chair, has taken no formal position on the vote.  For someone avowedly of the soft left to vote for the candidate of the hard left is a big step. But things change.  There is no perfect wave, and Jeremy isn’t perfect. But this is not about the person but the moment and the wave the Corbyn candidacy has unleashed.  I voted for the wave.

The question is one of political strategy and ambition. Should we largely stick to current orthodoxies, hope to fall over the line first at the next election and make a now rampant global capitalism slightly more humane, i.e. continue the New Labour project plus or minus a bit?  Or do we need to radically reframe the debate in the search for a good society? Do we stick or twist?

Both options represent a huge gamble.  But this is why I shifted.  The Corbyn Wave is a window into what is possible. Its energy is breaking up the permafrosted soil that for 30 years has been too harsh for our dreams to grow in.  Labour as a party and a movement cannot survive electorally or politically unless it holds out the hope of radically changing society.  On this point time has caught up with New Labour. If the best it gets is to slow the pace at which the poor get poorer and the planet burns then its not enough to sustain us.  A party needs high ideals and deep organic roots in society if it is to transform that society. This cannot be done from the top down, only when a party meets a ground swell from below.

Realistically none of the candidates look like they can win the next election – so who will change the terms of debate and allow the prospect of a movement for change to be built so that we can win again for a real purpose? One more heave – doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome – or going with the wave of enthusiasm and energy being unleashed around the party for the first time in two decades?

Of course, Corbynism, as yet, is too crude a project.  It needs to open itself up to an array of voices, thoughts and ideas.  It could start by reading Frederic Laloux on Reinventing Organisations and Paul Mason on Post Capitalism.  But it holds the seeds of some hope. What those seeds grow into if it wins is then up to us – the wave.  

And here we have to stop the wars, feuds and the vitriol.  Labour must stop living each day like a rerun of the past. Whoever wins we can’t replay either 1945 nor 1997.  The world has moved on – so must the party.    And to get on with the country we have to first get on with each other. 

This means entering the world of, as  ‘reciprocal vulnerability’ (h/t Robert Phillips at Jericho Chambers) in which we recognise our weaknesses and those of others and build trust through our mutual interdependence.  No one in Labour has all the answers. Right, center and left will have to negotiate a new settlement or the Tories win. 

I watch in disappointment and some bewilderment as camps on either side call each other either Trot or Tory and then complain if they get back what they give. This cycle has to be broken.  Socialism has to be about believing the best in each other and having empathy. If you want to be a rebel then be kind! So whoever wins, their leadership will have to be incredibly open, generous and humble.

But the tipping point for me was the realization that what is happening around Labour is metaphor for what we want for our society.  For people to join, participate, debate and decide. Life as a democratic and collective endeavour.  In the summer of 2015 Labour is starting to prefigure the world we want to make happen. Because there are no short cuts to a good society – no leader and no elite of the right or left is going to do it for us  – we were always the people we have been waiting for. Jeremy Corbyn may or may not see that  - but the wave is starting to feel it.

Antonio Gramsci, the brilliant Italian socialist strategist said ‘we must live without illusions without being disillusioned’. I think that is the sentiment that should carry us.  The Corbyn Wave is a straw in the wind of a new way of being political.  It isn’t perfect, it could fail, I have no illusions  - but I must have hope.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones. 

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.