Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn winning power isn't the end of the battle - it's the start

Left-wing governments in Greece and Chile were not prepared for the forces arrayed against them. 

On this day, 44 years ago, tanks sat outside La Moneda, the Presidential palace in the Chilean capital of Santiago. After three years of social struggle and US-backed economic sabotage, the Chilean armed forces, led by General Pinochet, extinguished the democratically-elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende. The president died clutching a gun given to him some years previously by Fidel Castro. With him died the "peaceful road to socialism" – the Chilean left’s strategy for bringing about radical socialist change through the electoral process.

If, as seems increasingly likely, Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, it is difficult to imagine similar scenes outside 10 Downing Street. But the anniversary of the Chilean coup should be a cause for reflection for the left. The Corbyn project might appear new and unique, but in government it will face the same massive forces that other left governments have faced – from Allende in Chile to Syriza in Greece. So far, the British left has done almost nothing to prepare for this fact.

From the moment Jeremy Corbyn gets into office, his government will face a campaign of sabotage. Labour’s 2017 manifesto was not a call for socialist revolution, but it does represent a final radical break from the neo-liberal economic consensus and significant shift in wealth and power towards ordinary working people. The establishment is right to fear Corbyn, and it will resist him. Capital will threaten to flee the country (as banks threatened after post-crash regulations were introduced), civil servants will refuse to implement policy, and a tag team of establishment bigwigs and hostile media outlets will declare his every move dangerous and illegal.

The real aim of this pressure will not, at least immediately, be to overthrow the government. It will be to extract compromises, and surrender if possible. Britain is not Greece, but Corbyn will come under huge pressure to give up on core policies, and to implement orthodox economics and austerity. Many of Syriza’s leaders were also highly principled socialists, drawn from the most impressive grassroots left in Europe. They buckled under the seismic pressures of government when they signed yet another bailout deal in the summer of 2015.

And for Corbyn, the temptation to compromise on key policies will be exacerbated by a parliamentary Labour party still overwhelmingly populated by people who, at least initially, opposed them in the first place. Tony Blair is not the only prominent Labour figure to genuinely believe Corbyn’s programme to be ruinous. Many MPs will fall in line, but many others have operated as part of the same political establishment that Corbyn hopes to overthrow. When crunch votes come, will Corbyn really be able to rely on his parliamentary colleagues, and how far will he compromise to retain their loyalty?

On both fronts – sabotage and compromise – the dynamics of seeking power and exercising it successfully run almost directly counter to one another. To win and then maintain power, Salvador Allende had to profess total faith in Chile’s democratic and military institutions. To unite and give hope to the Greek people in 2015, Alexis Tsipras had to pretend that he might be able to keep his promises and remain in the Eurozone; to really deliver on his promises, he would have needed to prepare the population for Grexit.

Corbyn’s political programme is relatively moderate, and unlikely to cause the same level of desperation among the ruling class that Allende caused in Chile. He can also rely on a less vulnerable economy than that of Greece. But winning the election will still be the easy part. Unity in the parliamentary party might appear key for winning elections, but to really have a parliamentary majority, Corbyn will need many more left-wing MPs than we currently have. 

The sight of thousands cheering Corbyn on at Glastonbury this year provided a powerful reminder of the sudden politicisation of hundreds of thousands of people in Britain. Unless harnessed effectively, however, this freshness will turn into a weakness. The most effective way to build immediate support is to simplify and cheerlead. What is really needed is a whole generation of independent, thinking activists who understand the pressures that the Labour leadership will face in government. The Glastonbury crowds must, in time, be prepared for a gruelling fight with the establishment; they must be prepared to hold the leadership to account and push it from the left. 

Jeremy Corbyn is not yet the Prime Minister, and winning power will remain the priority. But the experience of the left in government, from Chile to Greece, teaches us that we cannot be naïve. Under the surface of the campaign to win power, the grassroots base of the Corbyn movement must prepare itself for the realities of what will face it in government.



Show Hide image

A close reading of Neil Hamilton’s complaint about anti-Brexit kids on the BBC

Did the BBC ask Ukip for a spokeschild? Did they? No, they did not.

First, some background. Neil Hamilton was first elected a Tory MP for Tatton, in Cheshire, in 1983, at the tender age of 34. A mere nine years later, he became a junior minister.

Then things all went a bit wrong, and in October 1994 he resigned in disgrace over the cash for questions affair. Hamilton and his wife Christine spent much of the next two decades doing a series of increasingly bizarre media appearances until, in 2002, some genius at the Paramount Comedy Channel had the bright idea of hiring them to host “Neil & Christine’s Cheech-and-Chong-a-thon”.

These days, though, there do seem to be second acts in political lives, no matter how disgraced you make yourself, and in 2011 Hamilton joined UKIP. In 2016 he was elected to the Welsh Assembly, and swiftly became the party’s leader there. That should give you at least some sense of the sort of person who would file an official Ofcom complaint about the political opinions of a bunch of literal kids.

The complaint follows, with my annotations.

I am writing to complain about the segment on the World at One which involved Wales correspondent Tomos Morgan asking children from Pontybrenin Prime School near Gorseinon about their views on Brexit.

“Tomos”, eh? Not “Thomas”, you notice. “Tomos”. Suspiciously foreign, that. Doesn’t sound English, that’s all I mean. I’m saying nothing.

The segment was completely biased and absurd.

Two adjectives that could of course never be applied to either UKIP or the Hamiltons, shown here opening Erotica Manchester 2004:

Photo: Getty

Every child who featured on the programme was anti-Brexit and the segment lacked any form of political balance.

Poor show on the part of the researchers not to provide balance by interviewing any pro-Brexit children. Did they ask UKIP for a spokeschild? Did they? No, they did not.

The interviewer, Tomos Morgan, failed to question any of the patently childish answers given to him.

Given that John Humphrys has stopped bothering to question any of the patently childish answers given to him by actual Brexit ministers, why should we expect Morgan to question the patently childish answers given to him by actual, literal children?

If the BBC’s role is to educate…

I think that’s the school’s role, actually.

…then all this segment did is prove how ridiculous it is to pose high-level political questions to nine year-olds.

Or to Iain Duncan Smith, amIrite? Yeah, I’m here all week, try the veal!

It was a mawkish puff piece, playing on the emotions of the listener in order to support the Remainer narrative that the nasty Brexiteers are stopping our children from being able to play with their friends from abroad.

I’m not sure that’s a “nasty Remainer narrative” so much as “a natural result of revoking our children’s rights to live and work in 27 other European countries”, but there were are.

According to a Brexit survey by TES in 2016, 75% of teachers supported remaining in the EU. Given this fact the dangers of bias and indoctrination in the classroom are high, even if done unconsciously.

A UKIP representative on every school board now! That’ll soon sort out these thought criminals.

There was no mention of these studies in the reporting or any angle of criticism for the proposals.

“So, Simon, why are you upset by Brexit, do you think? Is it because you’ve been brainwashed by your teacher? Is that the reason, Simon? No don’t look at her, just answer the question, Simon. SIMON I AM TALKING TO YOU.”

What is the BBC doing to challenge the Welsh Government’s plans to question children as young as seven about their views on Brexit?

This is just weird. Is Hamilton actually saying the BBC should attack the Welsh government for asking people what they think? I thought Leavers were in favour of asking people what they think? (No, not those people.)

The journalist should have asked Children’s Minister Huw Irranca-Davies about this policy and presented a balance of arguments for him to answer.

Pro tip: journalists love it when disgraced politicians tell them how to do their job.

By asking children questions about Brexit, the BBC is tacitly supporting the policy of the Welsh Government while providing no arguments against it.

It’s weird, because when the policy in question is “Brexit”, Leavers are quite in favour of the BBC providing no arguments against it.

The programme demonstrates an abject failure to support the BBC’s editorial guidelines on due impartiality.

And all for want of a pro-Brexit spokeschild. Poor show, auntie. Poor show.

That’s where the statement ends, as it happens, and I feel a bit deflated. It’s all very well mocking a disgraced former minister for writing an official complaint accusing children of holding childish opinions. But it doesn’t really go anywhere, does it? Once you’ve done, “Haha, look at this weirdo” there’s not really anywhere to take it.

So in lieu of an ending, here’s a picture of the poster for the 2011 pantomime at Kettering’s Lighthouse Theatre.

“Baron Hardup”. After the bankruptcy that must have really hurt.

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