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Corbyn at Glastonbury, more Brexit variations, and why it's too late for goodbyes

What the Labour leader has at present, the party should bottle – a sense of hope.

Is there another contemporary British political leader who could have enchanted a crowd as Jeremy Corbyn did the hipsters and hippies at Glastonbury last weekend? Perhaps only Tony Blair in his “a new dawn has broken” pomp? The adulation did not last long for Blair. Less than a year after he became prime minister and with the cult of Cool Britannia already tarnished, the NME, then still an influential magazine respected for the quality of its writing and its political seriousness, turned on the Labour prime minister in an issue of March 1998, the cover line of which was: “Ever had the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Blair, like Corbyn, had courted the youth vote. He spoke at the Brit Awards and, like Corbyn during the election campaign, chose to be interviewed in the NME. But the music paper was unhappy about the advent of tuition fees (introduced at £1,000 per year), the absence of drug reform and the introduction of welfare-to-work, which would have forced unemployed musicians to take any job after six months. So it took its revenge on Blair, prefiguring how, in time, he would be perceived more generally by those who were alienated by the Iraq War and the excesses of the later New Labour years. The seeds of Corbynism were planted a long time ago, it seems. Et ego in Arcadia vixi.

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Corbyn’s Glastonbury speech was cheery enough but essentially banal, as if scripted by a latter-day Chauncey Gardiner. He mocked Donald Trump (always a good idea), praised his host (Michael Eavis, the farmer on whose land the cash-generating festival takes place), spoke of the need for togetherness and for bridges to be built instead of walls, and recited a few lines from “The Masque of Anarchy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the left’s favourite public-school Romantic-radicals.

All of this led to his being received with a kind of rapture. (Imagine Theresa May, Philip Hammond or David Davis in the same setting.) What struck me above all else was how happy and chipper Corbyn seemed, in his open-necked, untucked blue shirt and white chinos. He loves posing for selfies and he genuinely likes meeting people, especially those who share his convictions. This seems to be in striking contrast to the Prime Minister who, as the novelist Robert Harris tweeted at the height of the Grenfell crisis, seems comfortable only with fellow card-carrying Conservatives or people in uniform.

At present, Corbyn radiates a saintly aura: he has suffered, his detractors inside and outside the PLP have been humiliated, and he has endured. The students love him. He has inspired many to believe that the future can be socialist, if only in one non-EU country.

The substance of what he says, as in the Glastonbury address, may not stand up to much scrutiny but he says it with conviction and dogged persistence. And he is gloriously unafraid. What Corbyn has at present Labour should bottle – because he conveys a sense of hope when many are feeling hopeless. Young people in particular believe him and in him, or at least they seem to want to. The harder tests lie ahead, of course – such as settling on a coherent Brexit strategy for Labour, when Corbyn is a Brexiteer who leads a party of Remainers. But, hey, that can wait – for at least six months, because by then, as Corbyn is reported to have told Eavis, the Labour leader will be prime minister. For now, as Chic’s Nile Rodgers also put it while performing at Glastonbury, let’s enjoy the good times.

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More Brexit variations. One I neglected to mention last week was of course our glorious leader’s appeal for a “red, white and blue Brexit”. Thank you to Helen Lewis for reminding me of that one: how could I have forgotten? As for Mrs May, today it is unfortunately, for her, a case of “never glad confident morning again” – especially so when you compare her former authority, when she had the wind at her back and the Mail was in full flow denouncing “saboteurs” and “enemies of the people”, with her present diminished status as she scrambles to hold on to power in alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party.

Elsewhere, the Spectator’s James Forsyth has tweeted about what he bafflingly called a “full fat Brexit”, while a group of Labour MPs led by Chuka Umunna has warned against the pursuit of a “hard-right Brexit”. I’m grateful to our alert correspondent Nigel Lack (see Correspondence, page 11) who, during last week’s BBC Question Time (no longer essential viewing for me) heard reference to a “legal Brexit”, an “illegal Brexit”, a “collective Brexit” and a “tolerable Brexit”. Keep them coming, please.

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Last week I mentioned the John Lennon song “Nobody Told Me”, which I said was popularised by his son Julian. It seems I got this wrong. Rob Burley, the editor of The Andrew Marr Show and the man who belatedly nudged me into joining Twitter seven years after most of my colleagues, has been in touch to say that Julian never recorded it. (Rob is a renowned Beatleist and was a quiz machine maestro back in his student days.) Rather it was recorded but left incomplete before Lennon was murdered in 1980.

The song was completed in 1983 by Yoko Ono and released in 1984, the same year Julian Lennon released his debut single, “Too Late for Goodbyes”, which reached number six in the UK singles chart. I remember well both “Nobody Told Me” and “Too Late” and somehow contrived to believe they were ­recorded by the same person, which is most peculiar, mamma. Perhaps “Too Late for Goodbyes” would also work just as well as “Nobody Told Me” as part of the soundtrack to the Brexit debacle? As I said before, these are strange days indeed. 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit plague

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.