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Liberal food for thought:

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A New Dream

I have a running joke with a Tory colleague of mine, that I broke democracy, which is why I #canthavenicethings . Because, I voted for Corbyn. I remember when he sauntered over to my computer as I was (on my lunch break, if my boss asks) just filling out my voting form online. He was amazed (“I’ve read about Corbyn supporters but never met one!”) and curious (“Why….no really..why?”)

To admit that you voted for Corbyn is like saying you believe the earth is flat or that your puppy is a unicorn. You might as well don the Wonder Woman bracelets and tin foil hats and wait for the apocalypse. Which, if you’re reading the Telegraph, draws ever nearer with every day that Corbyn is Labour leader. The unelectable man who is at the same time so dangerous that if he gets into No 10 (despite the aforementioned handicap) he will promptly ruin the country. He’s at once a sappy leftie idiot and a dangerous political animal who, as it turns out, isn’t dying to press the nuclear button. The media caricature of Corbyn supporters, meanwhile, is of hard-nosed idealists, aggressive and crazed, foolishly sailing towards the iceberg and throwing a party on the deck of the Titanic. Or – hard-nosed idealists, aggressive and crazed, gleefully plotting a Night of the Long Knives for Labour moderates and right-wingers.

Which is where my colleague comes in. Why, he asked me? Genuinely curious. Very surprised.

Because: hope.

I don’t agree with Corbyn on everything, far from it. But then, do we ever? But for the first time in a long time I voted for something rather than against something else. Yes, Ok, there was some voting against. I didn’t vote for the other candidates because they offered nothing.

No leadership, just polling.

No ideas, just Tory policies with a hug.

And an emphasis on winning as if the merit of them winning as opposed to the Tories were self-evident. (memo from the country: not necessarily)

This anodyne space is apparently the centre ground, where you’re supposed to be, according to political wisdom. Parties try to sound like the other to win the others supporters because you do have to build a coalition. Of course you must. No one can win otherwise. But the “ideas” of this centre ground, or the accepted wisdom: Immigration bad, free market awesome, welfare bad, NHS privatised, poor people lazy/bad…these are all right wing. And they are not true. They are contested. But instead of contesting this space, instead of shaping this centre, Labour would allow the Tories to define it, to shift public opinion and settle a consensus and then….tinker around the edges. Throw the odd social democratic bone. But just to keep the loony left quiet.(not so loony when they’re doing the door knocking for you, though. Then they are good foot soldiers.) A lot of these supporters that Labour despise, these foot soldiers, are working people. And that is not a guarantee that you’re earning a decent wage, that your rights are protected, that you’ll be able to buy a house or even rent securely. But…that doesn’t quite fit with the warm fuzziness of this centre where you have to be to win.

“Occupying the middle ground might appear democratic, shaping policies according to public desire. Yet the rush over the past two decades by parties of all hues to occupy the middle ground has coincided with greater public disengagement with politics. The more parties have politically cross-dressed, the less their views seem to have been heard.

Why? Because, in reality, it is an approach that has shrunk the political sphere and eroded the democratic process. Instead of emerging organically from a particular vision of what society should be like, policies are arbitrarily stitched together as means of appealing to particular constituencies. And so, the electorate’s ability to choose is diminished. This is why, right across Europe, large sections of the public have rejected mainstream middle ground parties in favour of populists, of both right and left.” Kenan Malik

And what did I vote for? A different way of doing things. Do I think it will win? I honestly don’t know. But dammit, we have to try. Someone has to contest the centre. It won’t move otherwise. Public opinion is not fixed, it changes. The Tories have been rewriting history – the crash, its causes, who must now pay. And they have been allowed to do so unfettered by either an opposition or reality. And I think it’s already having an effect.

Musa Okwonga has blogged about how Corbyn is changing the agenda , even a few days in. His focus is the Times editorial criticising Saudi and Bahrain. About time, you would say. But this uncomfortable but necessary relationship has long been a part of British realpolitik, an idea so settled as to be unquestionable. Until…

“It is remarkable to see The Times so strongly criticise a key British ally. Perhaps there are several of those in the British Government itself who have long since secretly tired of their relationship with Saudi Arabia. But it looks like it is Corbyn who has been the catalyst for the expression of louder discontent.” – Musa Okwonga

I don’t think Corbyn can change everything. But I voted in hope, despite all the cynical voices that keep saying that it’s silly to, we should just accept things as they are because that’s how things are now. The cynicism that we’re all being told to usher back into is a comfort blanket, a bit like when you have a bad breakup so you write off all men, while secretly hoping one good man will battle through your defences to prove that yes! good ones do exist! We’re told time and again that hope is the foolish thing, the easy thing. But, if you’re not working to change things, then what’s the point? There’s too much at stake not to try.

I voted Corbyn because, what the hell. Let’s give it a whirl.

Ben Okri’s new poem (allegedly about Corbyn) puts it best:

A New Dream of Politics.

They say there is only one way for politics.
That it looks with hard eyes at the hard world
And shapes it with a ruler’s edge,
Measuring what is possible against
Acclaim, support, and votes.

They say there is only one way to dream
For the people, to give them not what they need
But food for their fears.
We measure the deeds of politicians
By their time in power.

But in ancient times they had another way.
They measured greatness by the gold
Of contentment, by the enduring arts,
The laughter at the hearths,
The length of silence when the bards
Told of what was done by those who
Had the courage to make their lands
Happy, away from war, spreading justice
And fostering health,
The most precious of the arts
Of governance.

But we live in times that have lost
This tough art of dreaming
The best for its people,
Or so we are told by cynics
And doomsayers who see the end
Of time in blood-red moons.

Always when least expected an unexpected
Figure rises when dreams here have
Become like ashes. But when the light
Is woken in our hearts after the long
Sleep, they wonder if it is a fable.

Of our better natures?
Can we still wish and will
For poverty’s death and a newer way
To undo war, and find peace in the labyrinth
Of the Middle East, and prosperity
In Africa as the true way
To end the feared tide of immigration?

We dream of a new politics
That will renew the world
Under their weary suspicious gaze.
There’s always a new way,
A better way that’s not been tried before.

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