There must be a German word for not knowing what to think about Corbyn.
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) August 9, 2016
Jeremy Corbyn causes arguments in our flat. He’s always coming around, leaving the milk out and putting the empty peanut butter jar back in the cupboard – metaphorically speaking. A couple of nights before the referendum, he caused a rather heated discussion; spoons were gesticulated with and lemon meringue pie was apportioned huffily. Drummer Boy is Strongly In Favour of J-Corbz, whereas I – well, I’m pretty Corbyn about Corbyn: I like a lot of what he says, and his habit of honestly answering the questions that are put to him is certainly refreshing, but he’s not the Labour leader we need right now. If times were calmer, steadier – if, as a nation, we weren’t ploughing our way through the bourbon and eyeing the revolver with ever-increasing curiosity – he might be good. Great, even. Just not now.
It’s unsettling, not knowing what to think. It makes me oddly nostalgic for the immediate aftermath of Brexit – not in a mindless, nihilistic way, just in a “I knew what my opinions were, then” sort of way. It’s like when M says in Casino Royale, “Christ, I miss the Cold War!”
In Laura Kuenssberg’s Brexit documentary, (which is well worth a watch if you didn’t get enough misery and outrage the first time round), Emily Thornberry uttered something that made me rewind a few seconds so I could be sure I’d heard her correctly: “The thing about Jeremy is,” she said in those rather pleasant, well-spoken tones, “is that he’s authentic”. Her voice dropped almost ruefully on the last word; it was as if she were letting slip something dark and undesirable about Corbyn – it may as well have been “the thing about Jeremy is, he can’t stand puppies” or “the thing about Jeremy is, he’s really into snail porn” (NO I DON’T WANT TO KNOW IF THAT’S A THING OR NOT, THANK YOU).
There is something dark and undesirable about the fact that “authentic” is now a criticism or an insult when applied to a politician. This is a huge problem, and one that won’t be easily overcome. But then again, so much of being a politician seems to rest on the ability to “play the game” – take definite stances on things, talk in soundbites, woo the media. Because if you don’t get the media onside, they pick their own position and nothing they write after that will ever be flattering. There’s quite a lot to be said for Caitlin Moran’s idea that we should have a “shop front” PM and a “real” one – the former does all the smooth talking on the Andrew Marr show and charms the Mumsnet crowd, while the real one is a massive economics nerd and sits in an office looking at stats and figuring out what works when it comes to running a country.
When first elected as Labour leader, Corbyn spoke of wanting a “kinder politics”. And God knows, after the summer we’ve had, we need that. I’m starting to think that the “politics” we have now is not fit for purpose. It’s adversarial, it’s middle- and upper-class white people (mainly men) shouting at each other, it’s “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” and it’s looking totally outdated and archaic. The strident, raging feminist in me can’t help wondering: if we ripped it up and started again, only this time, the ratio of women to men was swapped, would it be better? Because, quite frankly, it can’t get much fucking worse.
When the mass resignations were happening, every day that Corbyn remained in post was a source of amazement. “He’s still not gone? He’s still there? God, can he not take a hint?” DB’s take on this was “well, good for him”. I disagreed – until a few weeks passed, and people stopped resigning from the Shadow Cabinet and it ‘simply’ became a leadership contest (hahahaha…). You could argue that he played, and is playing, the long game. You could argue that he’s not your typical five-year politician, in it only for the post-power after-dinner-speaker career – he genuinely wants this kinder politics, and will stand firm in order to see it happen. You could argue that by God, we need someone who can see further than sixty months into the future. Because the future doesn’t come in five-year chunks, it comes second by second and all at once.
So I can’t decide if Corbyn is just way, way ahead of us – or a relic. He’s certainly an anachronism, but difference-makers always, always are. I can’t decide if we need him more than we’ve ever needed anyone, or if he needs to bow out. He doesn’t fit what we have, but what we have doesn’t fit us. Ideology doesn’t have a seat in the age of information and technology; clinging to “Left” and “Right” isn’t helping anyone, as far as I can tell. (And as far as the Labour leadership goes, I don’t really know what to make of Owen Smith. My first thought was that he looks like a frog in glasses – and I’m usually pretty forgiving of bespectacled men – but then I looked up his policies, and well, yeah, we could make it work.)
When authenticity is seen as a bad thing, when being able to see the intricacies of a situation rather than talking only in black and white terms is seen as wishy-washy rather than human, when politicians are saying we’re “tired of experts” with no trace of irony – that’s when we need to take a good long look at what we’ve got and make the call on whether it’s serving us as best it can.