A Pommy Magician in England, But No Wizard in Oz

I have been in Oz for almost a month and the interest in the Jeremy Corbyn ‘social movement’ is high. I have been asked many a question though my responses are usually edited out. Here are some of the Q and As asked at public events, media interviews and informally:

Should Corbyn be supported?

Yes. Its the best thing that’s happened in English politics since 1997 (leaving aside the Stop the War campaign that was in any case not linked to any party)

Given Blairite/liberal media establishment support how has gthis happened?

The previous leader Ed Miliband, in order to show that he was not a creature of the unions, pushed through electoral change inside the Labour Party to a one-person, one-vote system extremecentrewith a US inspired innovation of encouraging Labour voters to register as members for £3 each and also vote for the leader. The Blairites supported this because they thought that ‘ordinary’ voters would stabilise right-wing control. Instead, young people inspired by Corbyn’s left social-democratic speeches and platform flocked to join his campaign in huge numbers, the Scottish effect in predominantly English politics.

Can he win the Leadership?


Will anything change if he does?

Yes. The Labour party will have a socialist, antiwar leader who can begin the long hard struggle against the extreme centre of English politics. Many obstacles lie ahead and Corbyn’s enemies will not be idle but a thoroughgoing democratisation of the Party and restoring the fright of CLP’s to elect their parliamentary candidates could shift the balance. Immediately of course the very fact that Corbyn is leader will force the BBC and The Guardian op-ed pages to give space to the anti-austerity arguments that will be put forward by a reinvigorated Opposition.

And if Corbyn loses?

Lots of tears, but the most important thing is for the campaign to continue outside and inside the Labour Party and Parliament.

You have been a very sharp critic of Labour and admitted that the last time you voted Labour was in 1997. Do you think the Labour Party can be transformed? 

I still am a critic, but the very fact that no serious unifying political alternative exists to the Left of Labour has meant that anticapitalists young and old decided to enter the fray and join to help a Corbyn victory. The whole scenario was unexpected and unpredictable, but its great that its happened. Watching the Blairites in party and media (especially The Guardian and the creepy Observer) squirming is an enjoyable sight.

Do you think this could happen in Australia?

No. The political assassination/constitutional coup of Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 by the CIA backed by the Aussie trades unions (Bob Hawke) and the Liberals laid the foundations for a politically cleansed Labour Party. There is not a single Labour MP here who is comparable to the 25 or so MPs in Britain of whom Corbyn is one. The Pommy magician is a surprise, but there is, alas, no wizard in Oz.

Your latest book ‘The Extreme Centre‘ is very polemical, but also quite pessimistic and it was published before what you described in the London Review of Books as the ‘capitulation’ in Greece.

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will, (the coinage of the French writer Romain Rolland) remains a useful watchphrase.

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).