In my very first article for CounterPunch I wrote about the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Labour Party leadership election – an election that he has since won. I wrote about his socialist campaign’s stunning surge of support; the backing by the three largest trade unions in Britain and the bookmakers’ odds of him winning shooting from a whimsical 100/1 to Corbyn becoming the clear election frontrunner, leaving an incredulous British establishment almost lost for words.
In that article I also alluded to something much deeper: “perhaps a revolution is in the works, perhaps the political mainstream is shifting, and perhaps we are one step closer to more equal societies…”.
At first glance, this seemingly prescient pondering may appear to hold some truth. We have witnessed some truly sensational political surges for the left in recent times – Corbyn in Britain, the initial rise of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the surge in support for Rubicon in Portugal. But can we really equate these political wins to a true shift in the Overton Window? (The Overton Window being the name given to the range of ideas that the public will accept at any given time; ie. the political mainstream).
On the face of it, this rise of the left has shifted the debate; it has brought in new, previously heretic ideas into popular debate, which – I’m sure we can all agree – can only ever be a good thing, irrespective of the electoral result which may follow.
However, delve a little deeper and it becomes clear that this ‘rise’ of the left is not as merry as it may seem. And I have no intention of even starting on Greece.
Let’s take Corbyn in Britain: for those reading from abroad or with little knowledge of British political affairs, his first weeks as Labour leader have not exactly been a success.
While there are those who may claim his desire, and – to an extent – achievement in making ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’, the weekly session in Parliament in which the Prime Minister answers questions from MPs, less “theatrical” and more down to earth is commendable, this success is trivial, and is perhaps the extent of Corbyn’s influence on the British political system we have seen so far.
Indeed, Corbyn has faced a wrath of problems in his admittedly still-brief tenure as leader of the Labour Party. Notwithstanding appointing a Shadow Cabinet of MPs who find themselves disagreeing with Corbyn on many of his key views on foreign policy and defence such as scrapping the UK nuclear weapons programme ‘Trident’ – which we are now seeing could in fact cost upwards of £160bn to renew – he has faced small rebellions from members of his own party over key matters of economic policy.
Last weekend fellow Labour MP Simon Danczuk even hinted at instigating a coup to topple Corbyn should the party perform poorly in local elections next year. Such outspoken and public threats made by members of his own party demonstrate just how precarious a position Corbyn finds himself in.
This is certainly not very suggestive of a ‘revolution in the works’ – a shift in the Overton Window is unlikely best characterized by a political campaign which finds itself hanging by a thread. With an increasingly hostile press and, more alarmingly, a hostile own parliamentary party, the future for Corbyn remains uncertain.
However, make no mistake: this piece is by no means a castigating attack on Corbyn’s political astuteness or achievement. Rather, we must all keep in mind the sheer significance of Corbyn’s current position in political Britain; ten years ago the very notion that such an outspoken socialist would end up leading what at the time was Britain’s largest party and led by Tony Blair would have been laughed out the room.
Corbyn’s very presence as leader of the Labour Party should be hailed a colossal victory in itself, though we of course we must remember that this is an ever ongoing struggle. The truth is, what Corbyn really embodies is not simply an opportunity for a new, socialist mandate. Nor is it even an opportunity to shift political debate.
What Corbyn really embodies is hope.
Hope that someday we can live in a society where nearly half the wealth is not in the hands of the 1%. That we can live societies where the colour of your skin or the digits in your postcode do not dictate your life chances. That we can live in a society where the poorest and most vulnerable are embraced and not demonized.
Such an uphill battle against the very fibres of political establishment was never going to be an easy ride. But perhaps that’s the beauty of hope: it doesn’t need to be. Hope can find itself emerging even in the darkest of rooms and most dreary of circumstance.
Though Corbyn’s current political position may be wavering somewhat, we can all find solace in the surge of true, socialism stretching across continental Europe and North America.
Victor Hugo famously once wrote, ‘Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come’.
The idea has come. And the time is now.