Usually somewhere between three and 30 people avail themselves of the #Amen prayer facility at the bottom of this blog’s Home Page. Since it was installed, the most believers gathered in prayerful communion has been 31 (for persecuted Christians in the Middle East), and the average over the year has been 10, which is efficacious, because where two or three are gathered.. But, at the time of writing, a whopping 224 are praying for the left-winger Jeremy Corbyn to become leader of the Labour Party.
It was a playful prayer, and doubtless many who right-clicked ‘Pray Now’ did so with a whimsical digit on their mouse. But it would be a mistake to judge the sincerity of political fervour. This blog attracts readers from across the political (and theological) spectrum: over the past week, some 31,902 people have visited and made 53,651 page-views. Many Labour supporters sincerely desire Jeremy Corbyn to be elected leader (authentic; consistent; pro-Palestine; anti-austerity, etc.); and so do many Conservatives (failed Old Labour; unreconstituted Bennite; friend of terrorists who will put Labour out of office for a generation, etc.).
A recent YouGov poll placed Jeremy Corbyn ahead of all his rivals. Under the Alternative Vote (AV) system, Corbyn had 43% of first preferences, Andy Burnham 26%, Yvette Cooper 20% and Liz Kendall 11%. A few second-preference supporters could swing it for him, and the poll suggested a 6% win over nearest rival Andy Burnham (though it’s worth bearing in mind that the methodology and reliability of political polling has taken a bit of a hit in the wake of the General Election result). So afraid are the disciples of New Labour of a Corbyn victory that they exhorted Tony Blair to intervene, and, like Labour’s own Pope Emeritus, he blessed those who remain faithful to Laborem Novum. In his homily he warned of the danger of lurch to the left, adding that people who say their heart was with Jeremy Corbyn should “get a transplant”. Charming.
The Labour Party is divided: like all the main political parties in a liberal democracy, it is a sometimes fraught and fragile coalition of competing interests and mutually-exclusive philosophies. The Blairite ‘New Labour’ wing is persuaded that the Bennite ‘Old Labour’ wing would put Labour out of office for 20 years; that a Corbyn-led government is simply not right the right choice at all: “It would not take the country forward, it would take the country back,” Blair said.
But Jeremy Corbyn is having none of this progressive socialist theory: he is a devout traditionalist, believing that the old paths were righteous and the new progressive piety is a modernist betrayal of Labour’s heritage and a corruption of its liberation theology. “A lot of people are supporting us, particularly young people who want to see a Labour Party that is very different to the Labour Party they have had in the past,” he said. Doubtless a lot of Church of England clergy are praying for him, too: so much left-wing political philosophy derives from lefty-wing applied theology, and there is virtue in philosophical purity even if it means you never get into power.
But would a victory for Jeremy Corbyn necessarily deny Labour any chance of winning the 2020 General Election?
This is not a blog of prophecy, augury, crystal balls or clairvoyancy. But David Cameron is committed to holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017. He has already declared, whatever the outcome of his renegotiation, that he will campaign to remain in, which will be ‘Yes’ on the ballot paper.
Jeremy Corbyn is no lover of the anti-democratic oligarchs who govern in Brussels, or of the markets which trample the poor under foot. He has heard the weeping and wailing throughout all Greece, and abhors the bankers and monetarists who ride roughshod over the widows and orphans of Athens. Like the ardent Socialists Hugh Gaitskell, Tony Benn, Peter Shore and Michael Foot before him, Jeremy Corbyn stands foursquare in the old tradition of democratic Socialism, which is inherently Eurosceptic because the ‘ever closer union’ of the EEC was always destined to neuter the sovereignty of national parliaments to enact employment legislation and defend the rights of workers. No matter what potency of strike action the trade unions threaten, Parliament is powerless to amend (and often to resist) the diktats from Brussels.
Hence the Unite Union has already weighed into the campaign for Brexit. They dare not say so, but they have heard the complaints of their members not only about austerity, but also the free-moving, low-cost immigrants taking ‘their jobs’. And they understand that so much encroaching ‘Thatcherite’ privatisation – Rail, Royal Mail, NHS – is actually not Tory after all: the origins lie in EU directives which enforce frameworks of cross-border outsourcing and pan-EU competition. No amount of blackouts, uncollected rubbish or unburied bodies can reverse the EEC/EC/EU trajectory of marketisation: only by leaving the collective EU could the British Government ever be free to re-nationalise these industries and hand them back to the people.
Many Socialists are slowly waking up to the relentless zeal of the European Union for social injustice and anti-democratic oppression. Being ‘at the heart’, ‘in the club’, ‘in the fast lane’ or ‘at the top table’ are only worthwhile if the social model and economic framework of the heart/club/lane/table cohere with the basic values, morality and cultural instincts of the people: where there is resentment, there is hostility and hate.
It is axiomatic that democracy yields the governments which the people deserve. The same is true of democratic political parties. Ultimately, it is God who sets up kings and abrogates sovereignty, whether or not His divine sovereignty is acknowledged. But all political authority is partial and imperfect, and the modern era tends to construe all authority as political. Jeremy Corbyn may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is no fool. Blairites may joke about his prospects, and Tories can banter about his political deficiencies, his unsavory fraternity of terrorists and the ‘loony left’ extremists with whom he holds court. But if he were to win the Labour leadership, then declare himself an EU ‘Outer’ and campaign for ‘No’; and if the ‘No’ side were to triumph, a humiliated David Cameron would have to resign, and the country would bellow for change. An EU referendum is a long time in politics.