At the start of June, when he was still in the running to replace Theresa May as prime minister of the UK and leader of the Conservative Party, Tory politician Michael Gove raised a nightmarish spectre for the British right.
At all costs, Britain must avoid falling into the grip of a “Jeremy Corbyn government propped up by Nicola Sturgeon and the [Scottish nationalists],” he warned. “That would mean Brexit was lost, the future of our Union at risk, and the levers of power handed to a Marxist.”
Last year, a poll by the research company Gallup revealed that 51 per cent of millennials in America had a “positive” view of socialism, while less than half—45 per cent, to be exact—viewed capitalism favourably. A slew of additional data suggests that American voters at large are ready to embrace far-reaching political change.
70 per cent support universal healthcare. 60 per cent back free college tuition. 46 per cent think the government should offer a job to unemployed citizens. And a majority want the minimum wage to be raised to at least $15 per hour.
Something strange and unexpected is happening in US politics.
“Under the guise of Medicare For All and a Green New Deal, Democrats are embracing the same economic theories that have stifled the liberties of millions over the past century,” GOP Vice President Mike Pence told a major gathering of the American right—the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—outside Washington D.C. last week. “That system,” he continued, “is socialism.”
When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat Joe Crowley in a headline-blitzing New York primary race last month, the first thing the Democratic Party establishment tried to do was minimise the significance of her victory.
“They made a choice in one district,” the House minority leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters the following day. “It is not to be viewed as something that stands for anything else.”
Which British political leader backs NATO, wants to ring-fence the defence budget, and won’t commit to scrapping the UK’s massively expensively yet strategically redundant nuclear deterrent?
The answer, you may or may not be surprised to learn, is Jeremy Corbyn.
On a cold February morning two years ago, Gordon Brown held a press conference on the top floor of the Doubletree Hotel in Edinburgh. Framed by a bright, clear view of the capital’s skyline, with the castle fixed immutably in the distance, the former prime minister launched – once more – into the constitutional debate. Independence, he said, would mean breaking all ties to Britain. Scotland should lead the United Kingdom, not leave it. Only the Labour Party understands this country’s unique commitment to social justice.
And yet, as Brown paced the stage, wagging his finger at reporters and thunderously regurgitating another stock defence of the devolutionary project, somewhere, on some primitive, subliminal level, he must have known that Scotland was no longer listening, and that in the very near future, regardless of what he said today or how vigorously he said it, Labour would slip screaming into a broad, black Caledonian abyss.
Until June or July of last year, Jeremy Corbyn had never expected to lead the Labour party and probably never wanted to. A veteran backbencher and diligent constituency MP, the 66-year-old socialist would probably have been content to go on championing the various causes – from trade union rights to Palestinian solidarity – that had defined his modest career up to that point. In his spare time, he might have tended to the vegetable patch in his north London allotment or cultivated the olive tree in his back garden.
But history had other ideas. As Richard Seymour shows in this laser-sharp analysis of British Labourism and its contradictions, Corbyn found himself, almost by accident, in the right place at the right time. (Or in the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your perspective.)