Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Oh? Jeremy Corbyn?

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been a bit of a soppy hippy. I think caring deeply about other people came from not being heard or listened to as a very young kid, from being mistreated by an abusive father, from being bullied at school, from knowing how it feels to go without basic material things that everyone else seemed to have (my gnarled and twisted toes a constant reminder of having parents who either couldn’t afford or refused to buy new shoes as my feet outgrew my old ones). All of this went towards the keen sense of justice I feel, the belief that everyone’s voice should be heard, that nobody should be left to rot and suffer on the fringes.

Was I born like this or did it grow within me due to the circumstances of my early life? Who knows? All I know is that nothing else on this earth really matters beyond kindness.

When I was around 18 years old, I remember writing down that I wanted to live a life in harmony with nature (the phrase ‘off grid’ didn’t exist back then, or was at least off my radar), but even then I realised this conflicted with my aspirations to make electronic music. How could I make music with electronic instruments without any electricity? And gradually, as happens with most of us, my youthful aspirations were moulded and amended by realism and the circumstances of adult life. I became more ‘normal’ (whatever that means), from my idealistic outlook to the clothes that I wore (shifting from combat trousers and fingerless gloves to the dull conventions of Next and Top Man).

This trend also carried over to politics. While I’d been rather taken by Marxism while studying my A-level in Sociology, I was well aware that Marxism had never really been employed anywhere in the world, often transmuted and disfigured into a totalitarian communism that didn’t actually have the needs of the people at its heart at all. So when it came to voting in my first general election in 1997, I voted for Labour, which was in line both with my family, and in line with my own morals.

Like many people in the country I was swept up by the D:Ream-soundtracked wave of optimism and hope that brought Tony Blair to power. I was two years old when Thatcher and the Tories had come to power in 1979 and come to realise how they stood for self-interest, inequality and a general lack of empathy for others less fortunate (you just need to pull your socks up and work harder if you don’t want to be poor, it’s simple).

Over time the Blair love affair faded (as the first flush of love always does) and it gradually became clear that a lot of New Labour’s swagger was just carefully managed, style-over-substance spin. That’s not to say that Blair did no good, introducing the National Minimum Wage and Civil Partnership Act were progressive shifts towards a more equal society.

New Labour - Thatcher's 'greatest achievement'
But in 2003 came the groundless, illegal Iraq war. Was this the otherwise well-intentioned Blair’s greatest mistake (costing anywhere between 300,000 and more than a million lives), or had he always been a vacuous charlatan, a Tory wolf in socialist sheep’s clothing? He certainly shifted the Overton Window (the boundaries and scope of political debate) over to the right, and it’s perhaps little surprise that Thatcher once said that her greatest achievement was “Tony Blair and New Labour”.

With Gordon Brown taking over in 2007, and cut very much from the same New Labour cloth as Blair, the world was plunged into the global financial crisis of 2007/2008. As you already know, in many countries this saw taxpayers’ money used to bail out the banks (which were ‘too big to fail’, although Iceland begged to differ) and warnings that we also needed to tighten our belts to avoid financial catastrophe. This led to disillusionment and anger amongst large parts of the electorate – why should we pay for the mistakes of badly run, greedy financial institutions? – and, arguably, also revealed just who was in control of national governments and the global economy, and to whose benefit and in whose interests it was run.

By this time, I had had enough of the fake charms and illegal wars of New Labour and in the 2010 general election voted Liberal Democrat. Little did I know they would jump into bed with the Tories and help unleash the ongoing hell of austerity – which has been revealed as a purely ideological drive to dismantle the state and sell off even more state assets to private companies to be rinsed out, milked and profited from (the same old Tory story).

Fast forward to the 2015 general election where Labour’s Ed Miliband was pitted against David Cameron. Miliband’s greatest failure was not fumbling with a bacon sandwich (although take enough photos of anyone eating and you’ll get some gormless grimaces out of it, another sign of the sly media), it was adopting the Tories’ narrative on their terms. When he apologised for the global financial crash, and said that he would employ austerity-lite (prolonging the suffering of the worst off over a longer period of time) – I could not vote for him. Instead, I voted Green – who in the Tory stronghold of Broxbourne, had as little chance of success as any other party (UKIP came second ahead of Labour – even more disappointingly for me. Birds of a feather don’t necessarily always flock together it seems).

Anti-austerity march
I felt that the country was sliding towards a bleak, unequal, unfair future and that no party that had any chance of power truly represented me or my beliefs. All I could do was take to the streets to voice my disgust at austerity and the people behind it and, on Saturday 20th June 2015, I took part in the anti-austerity march in central London. It was good to feel some solidarity with others, that I wasn’t completely on my own in feeling this way, and that there was actually some hope that things may change for the better.

The march concluded in Parliament Square where we heard various speeches from people speaking out against austerity. One of these speakers was Jeremy Corbyn, who had been nominated for the Labour leadership just five days before. At the time he was seen as a token left-wing candidate with very little hope of winning and I didn’t really know anything about him.

As his voice carried across the huge crowd on the breeze, I realised that, finally, someone was saying what no other politician seemed to dare to say. Here was somebody willing to call out the bankers, and the corrupt, under-regulated gambling den that the financial markets had become, for causing the global financial crash. Here was a politician adamantly opposed to austerity and the ideology behind it. Here, in short, was hope.
“I want us to stand up as brave people did in the 1920s and 1930s, and said we want a state that takes responsibility for everybody to ensure nobody is destitute … We each care for all. Everyone caring for everybody else. I think it’s called socialism. 
“I stand with those people that came to this country, worked, contributed and are part of our society. I want a humanitarian and decent response to those people who are victims of war, that are dying in the Mediterranean trying to reach a place of safety. I am not prepared to join a campaign of Benefits Street and attacking so-called benefits scroungers.”   
- Jeremy Corbyn speaking in Parliament Square, 20th June 2015

Corbyn refused to adopt the Tory narrative of the ‘necessary’ suffering of austerity, refused to punish the poorest in society for the mistakes of the richest and spoke of a more balanced, fairer society. I realised he probably had little chance of winning the Labour leadership contest, he had only been admitted to compete via the back door at the last minute, but finally somebody was speaking my language. This (mid-July 2015) is when I decided to pay my £3 to become a Labour Party supporter so that I could vote for this principled man and seemingly lone voice in Westminster.

Around the same time, having suffered badly from depression and anxiety for some time, I took part in a groundbreaking medical trial at Imperial College, looking at treating depression with psilocybin (more details of that here, if you’re interested). I was given two doses of psilocybin, one week apart, and it was between these, on Monday 3rd August, that I once again went to go and listen to Jeremy Corbyn speak.

I arrived at Camden Town Hall to find huge queues snaking around the block and down the road. This didn’t feel like some flash in the pan, or a niche fringe pastime that I happened to be involved in, it felt like a full-blooded movement. The sheer energy in the room, the passion of the crowd, and the stirring, moving and compassionate words of Jeremy Corbyn when he gave his speech made me believe that perhaps a ‘New Kind of Politics’ was possible and attainable, one where people were put before the pursuit of money above all else (something both major parties had pandered to for far too long). As an added bonus, I also got to hear one of my musical heroes, Brian Eno, speak about his support for Corbyn. Afterwards, I felt energised, excited and full of hope and optimism. What a buzz.

Just three days later, I was given my second dose of psilocybin as part of the medical trial I was taking part in. While under the influence of the drug, I felt completely connected to myself, the world around me and all living things, I felt compassion for the refugees who were being detained in a camp in Calais, France, dubbed ‘The Jungle’, I realised that national borders were completely arbitrary, manmade constructs designed to create division and prevent the sharing of prosperity that some countries enjoy and others are devoid of.

These weren’t particularly new revelations to me, more reminders from deep within my soul that had returned to the surface. They further instilled in me that a political approach driven by compassion, empathy and love for others, regardless of race, religion, sex or gender, was the way forward, and that was exactly the path that Jeremy Corbyn was walking, and had walked during his whole political life.

My inner hippy had been full reawakened within me, and after years of dismissing the way I thought and felt as idealistic and na├»ve, I allowed myself to fully embrace these thoughts and feelings that I knew were right (for me, at least) all along. I think I’d allowed the society and political climate around me to convince me that any thoughts of fairness, kindness and equality needed to be balanced by taking account of certain practical financial considerations. Perhaps I had been infected by the New Labour spin of corporatised, Tory-lite, faux socialism (fauxcialism?!)?

But now this spell had been broken: why shouldn’t we live in a fairer society where the worst excesses and greed of the super-rich are reined in and everyone pays their fair share? Why should we blindly accept austerity and the way it victimises and scapegoats the poorest and weakest members of society? Why should everything be for sale – whether that’s schools, universities, the prison service, the NHS or public assets and utilities?

Leadership victory
The buzz around Corbyn continued, there was news about thousands of people becoming Labour Party supporters and members so that they could vote in the leadership election (portrayed as a hostile takeover by certain sections of the media), he continued to draw huge crowds and I kept hoping that he would actually win the contest. On 12th September 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was confirmed as leader of the Labour Party with a huge 59% of the vote (his nearest rival, Andy Burnham, received just 19%) – I was elated.

I expected what I thought to be the left-wing press to share this feeling of hope and to celebrate a seismic shift in British politics. Instead, the whole of the British media – including seemingly ‘leftie’ newspapers like The Guardian and The Independent – turned against Corbyn, taking any opportunity to denounce him, mock him, misrepresent him and belittle him. The attacks were vicious, personal and full of wilful lies and slights against his character. I was so shocked initially but realised eventually just how Blair had dragged the so-called ‘centre ground’ to the right, and just what a threat Corbyn posed to the establishment status quo and billionaire media owners.

What has happened in the four years since has been so well documented that I do not need to repeat it here. On a personal level, I started going to local Labour Party meetings for a short while but they didn’t provide the society-changing spirit I hoped I would find. There were some lovely, genuine people there but we spent most of the time speaking about street lighting and bin collections and, once again, the Tory narrative was adopted surrounding issues such as housing (unsustainable ‘affordable’ being the focus, rather than the long-lasting ‘social’). Corbyn was rarely mentioned in these meetings and was clearly not somebody everyone felt comfortable with leading the party, let alone felt he could transform British society for the better. Just today, I’ve received the latest local Labour Party election leaflet through the letterbox, and once again there is absolutely no mention of Jeremy Corbyn on it.

In the face of many people believing the media smears against Jeremy Corbyn, I’ve learned to stay quiet about my political views and my support of the Labour leader. It’s not worth the stress to hear yet another person trot out the same lines about ‘terrorist sympathising’ or that a man who has spent his whole life campaigning against all types of inequality (and was arrested for demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa) is somehow racist. Racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and prejudice are sadly part of all areas of UK society, and therefore all political parties, and need to be challenged and extinguished at every turn. Nobody is beyond criticism or beyond reproach, but no current political leader has done more than Jeremy Corbyn to fight for the marginalised and oppressed. Sadly, discussing this with many people is largely a waste of energy, time and oxygen.

The problem is that the media is owned and run by the same small band of billionaires that have run the political parties for so long and are the same group of people milking the public for all they're worth and selling all publicly owned services and assets from beneath the people, so that their already-rich mates can turn a profit. Labour have said they will break down the concentration of UK media ownership, which could perhaps be guiding the newspapers' coverage of the party and their policies. It's not a conspiracy, just the logic of self-protection. 

A stark choice
Now, in December 2019, we stand on the precipice of disaster or salvation. Yes, that sounds over the top, but when an institution like the National Health Service is under threat, when 130,000 deaths have been attributed to austerity to date, no words and no warnings are too strong. We are faced with the starkest choice of any election during my lifetime. On the one hand we have a racist, xenophobic, hard right-wing Tory who wants to use Brexit to further dismantle the state and its institutions to sell it to his rich friends so they can turn an even fatter profit, regardless of how many more people the ideology kills. On the other hand, we have a man who believes in the politics of compassion, who will do all he can to return Britain to being a fairer, more equal, more caring society where the weakest and poorest and looked after, rather than allowed to rot and die.

Put simply, we are faced with the decision between hope or hate.

My anger towards the Conservatives is fuelled by the 130,000 people who have died, the massive rise in homelessness, the crippling of school funds so that parents are crowdfunding for books and loo rolls for the kids, the wrecking and underfunding of the NHS, the huge cuts to the emergency services etc etc etc. If this doesn't make people angry enough to vote the Tories out, then nothing will. Too many suck up the lie that it's other members of the public (benefit claimants, refugees, people from overseas) that are to blame, not the parasites that have been in charge for far too long. We need a party that will stop austerity and invest in making Britain a proper, cohesive society again, rather than a country where only a very few extremely wealthy people thrive (the richest six people in UK own as much wealth as bottom 13 million) and the rest of us struggle.

Both major parties were so divorced from the people for so many years. Now we finally have someone working in the interests of the people. People have complained for so long that they don't have a genuine choice between the political parties, well now we do. The difference could not be clearer. I fear the lies and smears and sheer power of the media will mean we wake up to a Johnson majority on Friday 13th. There is still time to make sure this doesn't happen and I'll be doing all I can to ensure that the future of the UK is put back in the hands of the public by helping Labour in a marginal seat on election day.

Despite the best efforts of the millionaires and billionaires that have controlled the political parties, the media and leeched on, sponged off and financially exploited the general public for so many years, Jeremy Corbyn still stands a chance of becoming the UK’s next Prime Minister, against all odds, with the cards so heavily stacked against him, the dice so loaded in the favour of the bleak status quo, where self-interest and greed are celebrated and rewarded.

I hope, but do not expect, Corbyn will win on Thursday this week. If I allow myself to believe it will happen, I will become even more depressed and desperate if Johnson wins a majority. There’s still time to drag the UK back from the brink of right-wing narrow-mindedness, selfish insularity and even greater inequality and the further deaths that brings. Whatever people think of or believe about Corbyn, I hope they think enough of their fellow citizens, and their right to live in a fairer and more compassionate society, to vote for Labour (or the Liberal Democrats if that keeps the Tories out) on Thursday.

The soppy hippy in me would say vote for compassion, vote for empathy, vote for love, the very qualities that Jeremy Corbyn stands for.

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