What exactly is it that makes a Corbynista tick? It’s a question I’ve been pondering in recent months, while trying to enter into some kind of debate on social media with the avowed fans of Labour’s leftwing leader.
For those of us who remember the political turmoil of the 1980s, it is perhaps too easy to dismiss Corbyn’s followers as being stuck in a timewarp. With all the talk of nationalisation, unilateral nuclear disarmament and even the ownership of the Falklands, are we dealing with renegades who are simply refighting the lost battles of a bygone era?
I’ve challenged myself to be a little more open-minded. After all, we’re told that Corbyn has inspired a new generation of activists. If you’re 19 or 20 today, you would have been born around the time of Tony Blair’s first election victory. Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council and the Trotskyist take-over of Liverpool would seem as much a part of the history books as the Korean War appears to me.
It’s hard to know whether the people I’m encountering on Facebook pages and Twitter are truly representative of those who have joined or rejoined the Labour Party in the wake of the Corbyn leadership campaign. They are, however, the people who vocally and publicly support the MP for Islington North and the only sample I can really access.
Here’s my assessment.
The Corbynistas are cynics
Although they ostensibly champion a ‘new’ politics, supporters of Corbyn appear to be profoundly cynical. They distrust the opinions of anyone outside their political and cultural milieu, refuse to believe in polling evidence (see below) and often describe the people who voted Tory in the 2015 election as ‘idiots’.
They seem to dislike every Labour government apart from the one in 1945
Much of the venom emanating from the Corbyn wing of the party is directed at Blair and Brown, who are described as ‘neo-liberals’. The only Labour government these people will ever defend is the Attlee administration of 1945, although many of the commentators have little historical perspective and don’t understand that this was actually a government of compromise and pragmatism. One of my favourite questions to ask of the Corbynistas is which government over the past fifty years they feel has done the most good. Rather than give the obvious answer of the Blair/Brown administrations, some prefer to demonstrate their remarkable mathematical prowess by opting once again for Attlee.
They are attracted by conspiracy theories
Corbyn’s advocates dismiss the TV, radio, newspapers and websites people enjoy as ‘mainstream media’ or ‘MSM’. In common with so-called ‘birthers’, ‘truthers’ and other conspiracists on the fringes of the web, they use the term disparagingly to describe what they believe to be a destructive force which ‘brainwashes’ people into supporting the status quo and received wisdom. The ‘Bitterite’ faction of former Blair supporters is aiding the media in its onslaught against Corbyn and should be ashamed of itself.
They are obsessed with Iraq and Blair’s foreign policy
It is taken for granted that the man they call ‘Bliar’ took us into unwanted ‘foreign wars’. No distinction is made between, say, the mission to save Muslims from Serbian genocide in Kosovo and the ill-fated expedition to topple Saddam Hussein. The Corbynistas are people who oppose all use of British military force, regardless of circumstance. It hasn’t yet dawned on them that those voting for the first time in 2020 would have been babies at the time of the Iraq conflict.
They have limited understanding of polling
Nothing undermines the case for Corbyn like opinion polls, which show him to be desperately unpopular. The kneejerk reaction of Jez’s fans is to laugh at anyone stupid enough to believe in polling evidence. After all, they claim, the polls have been proved wrong time and time again and are controlled by powerful interests. (Actually, the polls have only been wrong in the way they’ve tended to overestimate support for Labour, so almost certainly the situation is even more dire today than headline figures suggest.)
They champion the views of Labour members over those of Labour voters
Corbyn won 60% of the vote in the leadership election and therefore has an overwhelming mandate, in the eyes of his supporters, to reshape the party in his image. Given that those voting are entirely self-selecting, we should presumably be equally impressed that the Pope has the blessing of a large number of Cardinals and not worry too much if Roman Catholicism is in decline in the outside world. The opinions of prospective Labour voters and supporters are given much less prominence in the Corbyn worldview. Those who voted Conservative in 2015 are often deemed to be stupid and the assumption is that they must now surely be regretting their idiocy. Those who voted Green were clearly rejecting the neo-liberalism of the ‘Tory Lite’ Labour Party by voting for a left-wing party. And those who voted UKIP were also rejecting the neo-liberalism of the ‘Tory Lite’ Labour Party, by... err... voting for a right-wing party.
My conclusions are that the supporters of Corbyn are trapped in a closed loop of political rhetoric and quasi-religious dogma. Despite the claim to have brought in a new generation of activists, discussion online seems to be dominated by those who have been in the Labour Party for some time. Many left the Labour Party when Blair was first elected leader, some left after he became Prime Minister and even more quit as a protest over Iraq. They are now back and make the entirely disingenuous claim to have the best interests of the Party at heart.
Those moderates in the Parliamentary Labour Party, who are thinking of playing the long game and waiting for Corbyn’s inadequacies to become apparent, should be very cautious. I see no evidence that any of the people in these online forums would be swayed by even a catastrophic electoral defeat. As is the way with most religious movements, the failure would be explained in the context of the dogma. Corbyn was never given a chance. He had been undermined by the Blairites and the MSM. Perhaps he had even been forced to sell out or water down his true left-wing principles.