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Thoughts on Mr Corbyn

In assessing Corbyn’s achievement one must remember what sort of man he is. Having done very poorly at school and failed to complete any higher education, he seems to have imbibed at an early age the full agenda of the Guardian-reading London lefty: sympathy for a wide gamut of Third World causes, instinctive solidarity with all the enemies of bourgeois Britain (the IRA, Hamas, radical Islamists, etc), and a passionate opposition to Toryism. He has spent his life banging on about such causes to small audiences as a Labour activist and perennial rebel. With his beard, his vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol, his failed marriages, his love of cycling and almost Dickensian passion for faraway causes of little relevance to the lives of those he represents, he is a type of idiosyncratic Englishman that Orwell liked to dwell upon, along with the figure of the middle-aged Catholic spinster cycling earnestly to church.

If one thinks about the sort of life that Corbyn lived for many years — ignored, even despised as a hopelessly eccentric and too-left backbencher, talking all the time of mass popular struggles elsewhere but doing so to tiny audiences in draughty halls, occasionally donning a scruffy duffle-coat to march with other CNDers on stirring but hopeless demonstrations — one realises that it has been a somewhat odd existence, led almost entirely among a small band of kindred spirits who keep up one another’s spirits by constant reaffirmations of how much they are against this, that or the other. For it is in the nature of such folk to be mainly against things and to be somewhat vague and wishful about what they are actually for.

R W Johnson.

Loathe Corbyn’s politics as I do, I am going to argue that his ability to stick to certain causes, however vile, over a long period of time has lessons for those who hold rather more reality-based opinions. Corbyn and his allies demonstrate that there is a lot to be said for an ability to keep going when everyone else panics or changes course very quickly. As a Marxist, he has absorbed the lessons of how intellectual and eventually political change/victory requires decades. Interestingly enough, I remembered reading much the same about the tactical purpose of the UK’s Libertarian Alliance, founded by Chris Tame. From my recollection – I cannot find the link, sorry – I remembered the point about how change takes time; it means those who argue for it need to be bold, even to shock, because that way one can shift the frame of what is considered respectable to discuss. Consider, it has been within living memory unthinkable to imagine that state-run sectors of the economy could be returned to private hands. When the likes of Arthur Seldon and Ralph Harris were promoting their classical liberal ideas as the Institute of Economic Affairs in the 1960s and 1970s, they were treated by the purveyors of conventional, usually wrong, opinion in much the same way as Corbyn might be, except that these gentlemen did not make a habit of knowingly sharing platforms with anti-semites and terrorists. (Libertarians, in my experience, are as capable of making the error of swimming alongside dubious characters as any others, mind.)

So yes, I think this RW Johnson article is a good one, and certainly worth study. It is also, however, worthwhile for those who ponder the political future of the UK to reflect on how someone such as Corbyn, a man who has never held a proper job and had to worry about creation of wealth and who has held the views he had, come within a whisker of occupying the same office as William Pitt, Robert Peel and Winston Churchill.

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35 comments to Thoughts on Mr Corbyn

  • PeterT

    “As a Marxist, he has absorbed the lessons of how intellectual and eventually political change/victory requires decades”

    Not sure about this. Obama is a much better example of somebody who has absorbed and put into play the Alinsky playbook to staggering effect. Corbyn is largely where he is due to luck.

    However, I agree that libertarians should maintain their focus on ideas, in the hope that they trickle down.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    …the same office as William Pitt, Robert Peel and Winston Churchill.

    More recently: John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and Theresa May. 🙄

  • pete

    Hey – leave off the cycling.

    I am a lifelong Conservative voter who was ridiculed for voting for them in May 1979 during my last term at university.

    I am also a lifelong cyclist as is my 86 year old Tory voting, university educated father.

    In my experience of cycling to various work places over the years and riding with cycling clubs the average keen cyclist is an educated person with a decent job and much more likely to be a Conservative voter than a Labour one.

    Bike sheds at most companies are sparsely populated, but those who do use them are nearly all managers, accountants, actuaries, scientific and technical staff, lawyers, IT staff and other well paid people who can afford expensive bikes.

    Cycling club runs are dominated by the same kind of people, with working class ones being a rarity.

    I have studied pictures of Mr Corbyn with his bikes and they are very sensible and unfashionable machines, a sign that he cycles because it is a practical form of transport rather than as a part of a right on socialist lifestyle.

  • Watchman

    I think libertarian ideas are winning through on many fronts (note the left no longer try oppose sexual freedom for example), but the difference between libertarianism and Marxism (other than the fact only one of them can be capitalised) is that Marxism is delivered through leaders, be they Obamas (so not particularly Marxist) or Corbyns. So the same process does not work for libertarianism which is pretty well incapable of getting a coherent definition never mind a source text or figurehead.

    Of course, this is the weakness of Marxism – it depends on its leaders, and falls with them.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Pete, allow me to introduce you to P J O’Rourke on the subject of cycling.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan,

    The wisdom of Mr. O’Rourke surpasseth anything lately causing reactive damage to one’s keyboard. :>)))

    .

    And now, a word from the local Opinionated Lady:

    Whoever decided that bikes should use the streets and roads rather than the sidewalk was off his nut. Yes, a bike and a pedestrian may collide, with fairly serious damage to both, or, more commonly, neither. A great pity.

    But bicycles mixed in with higher-speed, far more massive motorized traffic are accidents that don’t need to look far for a reason to happen.

    Furthermore: Requiring bike-riders to ride with, rather than against, the other traffic is insane. A bicyclist facing oncoming traffic can see it coming at him and take evasive action. (If there’s no shoulder, he might want to rethink his route.)

    But what about the messenger boy (or girl) in a place like Manhattan?

    Anybody who tries to move anywhere, in any direction, by any means whatsoever, in Midtown Manhattan needs to be airlifted instanter to a nice, peaceful, soothing, attractive rest home in the Poconos, where he won’t hurt himself as he enjoys freely walking about the grounds, under the discreet but watchful eyes of attentive staff.

  • Mr Ed

    Chris Tame was open about what he sought, freedom, for others with no gain for himself other than the pursuit of what is just. Given untrammelled power, he would have worked at reducing the State.

    Mr Corbyn is not open about what he seeks, and given untrammelled power, where would he stop?

    I read that Mr Corbyn’s parents met at a rally in support of Republican Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, perhaps even as priests and nuns were being murdered, some reportedly thrown off the bridge in Ronda.

  • TomJ

    I note that, in Blighty at least, roads were originally tarmacked at the urging and behest of the cyclists. It was the questionable decision to allow motorised behemoths onto the highways, endangering honest cyclists and innocent horses, that should be reviewed…

  • ragingnick

    If Obama can happen here then Corbyn can happen in the UK.

    as for PJ O Rourke, he used to be funny until he sold out to the left establishment. Now he is just another media leftist

  • bobby b

    ” . . . his ability to stick to certain causes, however vile, over a long period of time has lessons for those who hold rather more reality-based opinions.”

    The South African puff adder can conceal itself and then shut its metabolism down sufficiently to remain completely motionless and scentless for three weeks or more while waiting for prey to come within striking distance, and can launch a full strike instantly from its suspension.

    So I suppose the lesson is, be patient and the rats will come to you.

  • Paul Marks

    How poorly Mr Corbyn did so badly in his education is interesting – after all he is from a comfortable background and was in tune with the Progressive beliefs of his educators. So why did he do so poorly? Was he stupid, or just lazy? Was it a case of “yes teacher, I agree” now why do you agree Jeremy? “yes teacher, I agree”, yes but WHY do you agree Jeremy? “Yes teacher, I agree” oh bleep just get out of my sight.

    Still whether it is the blind leftism of Mr Corbyn (anything “Progressive” is good by definition – without the need to present an argument or give reasons) or the more “intellectual” Marxism of John McDonnell, the result would be the same. The country would be utterly ruined – reduced to a Venezuela like condition. And given that the Credit Bubble world economy must collapse at some point (and “capitalism” will be blamed for the resulting Great Depression which results) – a Corbyn-McDonnell victory at the next election is quite possible.

  • Runcie Balspune

    but the difference between libertarianism and Marxism

    The major difference is Marxism has been tried in incalculable variations, in many countries, over decades, and it decisively does not work. There is a big difference between someone who genuinely pursues change and someone who clearly cannot understand their ideology is a failure and needs to move on.

    Corbyn and company have only really got where they are because sufficient time has passed since the last time this was tried and it all seems “new” to many people ignorant of history, this is what “progressive” has become, try it again and again and it might result in something different, the Einsteinian definition of insanity.

    My opinion on libertarianism is it deserves a chance.

  • Pat

    Churchill did very poorly at school, and only succeeded at Sandhurst because he loved it. Perhaps Mr. Corbyn didn’t like his course.
    Don’t write him off for that.
    I don’t think he ever will be Prime Minister, but he may be if no-one takes opposing him seriously.

  • pete

    Did Corbyn really do so badly at school?

    He did pass some A levels, and most people didn’t in his day. They didn’t even take them, or get the chance to.

    I’m 10 years younger than he is and I remember that schools only allowed a small number of pupils into their sixth forms, and many people were rejected as it was thought that A levels too academic for them. Leaving school at 16 was the norm for most people, even the pupils at my state grammar school.

    Also, even getting a couple of A levels didn’t guarantee a university place and it was much more common in those days for sixth formers to leave education at 18 with a couple of A levels and go into a job.

    Of course, there were far fewer university places available too.

    So Corbyn was in the small section of the school population which was allowed to advance to the sixth form in the 1960s, and he did manage to get 2 A levels at a time when A level passes were relatively rare. That makes him probably as bright and a lot brighter than many people who go to university today when even average ability children can pass A levels with suspiciously good grades and get into the vastly expanded HE sector.

  • NickM

    A few years ago I wrote a piece on Counting Cats (recall them?) that got an especially interesting comment.

    It was about fashion mags like Vogue etc. Apparently according to the commentator issues from a generation ago were highly sort after by fashion designers. A generation is the natural cycle of fashion. In the UK the average age for a first birth is now around 30 (and presumably amongst Guardianistas a bit higher).

    Fashion doesn’t just apply to the cut of trousers but maybe to politics as well. This takes us back to the mid-80s. Corbyn is a a mid-80s Labourite.

    Maybe it is that simple. To the young and educated (and he seems to have massive appeal there*) he’s just fashionable in the same way flairs come back every so often. Perhaps those laws are as immutable as those of Kepler and those inevitable forces overcome the fact that he looks and sounds like he should be inhabiting a dog-shit filled park with a bag of Werther’s Originals.

    By now you might have spotted the fatal flaw. But Nick, ’80s Labour were routinely humiliated? Yes. But enter stage right a true force of nature in Mrs Thatcher. Mrs May is no Thatcher (even if she thinks she is). Thatcher had a very special power. She had the capacity to be respected and feared even by people who hated her. May is just despised as a weak and ineffectual authoritarian.

    *I spent the weekend at the Bluedot festival at Jodrell Bank and I counted way more Corbyn T-shirts than ones for all their headline bands combined.

  • Stephen K

    Hey – leave off the cycling.

    In my experience of cycling to various work places over the years and riding with cycling clubs the average keen cyclist is an educated person with a decent job and much more likely to be a Conservative voter than a Labour one.

    This is my experience too. I read the PJ O’Rourke piece long ago but never took it too seriously. As much as anything he was not so much against bikes as against spandex. But frankly, history has caught up with liberty-lovers on this issue. Time was that motor cars gave freedom of movement. Nowadays? Not so much – if you want to enjoy any freedom of movement in cities you need a bike or similar.

  • Alisa

    Stephen K is spot on – both on spandex and on cars.

  • Henry Cybulski

    Besides being doggedly persistent, Corbyn is a beneficiary of “the long march through the institutions.” (Ditto Obama.) If you didn’t have Corbyn it would be somebody else, just as instead of Obama it would have been president Hillary some nine years ago. In the latter case the “better” woman won.

  • Greg

    Henry Cybulski, why insult women by referring to Obama as such, or Hillary for that matter? 🙂

  • Alisa

    But then, why insult men by referring to him/her/it as such?…

  • Alisa

    I suggest ‘the humanoid formerly known as PotUS’.

  • CaptDMO

    From the US…
    “and almost Dickensian passion for faraway causes of little relevance to the lives of those he represents,..”
    Oooo, “we” have a mayor like that for New York City!

    “If one thinks about the sort of life that Corbyn lived for many years — ignored, even despised as a hopelessly eccentric and too-left backbencher..et cet.”
    Ohhhhh, so Just like HITLER?
    Why do I suspect this parallel by the author was not a coincidence?
    Just sayin’

  • Henry Cybulski

    A comment on Runcie Balspune’s comment: correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t libertarianism, or some close approximation, the system in the US after the Revolution and for decades thereafter, a system that led to the country becoming the most wealthy on earth.
    By the way, Greg, Alisa, a smile back at you.

  • John K

    Pete:

    Corbyn is pretty badly educated. He managed two “E” grades at A Level, then a year of “Trade Union Studies”, surely the ultimate doss subject, at polytechnic, and that’s it for his formal education. He got a job at NUPE, the public sector union which brought you uncollected rubbish and unburied corpses, and has never had any sort of paid work where he had to worry if his salary was coming at the end of the month.

    All throughout the 1970s and 80s, when everyone knew that life in the Eastern Bloc was grim and repressive, he devoted himself to the defeat of western capitalism and the imposition of Eastern European style socialism. What sort of person does that?

    Throughout those decades, when we knew that the people of Eastern Europe suffered shortages, and were under constant surveillance and repression, that was the system he wanted. And he stuck to it, even when the Berlin Wall fell, the USSR disintegrated, and the countries of Eastern Europe became democracies and embraced the free market. None of it mattered to Corbyn. He, and his fellow fanatics, ploughed on in their tedious furrow, convinced that eventually they would see the Triumph of Socialism.

    It says something for the awfulness of the Conservative election campaign, and the desire of young people to go to university without paying for it, that this man came within a few dozen seats of becoming Prime Minister, with the hard line Marxist Seumas Milne as his Chief of Staff.

    It is sometimes said that society is only a few meals from anarchy, but it is sobering to think how close we came to giving power to an unreconstructed soviet socialist. Mrs May has got a lot to answer for.

  • JoseM

    John K:

    Corbyn is pretty badly formally educated. He may be excellently self-educated or not. There have been some outstanding examples of people who have done badly in formal schooling but have accomplished things in real life.

  • Stonyground

    I’m a vegetarian, I cycle and I am abstaining from alcohol at present as I’m training for a major endurance event. I don’t have a beard. I’m certainly not a lefty, I think I would describe myself as a minarchist, I think that the state should be as small and cheap as possible and should only be involved in stuff that really can’t be done privately. My education was pretty basic too but I didn’t stop learning when I left school.

    “Furthermore: Requiring bike-riders to ride with, rather than against, the other traffic is insane. A bicyclist facing oncoming traffic can see it coming at him and take evasive action. (If there’s no shoulder, he might want to rethink his route.)”

    Seriously Julie, this is an unbelievably stupid idea.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . I am abstaining from alcohol at present as I’m training for a major endurance event.”

    For some of us, abstaining from alcohol would BE a major endurance event.

  • John K

    Jose:

    Corbyn seems to have spent his adult life following the Marxist dialectic. I will leave it to your judgment as to whether that counts as “excellent self-education”. Personally, I have my doubts.

  • NickM

    Stony,
    “My education was pretty basic too but I didn’t stop learning when I left school.”

    And I bet you didn’t start then either. Something I hate about modern life is the idea that everything has to be formally taught. Everything.

    Just no! I have taught myself loads and/or got it from mates and vice versa or just generally. I am no George Green and neither I guess are you.

    As a physics undergrad at Nottingham University his windmill was somewhat sobering on the formal score.

    Formal education is generally an admixture of bullshit, filler, some good stuff, indoctrination and pointless point scoring.

    And I am saying that as someone who did much better than two Es at A-Level Corbyn.

  • Quentin

    Corbyn is a True Believer and has been so for a long time. This gives him integrity, which people respect even if they don’t like his beliefs. It’s the same with Farage. Integrity is, of course, severely lacking in much of politics these days.

  • JoseM

    John K, I don’t think it is the level of education which steers someone toward Marxist dialectic, but early life experiences. To oversimplify, if you train a young child in some understandable version of Marxism and then send him off to excellent education on a mission to fulfill that, you have a well-educated adult following the Marxist dialectic. The choice of political preference and the degree of education (formal or self-) are independent items and need to be evaluated separately. Perhaps you were implying that later life experiences should have taught him the error of his ways, but it is quite possible to interpret your life experiences in terms of your political orientation, and have the latter reinforce the former.

  • Stonyground

    Isn’t that a bit like someone being told that he can run his car on water and then trying it and finding his belief that it is a good idea reinforced every time his car refuses to move?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nick, I was very glad to make the acquaintance of George Green. Wow! Thanks for the link. :>))

  • John K

    Jose:

    All I was saying was that Corbyn is relatively poorly educated. I guess most voters imagine he is Oxbridge, like so many politicians, and would be surprised that he only managed one year at a poly. A lot was made that John Major only had O Levels when he was PM, but nothing has been made about Corbyn’s poor educational record.

    I do not know why he chose the path of Marxism, long after most people could see that soviet style socialism brings only repression and permanent shortages of everything. How, in the face of all the evidence, he could have spent the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 2000s ploughing his lonely furrow amazes me, and frightens me. Only a true believer, a real zealot, could do that.

    By a curious combination of chances, he became Labour leader and almost the PM. It is shocking to me, and profoundly depressing, that in 2017, in Britain, we almost elected a government led by an unreformed Marxist. What a shambles.

  • Magnocrat

    I love a unique character like Jeremy he sticks out like a sore thumb and we must remember he was forced into power by his far sighted labourites who thought he did not have a cat in hells chance.
    The unpredictable dance of politics has raised up an unknown and the unwashed and unknown love him. He is Britain’s answer to Donald Trump but he has an innocence that the braggart Trump lacks, he is the mild mannered Clark Kent who turns into Superman. He has the establishment shaking in their boots and the more they seek for Corbyn remedies the stronger he gets.