After waking up to a Conservative win in the 2015 general election, I resigned myself to the fact that politics was futile. Though only 34% of the electorate voted Conservative, the UK was faced with 5 more years of rule by an elite group of neoliberal free marketers who, despite having just approved £4.4 billion in working tax credit cuts , somehow brazenly spout “party of the working man” rhetoric. I felt hopeless. Politics was dead for me.
As you would expect after such a disheartening result, I paid little attention to the Labour leadership election. What difference would it make to me? But as the days went by and a media fervour surrounding the election began to develop, I noticed one name was cropping up considerably more than most. Jeremy Corbyn. Before I even looked into his political history and the policies he advocates, I could tell he must be on the left of the political spectrum, given the hounding he was already receiving from the right wing press. But I was expecting the usual stuff that comes from “left-wing” labour politicians – slightly higher taxes, some superfluous vanity “tax on the wealthy” (like Miliband’s mansion tax), and duplicitous anti-Tory rhetoric. So I was very surprised when I read more about Jeremy Corbyn’s policies and political history. A rebel who regularly voted with his convictions rather than the whip. A supporter of raising the highest rate of income tax, clamping down on tax avoidance, and eradicating homelessness and poverty through controlling rents, building more social housing, and introducing a real living wage. An anti-war campaigner who proposes dropping the trident nuclear program. I didn’t quite believe it – these views can be seen outside the mainstream political arena in parties such as the Greens. But coming from a possible future Labour leader? With my newly gained cynicism for British politics, I definitely didn’t think he could win the leadership election.
In stark contrast to the mainstream, centrist politics that have dominated in Britain over the past 40 years, politics that are driven purely by fear, Jeremy Corbyn’s politics are the politics of hope. The politics of hope for a better future, not only for Britain, but for the whole world.
Fear has been behind so many of the policies we have seen in our recent political history.
Tony Blair’s New Labour came out of fear – Labour abandoned their principles out of fear of losing another election to the Tories. Tony Blair took us to war out of fear – an irrational and unjustifiable fear that Saddam Hussein had nuclear capabilities.
Year after year the government justifies spending billions on nuclear weapons out of fear – fear that if we don’t have them, someone will attack us.
David Cameron is likely to propose air strikes in Syria, pushing this agenda through by instilling in the public fear of ISIS.
Neoliberal MPs continue to refuse to do anything about tax evasion, hiding behind the narrative of trickledown economics and the fear that corporations “will take their business elsewhere”.
Right wing parties like Britain First are trying to strip us of our humanity and compassion, our natural human instinct to want to help other people, by spreading an irrational fear that hidden amongst the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe, are well trained ISIS terrorists.
UKIP have gained substantial support off the back of a narrative that has left people terrified that they will lose their job, their house, and their culture to people who were born in other countries.
So how could this politician, with his policies that are fostered out of the hope for a better world, be elected leader in a country where the people are constantly bombarded with a narrative designed to instil fear?
Still weighed down myself with the politics of fear, and with little hope left for anything progressive in the foreseeable future, I didn’t let myself believe the polls. Going against my own principles, I believed the press – there was no way Labour party members would vote for someone with socialist policies. I watched the leadership election on September 12th, 2015 with baited breath. For me, and for many people that day, who had lost all faith in British politics, something changed. Hope won over fear. I had feared that the smear campaign by the press would have been successful in preventing people from voting for Jeremy Corbyn. I feared the media tycoons had convinced everyone that socialism was evil and that free market capitalism was god. But when I saw that figure, 59%… when I saw the people celebrating in the streets and the excitement spreading amongst the young and disenchanted, I once again felt hope, and I saw it in other people too.
It has been only days since Jeremy won, and already the press and the Tories have started their campaign against him and his socialist policies. Unsurprisingly, they are using their tried and tested weapon of scaremongering. The Sun, drawing on a speech Jeremy made at the annual commemoration service for the people who were killed in the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, claim Jeremy wants to “Abolish the Army”. This is what Jeremy actually said:
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world instead of taking pride in the size of their Armed Forces did what Costa Rica have done and abolished their Army, and took pride in the fact they don’t have an Army.”
Surely everybody thinks it would be wonderful if no country needed an army? He is talking hypothetically, and, unsurprisingly, The Sun took what he said completely out of context, in an effort to make people afraid that a Labour victory in the 2020 election would leave us completely defenceless.
The Tories, in their sinister video backed by sinister music, made the bold assertion that Jeremy Corbyn is a “threat to our national security”. The video purports to outline the “facts” about the new leader. These “facts” are based on heavily misconstrued comments he made in past speeches and interviews.
Firstly, the video claims that Jeremy Corbyn views the death of Osama Bin Laden as “a tragedy”. This is in reference to an interview he gave to Iranian Press TV channel’s “The Agenda” programme, shortly after Bin Laden’s assassination in 2011. If you watch the video, it is clear that he is referring to the failure of the US to capture Bin Laden and try him for his crimes as a tragedy (you can watch part of the interview here). He also condemns the attack on the World Trade Centre and its fall out; “The World Trade Centre was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy. Tens of thousands of people have died. Torture has come back on to the world stage, been canonised virtually into law by Guantanamo and Bagram.”
The Tory propaganda piece also displays footage of Jeremy Corbyn calling members of Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”. The footage is taken from a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave at a meeting about crises in the Middle East, a meeting that was also attended by members of Hezbollah, and to which members of Hamas were invited. In an interview with Channel 4 News, Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that he does not condone the actions of Hezbollah or Hamas, but that he believes they should be invited to such events, as their inclusion in the discussion is needed if a peaceful resolution is ever to be made between Israel and these two groups (you can read the interview transcript here). Surely anything we can do which helps bring peace this troubled region should be considered?
Finally, the video claims Jeremy Corbyn wants to “dismantle our armed forces”. This claim stems from a speech in which he questions the size of our armed forces in relation to the size and location of our country; isn’t this a legitimate debate, when 2% of our GDP goes towards military spending, yet the government is proposing a further £12 billion in cuts to welfare spending? It is the media induced fear of war, of Islamic fundamentalism, of Russia and China, that allows for the Tories and the right wing media to portray the concept of a pacifist leader as terrifying.
The attacks by the press and the Tories are relentless. Today, The Sun and The Daily Mail have attempted to portray him as an anti-royalist who has no respect for those who fought against fascism in the World Wars, because he didn’t sing the national anthem at the Battle of Britain memorial service. Quite ironic that, at a service where we remember the people who fought against oppression and fascism, you can be criticised for choosing to express your respect with silence, rather than pledging allegiance to an unelected monarch when you are in fact a republican. The Times claimed he rides a “Chairman Mao style bicycle” and Piers Morgan compared him to Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. If comparing a socialist leader in modern Britain to authoritarian dictators who were responsible for the deaths of millions isn’t scare mongering, then I don’t know what is.
Undoubtedly this is only the beginning of the smear campaign against the newly elected Labour leader. But his election on Saturday has shown us something – the people are fed up of the oppressive fear being forced upon them by the press, and are turning instead to hope, inspired by someone who does not accept that “the way things are” are how they should be or how they have to be. The oligarchs behind the papers, that rely on unchecked capitalism and profiteering from wars in order to keep them obscenely wealthy and powerful, seem to be the ones running scared now. They are terrified of the rise in popularity of socialist parties like SYRIZA and Podemos, and of socialist leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, because they represent a threat of change to a broken and unfair system where it is corporations that govern our world.