Checkpoint: Ye Are Many
It is a sad irony that the young, who suffer the heaviest weight of our future, must also endure a prejudicial irrelevance in regards to its composition. Moreover, it is depressingly telling of how this age came to be, that after the young were able to influence the U.K.’s General Election in pursuit of social progress, the so called ‘centrist’ establishment has displayed little but petulant immaturity.
For the first time since Jeremy Corbyn assumed the Labour Party leadership, he has moved ahead of Theresa May in the polls. This means that if another election were to be called tomorrow - Corbyn would win. Of course, if another election was called tomorrow, the collective and simultaneous collapsing of the British public would send a seismic shockwave across the Atlantic, and I wouldn’t know what had happened until Boris Johnson surfed past the window of my Manhattan apartment. Despite the unlikelihood of such an event, talk remains pervasive that despite Corbyn’s strong showing, he still doesn’t have the support of his own MP’s.
In truth, this chatter has begun to quiet down. The party’s deputy leader Tom Watson recently declared Corbyn’s position was “completely secure.” Watson was previously a lively critic of Corbyn, but has seemingly found himself, much like the British public, warming to the Labour leader.
Despite this apparent warming, the invested interests of the center-left remain at the least apprehensive, and at the most insubordinate - none more so than the man who led the party for 13 years: Fmr. Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a recent article published through his institute, Blair argued that Brexit, followed by a Jeremy Corbyn government, should Corbyn eventually take power, would leave Britain “flat on our back.” Blair’s article is a continuance of his re-emergence on the domestic political scene. An emergence that bears resemblance to that of a raccoon as the bins are being put out – you can shoo the critter off, but he’ll usually get what he wants.
What Tony Blair wants has never been difficult to decipher – he wants to be seen as an irenic and likable mediator. He doesn’t seem to care what he’s mediating, so long as a focus group finds him affable as a result. Unfortunately for him, the only focus group he really cares about, that which selects the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, somehow manages to find worthier candidates every year.
In my recent pre-Election feature, I described Blair’s return as opportunistic, as opposed to his styling of it as a calming call for progressive centrism. This ‘progress’ is of course not qualified, but one can assume he means the progress of the 1% away from everyone else. In truth, Blair is not completely unpalatable. Indeed, at numerous times throughout his career he has attempted to do the right thing - admirable in a politician, and rare in a successful one.
However, like an invasive parent with delusions of coolness, Blair usually does more harm than good. After all, this is a man who converted to Roman Catholicism in the 21st Century and then decided his post-political calling would be an institute called The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. It is this befuddled thinking that Blair is prone to that I must disparage. After all, the Catholic Church is to Global Change what a Great White Shark is to a water-birth. Likewise, suggesting a return to the neo-capitalist doctrines that helped facilitate modernity’s mass disillusion is about as sane as suggesting Bill Cosby should provide reparations to his victims in the form of a nightcap.
In Blair’s article, he argued that following the right wing populist punch of Brexit with a leftwing populist punch in the form of hard-left economics, would put Britain “out for a long count.” This is naught but a typical effort to warp the perception of the political spectrum. It is in fact spectacularly unfair to tarnish coherent democratic socialism, let alone the imposing intellectual fibre of the entire history of the left, as the same mere “populism” that allowed a moronic celebrity to confuse a notoriously unconscious electorate at a historically pressurized time.
Ever the crowd pleaser however, Blair did pay tribute to “Jeremy Corbyn’s temperament in the campaign, to the campaign’s mobilization of younger voters, and to the enthusiasm it generated,” Blair continued, “His supporters shouldn’t exaggerate it, but his critics, including me, shouldn’t understate it.” It is precisely this patronizing tone which I find so underhanded from the so-called establishment.
It is the same tone the Democratic establishment in the United States uses when it speaks of Bernie Sanders and his support. Both establishment centrist sections of these parties speak in these ingratiating tones as if they hadn’t sold their support in a Faustian bargain for power and speaking fees. The center-left, which is in reality, the right, act is if democratic socialism is a child they’re humoring, and not the only system empirically working on this planet. They can call themselves the center only in as much as they’ve manufactured the economy to sit on a knife-edge, ensuring only furious consumerism for towering profit of the 1% can maintain stability.
Blair is not wrong about everything of course. He warns the party he once led to be weary of the ‘one more heave’ mentality. The result of the election was positive for the Labour Party, but it was as much due to Tory incompetence as it was to Labour invigoration. Blair is right in pushing for a further bolstering of Labour’s program rather than resting solely on its tone. This somewhat underplays the rather positive reception of the party’s campaign manifesto, but Blair is on the whole correct in his assessment that a leftist program needs bulletproof policy.
Corbyn’s popularity may still be rubbing many of his more centrist, which is to say neo-capitalist, MP’s up the wrong way. However, if there is one thing adherents of the tenets of Blairite ‘New Labour’ value above all else, it is to be seen as fashionable. Such figures are too gutless to be genuinely fashionable, for such honest style can only be originated by perseverance under pressure, such has been the career of Jeremy Corbyn himself.
Throughout the latter part of the election campaign, and even as recently as Corbyn’s appearance at Glastonbury, the party leader has quoted a famous stanza from Percy Bysshe Shelly’s The Masque of Anarchy. The poem was a reaction to the 1819 Peterloo massacre, and has been wielded numerous times by the intellectual and political left over the years.
The particular stanza Corbyn likes to quote, and which many of his supporters chant with him, goes like this:
Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many – they are few!
The final line in particular shows the poems usability to popularly charged rises of the left. However, it is interesting that the poem was not originally published until 1832, a decade after Shelley’s death. Leigh Hunt prefaced the poem’s tardiness in publication by noting that he “thought that the public at large had not become sufficiently discerning to do justice to the sincerity and kind-heartedness of the spirit that walked in this flaming robe of verse.”
Hunt thought the public at large were not ready for the truth. With two centuries more hindsight, it can be safely said that a public rarely ever is. Politicians at large, it can also be said, are just as sluggish. Politics and romantic poetry share a volatile nature, but in practice – genuine appreciation and progress comes through slow realizations more often than organic revolutions, or as in poetry, revelations. A condemnation of the absurdity of our age could fill several volumes, several volumes I hope to write, but just as the age has allocated a joke-killing amount of time to the few frauds, so too has the instability of the status quo provided time to the many who are only trying to honestly interact with the reality they see before them.
The rebirth of a socially minded democracy in the 21st century may sound impossibly utopian. However, the impossible, said James Baldwin, is the least one can demand. And progress, said Oscar Wilde, is the realization of Utopias. Baldwin’s ‘impossible, and Wilde’s ‘utopias’ are of course the same thing, that which can’t be vanquished by the insidiously chirpy and amiable Tony Blair – the pervasive proletarian sense of helplessness that dwells in young hearts denied a future.