In 2002 Theresa May famously described the Tory party as “the nasty party”. This week, as she walked into the Conservative party conference through a shower of bile and spittle from the anti-austerity protesters outside, she could be forgiven for thinking not much has changed. In reality though, everything has changed and it’s now the protesters who are the face of the nasty side of British politics – the Corbynite Labour party.
Then, the Tories were a humbled, atrophied shell of a party reeling from a second crushing electoral defeat to Labour. Their Thatcherite inheritance and corrupt ’90s incarnation left them as the “nasty”, uncaring face of rampant individualism, replaced by softer, caring but still aspirational Blairism.
13 years on, following their own electoral nadir in May, Labour have rejected that winning formula and replaced it with a form of British Jacobinism, an agenda that pits the virtuous Corbynites against Tory “scum”. The unpleasant minority present at the “anti-austerity” protest outside the conference are the anti-democratic mob at its vanguard.
To them, a belief in self responsibility or even just a narrower view of the world that promotes the interest of yourself and your loved ones over distant Syrian migrants or those on benefits places you in the ranks of the impure, something subhuman. You are someone deserving to be spat at in the streets.
A protestor just came up and SPAT in my face.
— Owen Bennett (@owenjbennett) October 4, 2015
Either that or you are merely a naïve pawn of the 1%, hoodwinked by the right wing media (the “RWM” for those on Twitter) into believing you could be more than you are but nonetheless destined to be crushed by austerity imposed by the rich egoists in control of the levers of government.
The Corbyn-endorsed “Sans-Culottes”
This mob, at full strength only representing a mere 0.4% of the population, is a disingenuous, anti-democratic, dictatorial clique of frustrated militants unable to come to terms with electoral failure. They preach an ideology of division, of moral purity backed up by violent unpleasantness euphemistically called “direct action”.
All this is supported by Jeremy Corbyn himself and his protégé John McDonnell. Corbyn was present to give an address to the mob this week – he is its leader, its respectable face. His appeal is based on a virtuous nirvana. A nuclear free world of zero poverty and social egalitarianism brought about by a massive increase in benevolent state involvement.
Any discussion of the historical consequences resulting from the implementation of his plans are judiciously avoided in favour of intolerant heckling. Those who bring up previous failures are shouted down as scum, or as a weak-minded pawns of the Murdoch press. Your view is worth little and your vote less still.
In tune with this frustrated militancy and just 4 months after the General Election he announced democracy to be something other than the electoral process in his conference speech.
“You set the terms for the people in power over you, and you dismiss them when they fail you. That’s what democracy is about”
Robespierre would be proud of such a sentiment. There’s just enough wiggle room there to justify all kinds of actions. What constitutes “failure” in this context? Who is Corbyn referring to when he suggests “you” set the terms – the electorate, or “you” in the singular sense? What does he suggest “you” do to “dismiss them”? Blairite MPs beware, terror may yet be the order of the day.
This could be an innocuous statement if he didn’t have anti-democratic form and he didn’t surround himself with supporters of anti-democratic resistance. His unapologetic willingness to hear from violent extremists of apparently pure purpose give tacit endorsement to the use of extreme and violent actions against apparently despotic enemies, even if they are democratically endorsed.
Many people have sympathy with the Palestinians in their struggle for sovereignty in Gaza and the West Bank but would stop at accepting justifications for suicide bombings carried out by Hamas and have less sympathy for the outrageous aims of Hezbollah in the region.
Corbyn doesn’t. To him the end justifies the means. The righteous struggle justifies the toleration of violence.
The actions of Hamas, if not explicitly supported – he vigorously denies support for violence – are tacitly accepted as part of an understandable struggle and do not preclude them in any future democratic process in his eyes – despite their wish for the obliteration of Israel.
His sympathy for Russia in the face of “NATO encroachment” on its “sphere of influence” shows an alarming relativism between Russia’s totalitarian system and the West’s democratic process. One cannot compare Putin’s bluff rhetoric to Obama’s checked diplomacy.
Corbyn does. To him there is no difference between totalitarianism and democracy if your aims are pure.
John McDonnell – the Saint-Just to Corbyn’s Robespierre – goes further. To him direct action is desirable as is the infatuation with spitting that apparently goes with it. An anecdote, only 4 years old, has him saying:
“There was one woman in all of that… she said I make the manager’s tea; I spit in it every day. And it’s that form of we’re not taking it anymore, and we’re going to give it back, I think builds up a climate of opinion, a climate of dissent, which I actually think, when combined with industrial action, will produce a tipping point that will force this government out of office and that’s got to be our objective.”
The Sans-Culottes mob in Manchester and unpleasant, digital hoard of Twitter disciples follow this lead. They see no issue in carrying placards encouraging people to “defy Tory rule” 4 months after an election because it doesn’t matter. Democracy isn’t about elections to them, it’s about the “rule of the people” embodied by them as the tribunes of the silent, angry and brainwashed masses. They are the holders of superior virtue, disdainful of the wider public and as such must be empowered to “dismiss” the Tory scum – by direct action if necessary.
A supporter of Ed Miliband put this regard of the public will best on “The Daily Politics” when he said following Miliband’s apparently inexplicable defeat, “Miliband is too good for this fucking country”.
Labour’s divisive week in wonderland
Although incubated under Miliband’s soft anti-capitalist rhetoric, this anger and democratic disdain has come surging to the fore during Corbyn’s rise to lead the party. In his conference speech he made no mention of the causes of Labour’s electoral defeat, after all it doesn’t matter. That’s not what democracy is about.
Corbyn’s conference message was one of division hidden behind unifying spin. In the same speech he can say without irony that he “will listen to everyone” while ignoring the electorate’s verdict of the party. He ignored the election and instead painted a dystopian vision of Britain as a place ruled by a commercial aristocracy, the winners of globalisation taking more and more at the expense of the poor.
This is fantasy, but a fantasy aimed at fueling anger and resistance.
Apparently we’re told of those that earn the least;
“their incomes have been hit hardest by five years of Tory economic failure”
This isn’t even true. The incomes of the poorest have been protected. It is those at the top whose incomes have been hit hardest – quite significantly so. The top 1% pay more tax both as a percentage of GDP and the overall tax take than ever, even despite cutting the top rate of tax. The 0.1 and 0.01% likewise. Inequality hasn’t grown significantly since 2010. More jobs have been created faster than under any regime of the last 30 years.
Even the central plank of their hatred – budgetary austerity – is an illusion. Once a rock-star supporter, Greek anti-austerity legend Yanis Varoufakis derides George Osborne’s efforts. He says George Osborne has carried out “a little bit of austerity” and almost goes so far as to endorse deficit reduction as an aim of government.
Not for progress, for the struggle
Of course all this is a digression to prove a point. Reality, democracy or even economics don’t matter to Corbyn or his Jacobin supporters. Just as the with 18th century Sans-Culottes, those of Corbyn’s vintage aren’t economically dispossessed, they’re posers purporting to represent the apparently dispossessed. They are in search of moral affirmation, not economic change. To support Corybn is the ultimate example of “virtue signalling”, the easy proof you’re virtuous without having to do anything material. Twitter is therefore the logical medium for its expression – bite sized, ineffectual but visible to millions.
This is also why the economic reality doesn’t make any difference to them, they long for struggle, not progress. The catalyst for this struggle is the ludicrous, nasty and dangerous view that inequality is not a function of economics but of conspiracy. To Corbyn and his Sans-Culottes, the poor are poor because of the exploitation of the rich and that this has forever been thus. He said in his conference speech:
“Since the dawn of history in virtually every human society there are some people who are given a great deal and many more people who are given little or nothing. Some people have property and power, class and capital, status and clout which are denied to the many. And time and time again, the people who receive a great deal tell the many to be grateful to be given anything at all”
If we ignore the noxious notion that people are “given” anything rather than earning it, the latest incarnation of this grand conspiracy is Tory austerity and the “misery” brought about by it.
He describes those with means as supported by the Tories and lays responsibility for the apparent plight of the poor at the door of those “given a great deal”. Furthermore, he tacitly endorses the worst kinds of anti-democratic vitriol and actively supports adherents of unpleasant, direct action against democratic outcomes.
The nasty, anti-democratic, factional and unpleasant protests this week are not just allowed by Corbyn and McDonnell, rather their rhetoric are the protesters’ source and catalyst. The Labour party have therefore become one of self-appointed metropolitan crusaders of their version of “virtue”, dismissive of the public and democratic process.
They are the real 1% – less in fact – and the “nasty party” of 2015.
Corbyn should beware. He best not let the Sans-Culottes down. After all, we know revolutions tend to “eat their children”. Robespierre would tell him that.