If it didn’t point to a decade of Tory rule in this country, the Labour leadership elections would make you laugh.
Incapable of winning a national election, they now seem unable to win their own. Not only is the organisation of the election a shambles, but the majority of “realistic candidates” lack a convincing vision which is credible, durable or different in substance to the government. For my money, if the government is going to have Tory policies they might as well be Tories. Ineffectual Labour politicians doing “Tory with a smile and a heart of gold” doesn’t cut it for me.
I want them to be Labour politicians who offer a different view of what human thriving looks like and offer that to the nation. After all, that is what the party was founded on. And that is why I find Jeremy Corbyn to be intriguing. Much of what he says makes some sense: there are certain things a state does better if the aim isn’t to make money but rather to supply the needs of the people; it is a myth that if it is private it is better; politics should be about people’s lives and thriving rather than the health of the nation (whatever that really means). Of course, he also has views which would probably make him a disaster as a prime minister.
It doesn’t really matter who wins if the criteria is about being next prime minister in waiting. The winner of this election will be what Private Eye fondly calls, “the future ex-leader” of the Labour Party. Unless the Tories absolutely screw up in the next five years (and I mean like cause a famine or nuclear power plant meltdown or start a war) no one on that slate is going to lead anyone to victory. After all, they didn’t manage it in May.
But maybe winning the next election really isn’t the point. Maybe the point is becoming a party which genuinely offers a credible alternative vision of what the country could look like and thrive like. Maybe they could offer a different set of values and show how the values they oppose are inferior to the ones they propose.
What Labour lacks now is something genuinely different to say.
I was reading the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark yesterday and what struck me was how Mark focusses not on doctrine or policies that are Christian, but rather on the eruption of the Kingdom of God into the world in the person of Jesus. Mark is interested in how this Jesus person will call people to repent and start afresh. Repentance means to turn from, to U turn, to start down a new course. It is a radical rethink about life and relationships and God. The author of Mark labels it “The Good News”.
In this beginning, the unlikely character of John the Baptist wanders on to the scene and basically says, “We’re not going to tweak the status quo. We are going to overturn it and start from a new foundation. Someone is coming who will change all this.” We find this expressed in the other gospels in other ways but the message is the same: this old status quo the powerful want you to cling to will no longer do.
I have to admit that I saw Jeremy Corbyn, in his own context, as a sort of John the Baptist of the Labour Party. And I think that he would be good for Labour’s soul. In his own way he is calling the party to “repent” of chasing dubious growth strategies and assumptions that in order for us all to thrive the rich have to thrive first, that the poor and sick should be penalised for being poor and sick, that the point of our lives is to be productive economically. I like his scruffiness and his knowing look. He isn’t a naïve cloistered doctrinaire brain box like Michael Foot was. He is asking the question: “Do you want to live in a one party state where the only choice between parties is really no choice or do you want a party who believes that a nation’s first priority should be human thriving?” It’s a question whose answer reveals the real soul of the party.
Maybe if the party gets its soul right, then it will one day get the right leader to carry that soul into the fight.