Why Cor­byn and his out­rid­ers can’t speak for the work­ing classes

The New European - - News - BY ED­DIE MARSAN

Ac­tor ED­DIE MARSAN, who has be­come a lead­ing online critic of Jeremy Cor­byn and his sup­port­ers, on why the far-left mis­un­der­stand the work­ing class, and are fail­ing it over Brexit

In re­cent days, we’ve had polls sug­gest­ing that 72% of Labour mem­bers think Jeremy Cor­byn should fully sup­port a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum; that 88% of them would sup­port Re­main if such a vote was held; and that sup­port for the party would slump to just 26% if it backed, or al­lowed its MPS to sup­port, any kind of Brexit deal.

So why does the Labour leader carry on as he is, de­fy­ing calls for a Peo­ple’s Vote from his own sup­port­ers and in­sist­ing his party would pur­sue Brexit even if it won a snap elec­tion? Why would a man who claims to have ded­i­cated his life to fight­ing in­equal­ity com­mit him­self so ve­he­mently to a pol­icy that will cause greater in­equal­i­ties? The an­swer is self-delu­sion.

We may feel the threat of pop­ulism most im­me­di­ately through the right-wing mass move­ments of Don­ald Trump, Jair Bol­sonaro and Nigel Farage, but it is found more widely than that, and it be­gins on a per­sonal level.

It’s the fam­ily ar­gu­ment at the kitchen ta­ble, the per­sonal choice to select sim­ple lies over com­plex truths. It stems from our need to cre­ate com­fort­ing, fa­mil­iar nar­ra­tives by which to live by, and it is an un­der­stand­able re­sponse to an ev­er­chang­ing, some­times un­for­giv­ing, world.

But it is still self-delu­sion. And Cor­byn is as guilty of it as any­one.

Britain des­per­ately needs po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who can help us de­velop new nar­ra­tives that more closely re­sem­ble the stark re­al­i­ties that we are en­coun­ter­ing. I be­lieve those po­ten­tial lead­ers do ex­ist across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum in the UK. Un­for­tu­nately, none of them are lead­ing our two main po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

The prob­lem with Theresa May is that she doesn’t seem to be­lieve in any­thing. She knows the nar­ra­tive be­hind Brexit is out­dated, that it is false and that pur­su­ing it will re­sult in great harm. Yet she doesn’t have the courage to stop it. In­stead, she has come up with a deal that is an at­tempt to mit­i­gate the dam­age, and in do­ing so pleases no­body.

Cor­byn on the other hand does be­lieve in some­thing. This is no doubt one of the key com­po­nents of his ini­tial suc­cess and one of the rea­sons why he gal­vanised so many young peo­ple to his cause. In the wake of the fi­nan­cial crash and years of aus­ter­ity, he of­fered a nar­ra­tive to be­lieve in. The prob­lem is, how­ever, the de­tail.

It’s all very well to have the as­pi­ra­tion of cre­at­ing a fair and equal so­ci­ety – how can any­one rea­son­ably ar­gue against that? But Brexit has ex­posed the means by which Cor­byn would achieve this utopia to be based on a nar­ra­tive as out­dated and re­gres­sive as those of any right-wing pop­ulist.

On Europe, Cor­byn is as out of step with his young fol­low­ers and the wider Labour mem­ber­ship, as, for in­stance, Nigel Farage or Iain Dun­can Smith.

Now, I could be a re­ally trendy ac­tor and rail only against the pop­ulism of the right – the racism, the xeno­pho­bia and the Is­lam­o­pho­bia that this has en­abled. But I have never looked to the far-right, or even the Con­ser­va­tive party, to be the ve­hi­cle of change that I think this coun­try needs. Rather, I’ve al­ways looked to­wards the Labour party to bring about a so­ci­ety that can be, as Billy Bragg puts it, “re­or­gan­ised so that ev­ery­one has ac­cess to the means by which to ful­fil their full po­ten­tial”.

But right now, this is not what is on of­fer from Cor­byn and the more priv­i­leged mem­bers of the far-left now in con­trol of the party. In­stead, what we have is a pop­ulist, self-de­lud­ing, nar­cis­sis­tic nar­ra­tive that is block­ing such an out­come. The clear­est ex­pres­sion of this is their op­po­si­tion to a Peo­ple’s Vote. In their mind­set, they res­cue us.

De­spite all their talk, this part of the party – now in the as­cen­dant – has no in­ter­est in em­pow­er­ing the work­ing class, for in­stance, by supporting a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. To do so would chal­lenge their nar­ra­tive. No, they de­fine us. They de­fine our class, they de­mand that we stay within that def­i­ni­tion, and if we tran­scend it in any way then we are traitors to it.

They, as high priests of their ide­ol­ogy, lead the col­lec­tive, but if we don’t do as they say, they turn that col­lec­tive into a mob. Cor­byn and his sup­port­ers try to sup­press or even block the cam­paign for a Peo­ple’s Vote, say­ing that it doesn’t re­flect the con­cerns of or­di­nary work­ing class peo­ple.

You can see it clearly on Twit­ter. Any time An­drew Ado­nis makes a co­her­ent and elo­quent ar­gu­ment against Brexit, the loud­est jeers are not from the Tories but from Cor­byn sup­port­ers, who dis­miss the peer – and colum­nist for this news­pa­per – as a mem­ber of the ‘elite’, in the hope that it will drown out his mes­sage and pre­vent any­one com­par­ing it to the Labour leader’s inar­tic­u­lacy and am­bi­gu­ity. Ado­nis – the son of an im­mi­grant, who was raised in care, and through his own in­tel­li­gence and per­se­ver­ance got into Ox­ford Univer­sity – is one of this coun­try’s finest ex­am­ples of some­body who has suc­ceeded on their

own merit. Yet ap­par­ently his suc­cess dis­qual­i­fies him from hav­ing a voice.

This sort of prej­u­dice among a sec­tion of the left pre­dates Brexit. There have al­ways been those on this side of pol­i­tics who have had a dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with the as­pi­ra­tional work­ing class. I just don’t think they un­der­stand them. They see the as­pi­ra­tion as purely eco­nomic, when in fact it is not. From first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence I know that in many ways, the as­pi­ra­tion is psy­cho­log­i­cal. It is a re­sponse to the chaos of poverty, a need to have a sense of au­ton­omy over your life.

I first be­gan to ex­pe­ri­ence this phe­nom­e­non as a young ac­tor work­ing with well-mean­ing, left-wing, mid­dle class direc­tors. There was al­ways a dis­crep­ancy be­tween their view of the work­ing class and mine. It usu­ally showed it­self in the se­lec­tion of cos­tumes or in the de­sign of the char­ac­ters’ homes.

They would al­ways want work­ing class char­ac­ters to have ter­ri­ble suits or dirty houses, whereas I knew that we would have only the best clothes and that our moth­ers kept our homes im­mac­u­late. I be­gan to re­alise what was go­ing on. They wanted to cre­ate a nar­ra­tive where we were the pas­sive vic­tims of some great so­cial in­jus­tice and that they – as film mak­ers, writ­ers and pro­duc­ers – were the he­roes com­ing to our res­cue.

If you psy­cho­anal­yse it, the per­pe­tra­tors of this great in­jus­tice were their par­ents. The film mak­ers, writ­ers and pro­duc­ers were now bo­hemian artists re­ject­ing the sub­ur­ban, net cur­tain, bour­geoisie they were born into, and we were the noble, in­fan­tilised, vic­tims they were slum­ming it with. The only prob­lem was we didn’t live in slums, we weren’t all noble and we quite liked net cur­tains, be­cause they kept pry­ing eyes away from the knocked-off video player that our dads were in­stalling in our front rooms.

Their re­sis­tance to our nice suits and clean homes was a re­sis­tance to any no­tion of our own vo­li­tion, be­cause this chal­lenged their sense of hero­ism and self sac­ri­fice. Re­mem­ber, first and fore­most, they are the he­roes of the story. Every­body else is ei­ther a vil­lain or a vic­tim.

When you see a mid­dle class, pri­vate­lye­d­u­cated so­cial­ist like Cor­byn dress down in an at­tempt to con­nect with the work­ing classes, you know he doesn’t un­der­stand them. When he turns up, scruffily dressed, at the Ceno­taph on Re­mem­brance Sun­day and his cultish sup­port­ers say the re­sult­ing crit­i­cism is all part of an es­tab­lish­ment, right-wing me­dia con­spir­acy against him, it’s not.

It’s in work­ing class homes that the shouts of “wear a proper coat, suit and tie!” are the loud­est.

Now, I’ve never met Seu­mas Milne or An­drew Mur­ray, the two aides who are said to have the great­est in­flu­ence over Cor­byn, but if I was writ­ing this as a script, I couldn’t cre­ate two more car­i­ca­tured per­son­i­fi­ca­tions of the phe­nom­e­non I have just out­lined. One is a Winch­ester-ed­u­cated rev­o­lu­tion­ary, son of a for­mer BBC di­rec­tor gen­eral, the other has an aris­to­cratic back­ground and an en­try in De­brett’s Peer­age. To­gether, they are try­ing to stop or­di­nary peo­ple hav­ing an in­formed vote over the most im­por­tant is­sue they’ve ever faced.

The right-wing Brex­i­teers be­lieve that a free mar­ket utopia will rise from the ashes of de­struc­tion that our de­par­ture from the EU will bring; left-wing Brex­i­teers say it will be a so­cial­ist utopia which will emerge. What both have in com­mon is that they be­lieve the de­struc­tion is a price worth pay­ing.

Cor­byn and his sup­port­ers know that voters were lied to over Brexit, but they don’t want to give peo­ple the facts and en­able them to have their say again. No, they know what’s best for us, even if we don’t. A so­cial­ist UK out­side of the EU has been Cor­byn’s life-long dream, even if it is not what peo­ple voted for. So we are left with our main op­po­si­tion party in the grip of a far-left pop­ulism which is ev­ery bit as harm­ful as the pop­ulism of the far-right. Both are de­luded, ma­nip­u­la­tive, un­demo­cratic and au­thor­i­tar­ian. For both, it is ide­ol­ogy which mat­ters, not the peo­ple they claim to serve.

Photo: Getty Im­ages

SELF-DELU­SION: Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn

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