Maniac Corbyn is a product of trends from Left and Right

Corbyn is winning because the centre-Left has been crowded out by the modern Right, and the far-Left, in all its anger and bitter resentment, has summoned up its energy for one last throw of the totalitarian dice

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Who said: Bring on the clowns?
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the commentator
On 13 August 2015 05:46

Remember, remember, the 12th of September. Put it in your diary now. If you're a political type, it could be your John F. Kennedy moment: you'll always remember where you were the day the British Labour Party committed suicide, as Jeremy Corbyn was announced as the new leader.

Panic in mainstream Labour circles is palpable. Alastair Campbell and (today) Tony Blair have been quite explicit in saying that a Corbyn victory could be the end of the road for their party.

It probably would be. But the less discussed and equally interesting questing is, why? What is possessing Labour supporters who are eligible to vote to take a course of action that condemns their party to oblivion?

And let's remember, even if one of Corbyn's less extreme opponents does manage to scrape past him to victory, the party will be so split, and the position of the far-Left so strong, that the 2020 election will any any case be a no-hoper for them.

To get to the core of it, you need to take account of developments over the last three decades on both Left and Right.

On the political Right, we have seen a significant move to incorporate the concerns (though not so much the methods) of traditionally moderate, Left-leaning politics.

Counter-intuitive as it may sound, it began with Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Leaving the middle class Left totally bewildered, Thatcher accrued significant support among working class voters who had previously plumped for Labour by addressing their aspirations directly.

The right to buy their council houses was the centre-piece of it all. Working people mattered to this new brand of Conservatism, and around a third of the British working class found it compelling.

Further down the road, Conservatism, in fits and starts, broadened its appeal. Party leaders (even if they had been to Eton) did everything they could to look and sound as ordinary as possible. The policy agenda moved in tandem.

Unemployment, low wages, social improvement generally are just as much part of the modern, mainstream Rightist agenda as anyone else's.

This is a big problem for the centre-Left. Unless they are actually going to make a virtue of fiscal irresponsibility, a la Ed Miliband, in which political space are they going to operate?

To coin a phrase from the market economists, they've been crowded out. The real genius of David Cameron's social policy is that he's left the Blairites with nothing to offer.

The centre-Left, at least at a subconscious level, knows this, perhaps explaining why Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper look so terribly unenthusiastic.

Think about it. So George Osborne announces the introduction of a super-duper "living wage", and Burnham or Cooper promise, wait for it, an even more super-duper "living wage"? It's not exactly a unique selling point, is it?

If that helps explain the weakness of the centre-Left, it still doesn't account for the strength of the far-Left, the Corbynites.

Again, you have to go back a few decades, and recall just how traumatic the 80s and 90s turned out to be for them. It's hard to explain unless you remember it personally. The far-Left was characterised by vast self-confidence. They were cleverer than everyone else. They were more articulate than everyone else. History was on their side.

And then it all fell apart. Events in central and eastern Europe not only destroyed communism, they sliced the legs of the far-Left in Western Europe too.

The trauma, the humiliation, was devastating. They became the broken people, splintering off into single issue causes, but quite unable to form a coherent, credible message with broad appeal.

All they could hold onto was what they were against.

Hence their support for pretty well any movement in the world that looked as though it could offer a riposte to the Western way of doing things: the Iraqi insurgents, Hamas, bearded Islamist clerics in Britain who wanted to take women's rights back to the Middle Ages, Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin -- they were all in the mix, as was anything that could mount a challenge to industrial capitalism, hence the fanaticism associated with climate change.

It was a reactive and reactionary agenda, but millions of lost souls, in one form or another, coalesced around it. The whole package was then energised by the 2007/2008 financial crisis, which, though primarily the result of government recklessness and corporatism, could be presented as a failure of the (mythical) neo-liberal consensus.

And now they have their man.

Jeremy Corbyn is obviously a throw-back. But his emergence, or the emergence of someone like him, shouldn't have taken us by surprise.

Far-Left politics is still doomed, but it retains the power to destroy. In a final, ironic gesture, it can't destroy its enemies, so it has opted to destroy its friends.

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