There seems to be a particular pack of broadly New Labour Leftists whose anger toward Corbyn I have difficulty characterizing as anything other than pathetic. To say that there is no substantive critique of their policy proposals, or a broad alternative analysis of what a post-Crash social and economic strategy looks like, how Labour might get back into power and what the media-scape is now, would be a generous understatement; it rarely seems to get past the level of “URGGHH, look at his Beard.”+”my principled moral objection”/ “ LOL Trots and Tankies are so Eighties!” I can only conclude that Corbyn has ruined their brand, their image, tarnished the shiny New-Labour self they invested in; they liked that Blairite, business-suit-and-a-neat-haircut kind of Left, a Left comfortable with good food and nice houses, a Left that would go to war for a noble cause and help Britain punch above its weight in the world, a Left that would be taken seriously by Washington and Wall Street, that out of "realism" would do deals with Saudi and China, that was "adult" and had accepted the end of History, yet knew how to party and got why the creative industries (in which they work) were vital to the Nation etc. That's the kind of Left they want to be associated with, the kind of Left that relieved them of the burden of being uncool. Now you have to be associated with a hair-shirt, bearded pacifist Vegan in a tank top who doesn't think the economic argument is won and has all these "outmoded" attitudes. "URGGGH! look at his shirt" You don't want to rub shoulders with the uncool kids, the ones you felt superior to for years. You know a decent shirt when you see one, you’re clued-up.
The immediate cry of "he's unelectable" also reveals something intellectually and imaginatively stunted in this over-identification with New Labour, an inability to dwell in "negative capability" a panicked desire to foreclose the moment, a movement you no longer understand .Something's happening, there is a groundswell, the future is open, it may go in numerous directions, one needs to be alive to possibilities, more importantly , to seize them, more importantly still, maybe you can learn something from those people you previously dismissed, maybe a bit of humility would be in order, what, after all, did you do for the greater good during the Great Moderation you seem to somehow think New Labour conjured up for you with a slick suit and a bit of spin and which Yvette Cooper would somehow magically restore? Were you paying attention to what was on the horizon, what the foundations of your mini-golden age were built on, the direction of travel. No? None of this has caught you off guard? The Crash, the protests, the SNP, the Corbyn victory, Greece, the housing crisis, austerity. You were paying attention, close attention weren’t you, understood the axiom that the boom was merely the precondition for the nature, depth and severity of the bust? Or were you too busy congratulating yourself on being the smart guys; all that stuff is over! And now you are wandering lost and angry in a world you don't understand. And raging at it for being wrong. Or sulking and sniping. But hoping if you front it out long enough somehow your authority or credibility as One-Who-Gets-It will be restored.
So if anyone’s having an ongoing “emotional spasm” it’s this big bunch of petulant New Labour crybabies throwing their toys out of the pram because they don’t get to be THEY_WHO_KNOW anymore. I had a bit of this myself when a whole host of people half my age and much better informed, more highly educated than I am and roaringly articulate turned up on social media with a set of commitments and insights more radical than my own. I felt a bit threatened, I felt a bit compromised, I adopted a defensive ego-protective approach of tutting at their naive enthusiasms and wanting to “correct” them before having to admit, Carl, you still have lot to learn even if you are 42, swallow your unearned pride and accept that at best here you can contribute but you are in no position to command. Of course, I don’t have to have an opinion for a living, it doesn't matter much to me if I am wrong or I have to, once again, have my own limitations and shortcomings, my own relative ignorance revealed to me, to all. After all I am just an English teacher with a now very occasional blog. Imagine the discomfort of waking up one morning if you did it for a living and discovering that lots of young people think you're an irrelevance and that Seumas Milne is “a Don” (facebook, 2015). Why would they think that? Historical naivety? Unlikely, because if this generation have done one thing it’s stay in education due to limited work opportunities, and those history, political science and philosophy graduates are the ones most obliged to stay in there. Any analysis of the average level of formal education attained by the new surge of Labour supporters? I am prepared to bet there's plenty of MAs and PHDs in there. Not that that matters because they haven't had your “life experience.” and anyway we all know that degrees today aren’t as difficult as when you got your B.A. at the taxpayer’s expense.
One of the reasons Corbyn, Milne and McDonnell are popular with the young people might be because when the student protests and Occupy happened a few years back rather than wisley chortling about its stupidity in the pub they went along to the occupation and offered support, turned up at the demos and spoke encouragingly to the confused youngsters who still can’t quite see why the treatment that Xi is getting at the moment, or our support for Saudi or Israel, our colonial past and present, or the illegal wars we have entered into is all basically fine, “how the world works", but to suggest that Putin may be anything other than the reincarnation of Stalin or that the historical record on Communism has been distorted or that Marx may be worth reading makes you an apologist for fascism or a guileless ideologue, a danger to civilized values, eaten away at by "liberal guilt". What’s most extraordinary and perplexing about this demographic is the bafflingly unashamed way they can talk about Communism. Remember back in the roaring, brand-new 90s when if you said things like Class or Marx or even the word Capitalism, summoning up thereby some atavistic binary in which there were oppositional ideas and movements that had now been relegated to the dustbin of history, you revealed your own sad attachment to a vanished world, your inability to see how times had moved on? Get with the new-speak. “Market democracy”; that was the term to use wasn’t it? “Global Forces”. “Inclusion”. And yet those terms themselves can’t be uttered straight-faced anymore. “Capitalism” is back, with all the antonyms the word invokes. That’s the link up between twenty-somethings and Corbyn’s generation. They speak the same language, use the same terms unashamedly.
Maybe that oh-so-modern, Left-Liberal position, that market-democratic triumphalism, the notion that because for a few years inflation was stable, credit loose, the banks yet to crash and a housing bubble burgeoning, we were in radically new, classless times was just wrong, even though you said it a thousand times! Even though all your clever, successful friends agreed! Who would read Capital at that point, or engage with old fossils like David Harvey, so sad! Well, thousands of young people, it turned out. Still wedded to that particular moment in your art, opinions, practice, daily Pub-patter? Still confident it’s not the 70s anymore (lol) or the 80s, that all that has been superseded. I certainly hope we won’t find you shifting your eternally sceptical realism leftward, always tracking from a wise remove the re-calibrating commonsense of the moment. Yet realists never seem to actually get to grips with the real conditions of the current moment, do they?
Oh well, you had your time at centre-stage, maybe you made hay, maybe you lost the chances you had, maybe it will all come back again for you, but if not do try and show a bit of dignity as you are wheeled off into the wings, won't you?