One of the consequences of being away, the other side of the world, for the best part of three weeks, and cut off from communications as to what is happening in my own neck of the woods, is the eager anticipation of soon finding out what will have changed in the meantime. At least, when I did return, I did find things were much as I left them and nothing particularly earth shattering had occurred. Things have happened of course and some of these may be addressed in future blogs, but the piece of news that stood out as far as I was concerned was that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected to be the new leader of the Labour Party, and this by a landslide majority, something few would have expected a short time back.
I had set out my stall in an earlier blog, written shortly after Jeremy Corbyn had announced his candidature, when he was seen as the dark horse outsider. It soon became apparent that there was something about what Jeremy stood for that particularly resonated with many Labour activists, and it was therefore not a surprise to discover he had won the contest and is now Labour Party leader. People will no doubt debate how come someone like Jeremy with his more extreme left wing credentials, reminiscent of a past Labour leader, Michael Foot, should get the nod over more likely candidates, especially when, it might be argued, the reason why Labour was rejected in the recent General Election was because it was reckoned to be too left wing and that the Conservatives, despite their shortcomings, were the party seen as being more likely to fix the economy and deal with the debt crisis. My own theory, for what it is worth, is that looking back at the history of the Labour Party, there are ideals and principles that drew many of its traditional support base and these had been partly compromised under New Labour and the other candidates had failed to allay the concerns of such people when it comes to championing the needs of the poorer members of society, who see in Jeremy as someone who might.
I have to confess that before Jeremy threw his hat in the ring, I hadn’t even heard of him. Even now, I am only beginning to get a handle of what he is like as a person, what he stands for and what his contribution might be to British politics, especially if he were to lead a government. He strikes me as a shrewd operator that can hold his own with whatever is thrown at him. While some have thrown doubts on his character, e.g. one of my Facebook friends branded him as a hypocrite for taking a large pay rise while supposedly standing on the side of the poor and another as an egoist, and no doubt the press could dig up all sorts of dirt on him, I see him as no better and no worse than those who have been in his position. In fact, I like his stand we should be dealing with issues rather than personalities and, despite (or maybe because of) attacks by large sections of the media, I have in the main, as a result of sifting through all sorts of stuff in the media, found a lot more about what he believes and intends that I happen to agree than disagree with.
I noted, for example, the criticism of the speech he gave just after becoming leader to the TUC. While there are issues of content to thrash out (there usually is), I happen to share many of the concerns he raised and hope there will be an honest debate on these matters. Some of my more sensible, goody goody Christian friends have taken a shine to him and that has come as a bit of a surprise although, like me, when having worked with the vulnerable they may be looking for someone to be their champion. Just maybe Jeremy is going to be such a person! While I get what one concerned Tory friend has said (also well articulated in yesterdays Sun newspaper) that we now no longer have a credible opposition and a Corbyn led party will merely serve to allow Conservatives a free reign, taking away from accountability and setting up a scenario like when Margaret Thatcher helped to cast a strongly left dominated Labour Party into years in the wilderness, I don’t agree.
I will be intrigued to know what my local (Southend) Labour friends make out of it all. I get the impression they were not big Jeremy fans and, surprisingly, my two blogger friends, Matt and Julian, have not even mentioned the result. I will be even more interested in following life under Jeremy in the months to come. I have read lots of snippets here and there (I like the Guardian on this score). The two articles that made me smile was a spoof on “A Very British Coup” and an article by a religious skeptic likening the appeal and potential success of Jeremy with the Evangelicals in countries like Brazil. The attacks by elements of the press are unsurprisingly disappointing. Regarding those concerning Jeremy not singing along with the National Anthem, I find these quite shameful. I like what I heard on Prime Ministers Questions yesterday. While these allowed the PM too much wriggle room, Jeremy has hit the nail on the head regarding the reasons, including the housing crisis and scrapping family tax credits, why many like me dislike the approach of the current government and are looking for credible alternatives. I am even finding myself agreeing on scrapping Trident and re-nationalising the railways. I applaud him making mental health a priority. On the downside, he is too pro-Europe for my liking and on issues like traditional marriage, pro-life and religious conscience, I suspect there will not be a meeting of minds. I also note with some concern his allegedly pro-(radical) Islamist, anti-Israel stance.
I suppose, if such a thing as compassionate Conservatism exists, I might become a Conservative. I am not a neither here nor there Lib Dem, nor a loony, tree hugging Green, nor a nasty, jingoistic Kipper. But then I am neither a Champagne Socialist nor a doctrinaire neo Marxist. But I could be persuaded by Jeremy Corbyn and welcome the debate that I believe his elevation to the leadership will help to generate, even though, sadly, reasoned debate doesn’t always deliver the desired outcome. To my “we have just made Labour unelectable” friends, my argument is that by making Jeremy leaderof the party the compelling issues around justice will find a much needed new and effective mouthpiece, and notwithstanding the valid concerns that caused people not to vote Labour last time round. Just maybe we will see once again the sort of Labour that used to stand up for the underdog that attracted people of my parents generation.
As it is, for me personally, besides being not yet convinced by any of the parties and with one foot in the grave, I have more than enough on my plate as a community activist and a Gospel preacher to want to belong to one of the other political parties, but never say never for this is not the time for fence sitting. I will carry on doing what I do, watch developments with interest, comment when needed, provide constructive feedback when invited to do so and work with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and politicians of all shades on social justice and other issues in order to improve our communities.