I’ve just finished watching Question Time and the performances of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. I can’t remember the last time I watched it and I haven’t a clue when the next time will be after having watched this one.
The expectations of May were so low she exceeded them – damned by faint praise I think it’s called. Not quite so robotic but incapable of smiling without facial contortions that reveal she is anything but genuine in any emotion she shows; itself revealing she is anything but genuine in anything she says. As time went on her answers became less credible and her performance less impressive. Tonight, she was helped by a relatively healthy dose of predominantly old reactionaries in the audience.
Six weeks ago I wrote a post that said that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”. Tonight, for the umpteenth time, she did exactly that. Asked what a bad deal was like, that made no deal more attractive, she said nothing.
But I got it wrong – she has hardly said anything about anything and performing a U-turn on what she has said. Her strategy has been to pretend that Jeremy Corbyn is such a disaster that she looks good. Unfortunately for her, the media has been forced to give Corbyn greater opportunity to present both himself and his policies without distortion; the political classes and its media have therefore been shocked to find that millions of people actually like him and like his policies even more. Not only that, but the BBC has been unable to continue to report on Corbyn through has-been Blairites claiming that he’s a disaster; mainly because the Mandelson’s of this world and Blair himself no longer matter now that people have a real decision to make.
The claim that Theresa May should be Prime Minister because she is Theresa May has therefore worn out rather quickly. What she has been forced to rely upon is Brexit and the right-wing swing in British politics that Brexit has represented and accelerated. Reactionary nostrums against immigration, foreigners, the EU – because they’re foreigners – the peculiar virtuousness of the British as the counterpoint to aggressive foreigners; all this has been presented with her own unique dead as a robot delivery, in a reactionary nationalist stew that relies on prejudice and ignorance to fill in the gaps where a coherent narrative should be.
It has to be said, that in this she has been assisted no end by the cluelessness of the British media. Like its treatment of Corbyn, this is not simply due to establishment prejudice and conscious antipathy to socialist ideas. It is also due to its own ignorance of the clusterfuck that Brexit will entail. Despite all the dramatic changes in world politics over the last few years, the British chattering classes simply cannot conceive of Britain not being the country that it now is with its rather prominent role in the world.
So, it is when Theresa May is pushed into a corner about Brexit and she comes out with ‘we are not afraid to walk away with no deal – no deal is better than a bad deal’, that total incomprehension switches on. The next question is perfectly obvious – so what happens when there is no deal? Paxman and all the rest can go no further than this response because they simply cannot conceive that no deal means the cutting off of Britain from the rules and regulations, the trade deals and agreements with other countries that allow Britain to trade and exchange with the rest of the world. From being allowed to fly over other countries airspace to landing at their airports to being credited with having safe food and medicines, all these collapse with no deal.
The absence of such mutual recognition threatens the UK being thrown off the proverbial cliff with no rubbish about this also being the fate of the EU – none of this “the UK and EU will both lose”, because one will indeed lose but it won’t find itself isolated. The threat of no deal always assumes unthinkable that there will really be no deal, but actually assumes that the EU will offer concessions after being threatened and cough up a better compromise.
The virus that has engulfed the Tory Party is not simply a Tory pathogen but is one that resides in British society as a whole. Especially the privately educated journalist profession that is parasitical on the Westminster village and the privately educated politicians who went to the same schools the journalists went to twenty or thirty years before them.
I had naively assumed that May and Corbyn would be asked the same question at the same time and would take turns in answering; instead it was a programme of two halves. It was hard not to conclude that May left the first half pleased that she managed not to have parroted ‘strong and stable’ – yet another U-turn, which of course was yesterday’s inane drivel.
So, if May exceed expectations only by not being so crass, so robotic and so contorted, she nevertheless remained unimpressive. She is a very limited politician who has looked even worse than these limitations might normally have revealed by moving decisively outside her comfort zone, where lies being Prime Minister and leading her country at a decisive turning point in its history. What a pity she sells herself on her supposed unique innate ability to do just this.
If Jeremy Corbyn slightly disappointed it is only because (1) he has performed so well so far and (2) I’m a Marxist who believes there is such a stronger case for socialism than he can make. Partly his weaknesses are those of his party and his very incomplete transformation of that party and its programme, but partly it is due to the limitations of his own politics.
During the questioning he was put on the back foot most when he refused to answer directly whether he would press the nuclear button if Britain itself was under nuclear attack. At one point this looked like it might get quite frenzied – testament to a number of reactionaries in the audience who seemed to be fully paid up members of the fan club devoted to the film ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’.
It took one young woman to make the point that there was something wrong with so many people demanding the murder of millions of people. Presumably these reactionaries would have been satisfied with an answer something like this – ok, we’re about to be vapourised by a nuclear attack but don’t get angry that I might not press the button because I’m going to kill millions of people as well, people who, just like you, had no hand in this attack and who don’t deserve to die. Oh, and another thing, don’t worry, our missiles will hit the intended target and not go off in the wrong direction like one did recently. Such is the degenerate politics of the Tory party and the diseased prejudices of its die-hard support. There can be no doubt the nasty party is back.
In general the audience showed greater sympathy with Jeremy Corbyn and those in sympathy showed more enthusiasm. I am reminded of the reaction of football players scoring a goal for my football team – they smile and cheer – expressing joy at scoring; while when those of their erstwhile rivals score they almost invariably snarl and gesticulate as if venting a deeply pent-up rage. The supporters of Jeremy Corbyn applauded declarations of hope and promises of a better society while the Tory supporters acclaimed declarations of ‘toughness’ and meanness. You know when you’re on the right side when the warmest of human emotions best expresses your political views.
When I wrote that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”, I also continued – “and Corbyn can maintain that he will defend workers’ rights without threatening Brexit.” The major weakness of the whole Labour campaign is the same as that of the Tories – the claim that there can be a good Brexit. For the Tories this has a massive plus side – the opportunity to burn workers’ rights and slash taxation for big business. For workers Brexit has no up-side.
Brexit will entail economic dislocation and deep attacks on working people. Victory for Jeremy Corbyn would see him inherit a policy that will do nothing to assist his social-democratic programme – he cannot decisively reverse inequality and improve the standard of living of British workers while leaving the EU. Not because the EU is so wonderful but because exiting it is to step back from the current level of economic development and invites an alternative model that the Tories have correctly identified as an off-shore dumping ground of low corporate taxes, de-regulation and super-exploitation. In such an environment taxes for workers will rise, wages will fall and welfare and other public services will shrivel while inequality will increase.
A Corbyn Government, if it was to attempt to increase living standards, increase public services and reduce inequality would also have to prevent the damage that Brexit would inflict. It would also have to fight the xenophobic demands that immigration be strangled. While much attention has focused on the damage to living standards arising from reductions in trade, reductions in immigration will have just the same effects, if not worse.
If young people do not come out to vote, as the pundits claim they might not do, and they are the key to a Labour victory as the pundits also claim, then the Tories will be leading us into Brexit and straight towards their deregulated ‘free-market’ utopia within a few days. One commentator has called it a new ‘charge of the light-brigade’ and he is right.
Either way, it will be the task of socialists and everyone roused during the election to continue to mobilise and organise the enormous energy and enthusiasm evoked by the promise of a different society. Already, the threat of a return to Blairite control of the Labour Party should be buried. Corbyn must remain leader and the process of creating a mass, active Labour party truly representative of its members and supporters should be the task of everyone who considers themselves left. The elections will signal the end of the Brexit phoney war and there will likely be no dress rehearsal allowed for building a workers’ campaign to ensure we win the real one.