Should Labour MPs unite around Corbyn?

If you’re as much of a sadomasochist as me and spend a good deal of your time watching the demise of the Labour Party British politics team on Twitter, you will have noticed this invariable refrain from the defenders of the Corbyn ‘project’: ‘It’s time to unite around Jeremy’. According to them, all our fears of unelectability and decades in the electoral wasteland are unfounded. All we need to do is ‘get behind the leader’ and ‘oppose the Tories’ and all will be well. The exact terms of what it means to ‘unite and take on the Tories’ is never precisely specified, but given the usual context these words are uttered in, it basically means ‘Shut up and agree with whatever Corbyn says and shout it as loud as you can’. I must confess I have no love whatsoever for Corbyn or his ‘project’, but it seems obvious to me that, even from an objective point of view, this position is bankrupt.

To start with, many of Labour’s MPs were elected in the 97-10 period while running on a New Labour platform. Deny it all you will, but the fact is a good deal of these MPs were elected *because* of this platform, not in spite of it. For them to turn around now and renounce all they had stood for in the past would not only be dishonest to those who elected them, it would be electoral suicide. Not only would they lose their seats at the next election, but the Tories would forever have the attack line that, no matter what Labour MPs say, no matter how much you think you can trust them with economic or national security, they are only waiting for the right leader to come along to show their true colours. With a large portion of the Corbyn-supporting membership already regarded by most as thuggish anti-Semites, MPs bending to their will would finish us for good.

Secondly, I must ask the question: unite behind what? The thing that has disappointed me almost more than anything else about Corbyn’s premiership is I’ve barely seen a single policy come out of it. While I in no way wanted Corbyn to be elected, the old Tony Benn loving Marxist in me was at least hoping for a bit of full-throated, left-wing opposition to ease our collapse into irrelevance. I envisaged we’d get a passionate defence of welfare spending, a mixed economy, social housing, progressive taxation etc. Did we get that? Did we bollocks. We got a man who refused to capitalise on Iain Duncan Smith’s departure, hasn’t advanced any alternative vision for government and when Welsh steel was collapsing decided to start *another* debate about Trident. To be frank, all ‘unity’ would seem to amount to is agreeing to scrap Trident and then every week getting together for a Freudian celebration of Corbyn’s huge ‘mandate’.

But there is something more maddening about these constant calls for unity; namely, it exposes an inherent flaw in Corbynista logic. Every time you try and engage with a Corbyn supporter you will be told incessantly how the public are sick of ‘careerist politicians’ and ‘Blairites’ (read: anyone but Corbyn and McDonnell), and are crying out for a ‘left-wing alternative’. Let’s imagine there isn’t mountains of evidence to the contrary, and take them at their word. If the public are indeed sick of these ‘establishment politicians’ in the PLP, then why on earth would Corbyn be helped by them uniting behind him? Surely such endorsements could only show him to be as much a corrupt establishment figure as all the rest? Quite the opposite of wanting unity, he should want his colleagues to hate him, as it would show him to be the genuine alternative that everyone is crying out for.

Or of course, we are left with the other alternative (read: reality). The public aren’t sick of ‘establishment careerists’ and they aren’t demanding a ‘left-wing alternative’. The reason they don’t like Corbyn is because they don’t like him, and would much rather listen to someone like Chuka Umunna or Stella Creasy. It is this reality that shows the bankruptcy of the Corbynites’ position. They know full-well the public do not desire the ‘new politics’ Corbyn is proposing, and they know full-well that even if they did, Corbyn is not an inspiring enough character to deliver it.

It is for this reason that so many of Corbyn’s acolytes are driven to acts of online violence, intimidation and conspiracy. It is a truism that insecurity in one’s beliefs leads to people lashing out at the world rather than confronting their fears. Going out, knocking on doors and meeting people who disagree with you is all too much work when you could just go to a rally with people who share your beliefs or call everyone who disagrees with you a traitor. Why bother constructing a platform that appeals to the wider public and takes into account the nuances of globalisation and moral grey areas when you can just declare everyone who doesn’t realise the truth you’re speaking to be part of some vast conspiracy?

It is this deep-rooted insecurity that fuels the movement around Corbyn, and the bitter irony is this is why they want to capture the Labour Party. They know that the only hope of having anyone but themselves pay any attention whatsoever to their views is by taking control of a pre-existing ‘establishment’ party, and having got halfway there, they will fight tooth-and-nail to seize it for good. For the good of our party, our country, and our politics at large, we must do everything we can to stop them.

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Bourgeois burghers living in bergs

When you examine the names of towns in the United Kingdom, what will strike you is the amount of them which end in some variant of ‘burg’; Middlesbrough, Edinburgh, Scarborough and Glastonbury are but a few of such towns. The reason for its ubiquity is that it simply means ‘fortified place’. However, it is not until you look into the history of this word that you realise quite how widespread it is and the social assumptions it reflects.

‘Burg’ itself derives the Proto-Indo-European word bhergh, which means ‘high’. This word led to various derivatives referring to hills, forts and fortified places in general, and is also the root of the English ‘barrow’, as in Tolkein’s ‘The Barrow Downs’. As you might have guessed, Proto-Indo-European forms the root of nearly every European language, and as such you can find cognates for bhergh across the continent. As well as the English variants mentioned above, we have Strasbourg, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Bergen and Svendborg to name but a few. Similarly, Italian has borgo, which typically describes the built-up area outside of the old town, and its diminutive, borghetto, is from where we get the word ‘ghetto’. As you may have already guessed, the word iceberg is from the same root, simply meaning ‘ice mountain’.

It is fairly obvious that a word referring to fortification would crop up frequently in the names of our towns, but not so obvious that it would end up forming the basis of one of our most evocative words that refers to class – bourgeois. The word simply means ‘one who dwells in a town’, and came into fashion in the 1700s. Philosopher Jean Jacques-Rousseau, who despaired of the ‘effeminate’ and privileged lifestyle of the city as opposed to that of his ‘noble savages’, was particularly instrumental in shaping the word’s meaning to one of cosy and aloof living. The same etymology is found in the Dutch burgher, which came to refer to the wealthy merchant class in the Dutch trading cities, and even in the English ‘burgess’, one of the first words used to describe an elected representative.

In contrast to these wealthy city dwellers, we have the hated and mocked rural ‘peasants’. Peasant derives from the French paysan, which comes from pays (country) and ultimately the Latin pagus (also meaning country). It is from this same Latin word that ‘pagan’ derives, the early Church despairing of those who dwelt in the country and still worshipped the ‘old gods’. (It should be noted that ‘pheasant’ has no relation to any of this, and means ‘bird from the River Phasis’.) It is fascinating to see how this innocent suffix has ended up embodying one of the biggest divides in all modern nations – the gap between the ‘cultured’ metropolitans and the ‘backwards’ country folk.