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These are the themes around which a modern Left could be organised. But will it be? At present the Labour leadership offers only a vague populism, brewed in the 1960s, if not long before. The party is divided and its leadership is, in the main, incompetent. The only ray of light derives from the large infusion of younger voters in 2017, including many of the best-educated among them. This at least creates the possibility of a much-needed transformation.

It should be remembered that after losing power in 1979 Labour went through a long series of nightmares: the years of Foot and Kinnock, of Derek Hatton, Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone. These were locust years of false prophets and pied pipers, while all the time the real initiative lay solely with the Right. If Labour repeats that script, it will be out of power until 2028. This perspective needs to be kept firmly in mind now that Corbyn is being hailed as if he had won the election. In fact we are only in the early stages of the prolonged contortions that the Labour Party always goes through in the wake of losing power. There is much more to come. Essentially what happens after a Labour defeat is a prolonged convulsion which splits the party (Bevanism in the 1950s, Bennism in the 1980s) before it gradually comes back to the reality that only a moderate form of social democracy will make an effective Labour government both electable and workable. At the moment the Labour leadership is till playing with extra-parliamentary fantasies and the party is badly split, which is to say that we may still be some years (and many leadership changes) away from Labour’s re-emergence from its traumas, routine for each generation.

In assessing Corbyn’s achievement one must remember what sort of man he is. Having done very poorly at school and failed to complete any higher education, he seems to have imbibed at an early age the full agenda of the Guardian-reading London lefty: sympathy for a wide gamut of Third World causes, instinctive solidarity with all the enemies of bourgeois Britain (the IRA, Hamas, radical Islamists, etc), and a passionate opposition to Toryism. He has spent his life banging on about such causes to small audiences as a Labour activist and perennial rebel. With his beard, his vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol, his failed marriages, his love of cycling and almost Dickensian passion for faraway causes of little relevance to the lives of those he represents, he is a type of idiosyncratic Englishman that Orwell liked to dwell upon, along with the figure of the middle-aged Catholic spinster cycling earnestly to church.

If one thinks about the sort of life that Corbyn lived for many years — ignored, even despised as a hopelessly eccentric and too-left backbencher, talking all the time of mass popular struggles elsewhere but doing so to tiny audiences in draughty halls, occasionally donning a scruffy duffle-coat to march with other CNDers on stirring but hopeless demonstrations — one realises that it has been a somewhat odd existence, led almost entirely among a small band of kindred spirits who keep up one another’s spirits by constant reaffirmations of how much they are against this, that or the other. For it is in the nature of such folk to be mainly against things and to be somewhat vague and wishful about what they are actually for.

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