Friday, September 18, 2015
New British Leftist leader is no populist - he's an old Left elitist in shabby disguise
The new Labour leader's old-fashioned Marxism may appeal to a socialist elite, but it is missing a key ingredient — nationalism
Despite a disastrous first few days, many Left-wing activists are still convinced that Jeremy Corbyn will deliver the goods. Their thesis is as simple as it is deluded: they believe that their hero will keep Labour’s existing voters, reach out to many of those seduced by the SNP’s and Ukip’s populism, attract non-voters and lead a new Left-wing coalition to victory.
It won’t work. Far from being a populist, Jeremy Corbyn is a Left-wing elitist who doesn’t really understand the new politics. He lacks the three ingredients required to take on Ukip and the SNP: a willingness to tap into nationalist sentiment, defined broadly (and not necessarily illiberally); the ability to understand, relate to and empathise with ordinary voters, as opposed to minority interests; and a strong, appealing personal brand buttressed by a brilliant communications effort.
Corbyn’s inability to come to terms with the first of these alone will prove to be fatal. It is almost impossible to be a successful populist and not embrace some sort of nationalism. The SNP’s rise has been primarily fuelled by its stoking of Scottishness and depiction of England as the source of all evil; its Left-wing demagoguery was always secondary and had already been matched by Ed Miliband, to nil effect. Nigel Farage’s rise can be attributed to his ability to harness anti-immigration and Eurosceptic sentiment.
The Marxist hard Left by contrast, is pacifist and internationalist: as far as it is concerned, nationalism, together with capitalism, is tantamount to racism. It also loathes traditional manifestations of British patriotism. Elements of the old Left opposed the EU on democratic grounds but Hilary Benn, the new foreign secretary, has promised that Labour will back membership of the EU.
The party thus continues to differ fundamentally from all the genuine populist groups to have emerged in recent years. Greece’s Syriza is stridently anti-German, anti-EU and anti-IMF; Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy, otherwise quite Corbynite, is Eurosceptic; ditto Spain’s Podemos, at least in the sense that it believes EU institutions to be fundamentally broken. France’s National Front party hates foreigners; America’ Donald Trump is a flag-waver who wants closed borders.
Almost all successful populist movements, be they from the “Right” or the “Left”, eventually pit themselves against foreign foes. Of course, there is a difference between these brands of nationalism: Marine Le Pen’s party is rabidly anti-immigration, while Syriza isn’t.
The idea that Ukip’s patriotic, royalist, pro-defence, anti-terror and anti-immigration white working class voters will suddenly switch to Corbyn is nonsensical. The cultural chasm is too large.
Sure, some of these voters will like his attacks on bankers and multinationals – but they will be appalled at his refusal to sing the national anthem at the Battle of Britain anniversary, a disastrous decision which will come to define him. Values matter, even if the Marxists arrogantly dismiss them as a form of false consciousness, a case study in how people vote against their class interest.
The new Labour leader’s only chance of truly becoming a populist leader is to call for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. But this would split the Left and destroy his party – and in any case, thanks to his views on the army, the Queen and the IRA, he will never convince the patriotic classes the he is one of them.
The public does crave authenticity: it is sick of bland, identikit politicos. Voters respect those who feel and look different, and who aren’t scared to say what they think. Many believe that their views are ignored by an out of touch, professional Westminster class that doesn’t understand them.
But like all phenomena in our modern, consumerist society, this one is complex. Authenticity per se isn’t enough: it needs to be accompanied by competence and, paradoxically, be stage-managed. Successful insurgent politicians throughout history have always mastered complex communications. Corbyn is scruffy and dishevelled in all of the wrong ways: rather than finding his eccentric ways endearing, voters see somebody who doesn’t care. Greek populists don’t wear ties either, but they are stylish.
An anti-brand is still a brand, as the proto-Corbynite “No logo” movement of the late 1990s discovered. The new politics doesn’t imply the death of spin: it is merely its next, logical step. Voters want a different, more distinct product to which they can better relate. It’s like the appeal of micro-breweries: the successful ones are smart, professional, well-managed businesses. People would never buy foul-tasting, dirty products from a disorganised, useless firm. Being authentic in the beer business is no guarantee of success, and neither is it in politics. The despicable BNP was authentic – but thankfully it has all but vanished.
Corbyn’s problem is that he is an elitist masquerading as a populist, a campaigner stuck in a 1980s-style brand of Leftism. The confusion is easy to explain: he has hundreds of thousands of vocal grassroot supporters, which on the face it suggests that his views have massive resonance with the public.
But his base is dominated by the highly educated, often privileged young people who turned up at Occupy London events, who picketed Starbucks, who spend all day berating those who disagree with them on Twitter and who read Left-wing polemics. It also includes the ageing hippies and revolutionaries who, unlike most of their erstwhile comrades, haven’t succeeded in taking over established institutions in return for a big salary, as well as a few thousand trade union activists.
There are lots of such people; they are even the majority in a dozen or so constituencies. But they are nevertheless a small minority of the public and are shockingly unrepresentative. Their obsessions are largely irrelevant to both aspirational Middle England and Ukip voters.
Can Corbyn get a grip? Can he focus on mainstream issues and hire a proper spin doctor? Can he attract a few previously alienated non-voters? Perhaps, but it won’t be enough. If the Left is looking for a populist saviour, Corbyn isn’t their man.
Some career women get a liking for motherhood. "Motherhood makes me happier"
When Emma Bird announced her pregnancy last year, she was determined to return to her career within six months. She had never been the 'maternal type' and simply couldn't picture herself doing the rounds at mother-and-baby groups and infant music classes.
'It just wasn't me,' she says. More to the point, she loved her job. Aged 35, she owned a graphic design business and earned as much as £60,000 a year, making her the main breadwinner. She and her husband, Simon, a project manager, led a very comfortable life with a stunning home set on a private estate in Buckinghamshire, a shiny new BMW and several exotic holidays a year.
Motherhood would do nothing to change that...or so Emma thought.
Then, last December, she gave birth. And from the moment Ottilie was placed in her arms, she experienced a shift in mindset so dramatic that it surprises her to this day.
She explains: 'From the second I held Ottilie, I realised nothing was as important to me as this little girl. The love I felt for her was overwhelming.
[Ottilie is a German nickname. Below is a picture of a grown-up Ottilie. It's Anja Katharina Wigger in the operetta "White Horse Inn" at Moerbisch]
'During my maternity leave, I was still getting calls from clients, but I'd switch my phone off - something I'd never done before. I didn't want anyone to ruin the time I had with my daughter.'
Not only did she not want work to encroach on those first precious months, but as time passed and Emma fell more in love with motherhood, she felt compelled to make a life-changing decision.
'After eight months, I got so far as booking a nanny but the day before she was due to start I couldn't do it,' she says. 'I was in tears and couldn't bear to be apart from Ottilie. I just wanted to be a mum. You get your head bitten off by feminists if you admit it, but even though I was great at my job, motherhood makes me happier.'
Becoming a mother had changed her priorities in ways she could never have imagined: the 'non-maternal' Emma even found herself practising attachment parenting, which meant on-demand breastfeeding, sleeping by her baby's side at night, and wrapping Ottilie in a papoose during the day.
And she did indeed take her daughter to music and swimming classes.
Most significantly, she gave up her job - a move that obliterated their hefty household income and will eventually mean the family has to downsize to a smaller home.
Although her clients were supportive, many who knew Emma couldn't believe the U-turn. 'This isn't the career-focused Emma they all knew, and I can't believe I'm like this either.'
So, is this proof that becoming a mother blunts ambition? It's a question that will no doubt ruffle many feathers - and strike horror into the hearts of employers.
For although Emma was her own boss, she isn't the only high-flier to have found herself rejecting a much-loved career in favour of staying at home with her baby.
No wonder 40 per cent of managers surveyed last year controversially admitted that they were reluctant to hire women of childbearing age. The cost and disruption to their businesses, as they are forced to cover maternity leave, plus the training involved in replacing key members, make many see women as a bad bet.
Under British law, women are entitled to 52 weeks' maternity leave - yet they can leave it until the 52nd week to tell their employer whether they'll be back. And it is illegal for an employer to ask.
Although more women than ever are returning to work after having a baby, Britain still has one of the lowest rates of working mothers in Europe.
If parenting forums are anything to go by, more and more mothers, despite their intentions, admit that returning to their career after giving birth fills them with horror.
Inflexible working conditions or long commutes are often cited. But as educated career women such as Emma admit, the mother/child bond is stronger than they ever imagined. Emma explains: 'There was no way I wanted to miss so much of Ottilie's life.
'I don't want a nanny or anyone else to bring up my child. Nothing is more important to me than being a mum. 'I used to think nothing of buying clothes and have a wardrobe full of shoes, but that's in the past. None of that matters to me any more. It's just “stuff”, whereas I'll never get these years of my daughter's life back.'
But as with most families, Emma cannot give up work entirely because there are still bills to be paid. 'I fit in a bit of design work when she's sleeping or at the weekend when Simon is here. I'll probably earn £15,000 - a quarter of my old salary - but that's fine.
'My life is all about what Ottilie needs, not what Simon or I want.'
It's not just new mothers with babies who are giving up their careers. Women with older children are also admitting they would rather forgo their salaries to be there for their children....
It's not only mothers earning big salaries who make the decision to ditch their careers. Aimee Foster, 34, was earning just above the £26,500 average UK salary in the civil service and intended to return after she had her daughter, Susie, who is now six.
'I could have a holiday every year, and pretty much buy what I wanted, so I couldn't imagine not having a salary,' says Aimee, who lives in the New Forest with her husband Frank, 37, a firefighter, and their two children, Susie and Freddy, one. 'After nine months' leave, I went back to work, but it was a nightmare.
'Susie would scream when I dropped her off at the nursery, which broke my heart. I'd grown up with my mum staying at home and I wanted the same for my own daughter. I wanted to see the little milestones she was achieving.'
Aimee quit after a month and the couple dipped into their savings, which afforded them a year without her having to work.
'When the savings ran out, I looked around for part-time office work, but when we added up how much I'd be earning and how much we'd be paying for childcare, I'd have ended up with something like £100 a month,' says Aimee.
'It's been tough and we've had to tighten our belts. We've had to cut down on food. We haven't had a holiday in five years and Frank and I never buy clothes for ourselves.'
But she has no regrets: 'I've never been happier. It's all been worth it because I've been able to spend these formative years with my children. I know that not every woman has that choice.'
Country campaigners demand the BBC sack wildlife presenter Chris Packham over 'slanted and extreme' animal rights views
Countryside campaigners are calling on the BBC to sack Springwatch presenter Chris Packham over his 'slanted and extreme' animal rights views.
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, accused the BBC of letting Springwatch presenter Packham use the corporation to push his own views.
Veteran nature presenter Mr Packham, an outspoken critic of fox hunting, recently wrote an article for the BBC Wildlife Magazine in which he accused the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts of failing to oppose the return of fox hunting.
He also claimed conservation charities were 'guilty of fence sitting' when it came to looking after wildlife.
The Countryside Alliance, which campaigns on behalf of hunting, shooting and fishing groups, has now accused Mr Packham of abusing his position to promote 'blatant political propaganda.'
As a result Mr Bonner has written a strongly worded open letter which says: 'We call on the BBC to take action as Chris Packham uses it as a platform from which to promote an animal rights agenda.
'Chris Packham is a BBC presenter - we know that because he tells us so in his Twitter biography and because he appears on nearly every BBC programme with any link to wildlife.
'He is a disciple of the animal rights movement and signs up to its creed by voicing his opposition to all the usual activities from badger culling to grouse shooting and, of course, hunting.
'But he has continued to happily use the fame given to him by his work for the BBC to promote an increasingly extreme agenda.
'We are lucky live in a liberal democracy where people are able to hold any number of bizarre views.
'There is no issue with people voicing such opinions, but using the position granted by a public service broadcaster to promote an extreme agenda is a different thing entirely.'
The Countryside Alliance then accused Mr Packham of abusing his position to promote 'blatant political propaganda.'
Mr Bonner continued: 'The new edition of BBC Wildlife magazine carries a column by Chris Packham which is remarkable in that it picks a fight with practically everyone.
'Fox hunters and game shooters, obviously, but also, the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, of which he is vice-president, because they will not join his obsessive crusades.
'This is the clearest possible abuse of the position the BBC has given Chris Packham and as it is an on-going behaviour, rather than an isolated incident, it is difficult to see how the situation can change.
'If it does not, then the BBC's only answer can be to remove the BBC from Chris Packham's biography by refusing to employ him any more.'
Matt Swaine, editor of BBC Wildlife, told The Times: 'Chris Packham is clearly expressing his own views in the column and part of the magazine's role is to be a forum for exactly this kind of discussion.'
He added the magazine will invite the charities mentioned by Mr Packham in his column to reply in their November issue.
A BBC spokesman also told the newspaper: 'If Chris Packham wishes to express his personal views outside of his employment on BBC natural history programmes, he is entitled to do so.
It is not the first time Mr Packham's views have got him into trouble.
In 2013 he found himself in hot water with BBC bosses for using 'intemperate' language when he used social media to describe farmers involved in the badger cull as 'brutalist thugs, liars and frauds'
BBC bosses launched an investigation into the tweets following a complaint by the Countryside Alliance which claimed they went against BBC impartiality rules.
It found that Mr Packham breached a BBC voluntary code of conduct as the tweets were not politically neutral.
He once warned the only way to protect the future of the planet is to curb population growth and suggested offering Britons tax breaks to encourage them to have smaller families.
He also called for the giant panda to be allowed to die out, claiming the species is not strong enough to survive on its own and that the millions spent preserving it could be better spent elsewhere.
The feminist trials of Miss Piggy
How can a Muppet be a role model for women?
It’s a story so ridiculous it’s hard to believe it wasn’t scripted. The Muppets are making headlines, not because of their new show, but because of their political opinions. It seems the Marilyn Monroe of felt, Miss Piggy, has been in and out of favour on the internet due to her relationship with feminism.
The first scandal began after Miss Piggy made a joke in response to the question most female celebrities have come to dread: are you a feminist? The puppet told the Telegraph in 2014: ‘I don’t mind being called a feminist, as long as I get top billing.’
However, her noncommittal attitude to feminism didn’t last long. In June, the Elizabeth A Sackler Center for Feminist Art in New York announced it would be presenting Miss Piggy with its annual award to celebrate ‘more than 40 years of blazing feminist trails with determination and humour, and for her groundbreaking role inspiring generations the world over’. To top it all off, Miss Piggy was praised at the awards ceremony for reminding us that ‘beauty comes from the inside’.
We’re talking about a pig puppet in slap, right? But it seems that, it in our contemporary political climate, fictional characters must kowtow to political correctness as much as real people must. It’s bad enough that entertainers and celebrities are expected to spend as much time expressing their political opinions as they do prancing around on red carpets – do we also have to listen to imaginary characters wax lyrical about women’s rights?
The irony of a pig puppet being used to voice feminist principles is evidently lost on some. As Piggy remarked in an op-ed for Time magazine: ‘I am a Porcine-American. How can a… ahem, pig… be a feminist? After all, the p-word has long been associated with the very antithesis of feminists.’
This feminist imposition on kids’ entertainment is nothing new. Disney has become extremely self-conscious in ensuring each of its recent films contain at least one strong female character. I suppose this its attempt to make up for the lingering, misogynistic legacy of all of those princess films.
But I for one wasn’t scarred for life by Cinderella, and I doubt anyone else was, either. More importantly, entertainment must be free to deviate from reality and portray the world in any way it likes. Making every kids’ show adhere to a politically correct script would make for really boring television.
Despite Miss Piggy’s conversion to feminism, the Muppets aren’t in the clear just yet. Following the announcement that Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, one of TV’s longest-running relationships, was at an end, the producers created a new love interest for Kermit. Denise, the latest pig on the block, has attracted vast amounts of criticism for her appearance and her ‘homewrecking’ ways.
First, there were claims that the new puppet was a symbol of the producers’ misogyny. Denise’s younger, skinnier appearance indicated to some feminists that the show was behind the times. A critic in the Guardian argued: ‘The audience of the 1980s might’ve… understood and supported men’s urge to date their exes’ younger, dumber plasticine lookalikes – the situation has changed in 2015.’
Then came the final twist to the story. Some commentators decided that, in fact, Kermit was the victim – due to the domestic abuse he suffered under Piggy. The New Republic, favoured mag of American liberals, published an article declaring the frog-pig duo to be no more than ‘a comedy spectacle which mocked both men and women for violating traditional gender roles’. In under a year, Miss Piggy has gone from self-hating anti-feminist to award-winning female role model to man-beating tyrant? What is the world coming to?
It is easy to dismiss these bizarre thinkpieces as products of the echo chamber of Twitter and the blogosphere, but the politicisation of Piggy seems too familiar to ignore. People are increasingly looking to culture to change social norms and opinions. The constant suggestion that the depiction of women in popular culture, especially in kids’ entertainment, has a long-drawn impact on the political development of young people is startling. Entertainment simply can’t carry that burden.
Never mind the fact that there is absolutely nothing sexist about The Muppets, the introduction of political correctness would kill the show. Like most entertainment, it relies on stereotypes for humour and material. That doesn’t mean anyone takes it seriously.
Miss Piggy is not a feminist, nor is she an enemy of feminism. She is a puppet. And fair play to the show’s producers for remaining ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek about the whole debacle, as summed up in this classic Piggy one-liner: ‘What is the future of feminism? The answer is obvious — feminism’s future must be proud, positive, powerful, perseverant, and, wherever possible, alliterative.’
Feminists can’t seem to trust us to engage with popular culture without becoming brainwashed, sexist morons. But popular culture is not intended to serve a political purpose - it is meant to entertain. It tells us something about the state of contemporary feminism that its proponents are now staring up the asses of puppets in order to get their daily dose of moral outrage.
Then again, perhaps feminists have more in common with Piggy than we think. Indeed, their demand that their politics be reflected in all aspects of life echoes the notorious self-obsession of TV’s most glamorous pig. As Piggy rounded off her Time piece: ‘[Feminism] must believe in itself, share its triumphs, overcome its setbacks and inspire future generations. It must, in other words, be a lot like… moi.’
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.