Politics isn’t the realm of the people. Never has been.
Put three people in a room and give them even the vaguest sniff of power and within seconds they’ll have completely forgotten why the have it, who gave it to them and what it’s for. They’ll start to find ways to protect it, to wield it to further itself, to put bars on the windows and locks on the doors so no one can sneak in while they aren’t looking and have that power away from them.
Put a few hundred people in a building and you get a very big building, with very big bars and very heavy locks with a few hundred people wielding, furthering and protecting the power they’ve got. And this is… normal. Not acceptable, or democratic, or productive, but normal. For the most part the rest of us are too busy living life to think about it, even though we know they’re using something we gave them to serve interests that are a long, long way from our own. We assume there’s a balance, we assume, albeit unthinkingly, that what we gave them is tempered by some distant awareness of us potentially taking it back – which makes those who have it at least occasionally act on our behalves. We assume that, when it comes to something that matters, we can seek redress from them. Not in the great halls of government, not near their precious and jealously guarded power, but at least through cracks in the door, mumbling requests through and hoping for the best. That’s a realistic enough expectation, not one that makes the whole mess any better, but it’s something, right? Some minor compensation for finding out that what we gave has had the serial number scratched off and been painted a different colour.
Sometimes it works, for some people. If you can get to that crack in the door, if you can whisper clearly enough, if you can afford the time taken to sit there waiting for attention, there can be a payoff. For most though there isn’t, there’s just disappointment when you realise you’re just talking to yourself on the doorstep, looking a bit manic to passersby. But still, when you don’t need to ask for anything, or if you accept that there’s absolutely no point in doing so, the system works. They have our power, we have… well, we have our lives and good or bad that’s usually enough to be focusing on.
Very rarely though, once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, that door to power opens up a little bit. No one’s kicking it in and if you’re on the outside and your name’s not on the list then you’re sure as hell not going to get a nice seat on the inside. But you can glance in and see a slither of what’s going on in there, maybe even shout a message that can’t be ignored. You won’t get back what’s yours at these times, that only happens when someone ram raids the place, but even the vague opportunity to reach towards that power – our power – is intoxicating enough and, perhaps, useful enough to be a wonder in itself.
Jeremy Corbyn has, in this over-extended metaphor, ignored the door and instead cracked open the toilet window. His politics, whether you view him as their embodiment or just a figurehead, are a throwback to a forgotten time. One where we still didn’t hold the weight of power, but one where we were at least aware that it was ours and in knowing that made sure we gave those doors a good kick every now and then to remind everyone of it. What he represents is a strength and awareness of what went on out of our line of sight that a lot of people had forgotten we could have. That’s not a revolutionary thing, or even a threatening thing, but it is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately the price he’s currently paying for that is getting a good kicking by the people who spent so long fitting locks, barring windows and doing their level best to ignore the whispers at the crack. And that’s not even to say that some of those people aren’t good, in their way, or kind, or caring, or considerate or humanitarian. It is to say, however, that they’re shut ins, hovering around that old power and fixated on it with a clear, myopic focus. Their better natures only ever directed through the prism of the privilege they’re guarding. Which, I’m sure, is very comforting for them, although it’s not much use to the rest of us.
The PLP is currently in a state of self-destructive crisis. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, in the aftermath of Corbyn’s victory, they’re faced with a terrifying new reality – or an old one depending on your point of view. People of all political stripes are increasingly aware of the power they’ve given away to them and, what’s worse, they’re increasingly asking what those in established power have been doing with it all this time. Their gut reaction is to lash out. Corbyn can’t be trusted because, unlike them, he seems to have at least half an eye on the outside world, he does more than just covet what he has. He sees ways to do good which go beyond jealously guarding his position.
In the day to day grind of life I don’t know that Corbyn could do the good that will perhaps be demanded of him by those who’ve taken his side. Those defending their own interests are fierce as hell when it comes to a fight and, as the media and his own MPs have already shown, they have no scruples about what they’ll do in the process. Certainly a glorious new Socialist future is unlikely, but a resurgent awareness of our relation to the power that we lend to politicians? Now that is possible.
Those in the PLP who’re embarrassing and disgracing themselves with their attacks on the man are fighting their own existential battle. They’ve shown themselves willing to fight the people who select them, campaign for them, fund them, vote for them and generally elevate them to the point where they’re allowed their little slice of the power pie. I can’t understand why they’re doing this when, regardless of the outcome, they’ll end up paying their own price for it. If they win their little coup then the Labour Party will haemorrhage support, lose money, be disaffiliated by Unions and destroy trust in itself for a generation to come. If they lose then the membership will remember them as traitors, the electorate will know them as failures and if they’re not deselected in due course then they’ll certainly face an eternity of obscurity on the back benches. Which I suppose answers my question, having made the first insane mistake they’re tied to their own sinking ship, presumably spurred on by that same myopic fixation on their own positions which taints and distorts any and all perceptions of the world around them.
In all honestly though, I couldn’t care less about them. The fates of those in the PLP who’ve behaved so badly are of next to no interest to me, beyond a slightly morbid sense of enjoyment at watching them flounder. What I do care about is the potential damage their actions will have on the rest of us. If they win their war (and it has reached the point of true conflict) then an idea which means a huge amount will be lost. We will have been told, with iron certainty, that the doors are shut. Our power isn’t our own, our party isn’t our own, our politics isn’t our own and our country isn’t our own. A message which will drive a generation of people away from even bothering, or perhaps drive them to start thinking of ram raiding those doors as the only choice – a blessing perhaps, in a terrible way. And it won’t just be Labour members and voters who’ll pay that price, this is an assertion of control that’ll echo through all the parties and all the people. Mix it in with a heady brew of Brexit, Tory failures (as always), Boris-No-Mates’ collapse and near non-existent trust and respect for the media and there’s absolutely no knowing what the result will be. Although I’m willing to guess it won’t be the capitulation to the voices of power that the PLP might imagine it to be in their wildest fever dreams.
So… what? Well the battle goes on, day by day, laden with media hysteria and nonsense. Ignore that, if you can, focus on the one thing we can know – that’s our power they’re abusing and unless they learn to remember who owns it now then, before long, we’ll start forgetting ourselves. Support Corbyn, rattle the door.