Apathy has plagued the electorate for decades but, as more and more people are disenfranchised by the degree of unfairness inherent in austerity politics and the rhetoric of career politicians who monopolise the political sphere by shifting policies with the wind, there is an awakening of minds, echoed in calls for voting reform and reform of the House of Lords, indicating a collective want for radical shifts to truly democratic values-led political systems.
Enter Jeremy Corbyn
His rise to fame and infamy, dependent on perspective, in the Labour leadership election mirrors that of an X-Factor finalist with mania seen at public appearances and tussles between sainthood and vilification in the press. Similarly, his popularity has only been tainted by spurious rumour-mongering commonplace with reality TV scandals, including accusations of Holocaust denial and entryism and prophecies of Labour’s apocalypse; to be honest I would barely blink to read he was now in a love triangle with Mr. and Mrs. Yvette Cooper after kissing her in the diary room! But it is the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is not an unknown figure plucked from obscurity to a new reality that fascinates me. Sure, as the serving MP for Islington North since 1983 he has remained relatively under the mainstream’s radar as a backbench MP, but as a man who frequently defied three-line whips under New Labour government and an outspoken member of the Socialist Campaign Group, Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Amnesty International, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Stop the War Coalition, his consistent views have been publicly known for some time. If he is not proposing something new in the leadership bid, why is it that he has risen to popularity now?
In terms of proposed policies, including protecting the NHS, preventing welfare cuts, abolishing tuition fees, renationalising the railways and canceling Trident’s replacement, this set of policies was available to British voters at the 2015 General Election from the Green Party. Indeed, there was a #greensurge with 1,157,613 votes cast, and it could be argued that this explains perceived entryism by Green Party supporters who are inspired by his similar policies, but this in no way represents the level of popularity that Jeremy Corbyn is experiencing at rallies across the country now, just a few months later. I recently discussed this observation in a social media forum where I affectionately suggested Jeremy Corbyn rebrand his political philosophy as Green Labour, which received affirmation from Green supporters but a surprising level of backlash from Labour supporters some of whom denounced the Green Party as radical ‘nutters’. But it is undeniable that there is little to split Jeremy Corbyn and the Green Party in terms of policy, so what does he offer that the Greens do not?
Perhaps what defines his popularity is the combination of these left-wing policies wrapped up in the safety net of the Labour brand? People trust Labour, irrespective of their rises and falls, and despite suggestions that Jeremy Corbyn may be a maverick in his approach, it appears that more of the electorate would be able to tolerate this if it is linked to Labour’s name. Trust is an important but complex phenomenon inherent in political affiliation; it is an intangible force that transcends logical argument, and the reality is that many voters will dismiss a lack of difference between Jeremy Corbyn and the Green Party’s policies as irrelevant of consideration in preference for buying a familiar brand.
As a member of the Green Party, I acknowledge this with sadness for it highlights that, even with the accomplishment of a mountain of work by the Greens before the next general election, there may be an unassailable chasm to be climbed within the confines of the current political system. It leads me to reflect on how we best approach electoral reform in a fair way to ensure the government is representative of the values of the majority of voters. Perhaps as Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, has already proposed, there is a need for pacts between Corbyn’s Labour and the Green Party where, by working in partnership, they could limit vote splitting to ensure shared policies are elected irrespective of which brand – Labour or Green – the incumbent MP favours. It is the policies, not the personalities that will affect change in people’s lives so, in pursuit of change, the electorate may need to transcend traditional colour affiliations by voting in left-wing pacts.