by Shane Thomas

Anyone remember, “I agree with Nick”? Come on, it wasn’t that long ago. Have a think… yeah, that’s right, April 2010. This guy. I knew you’d remember.

nick-clegg-backs-curb-eu-migrant-benefitsFor what ended up as little more than a political intermezzo, Nick Clegg briefly threatened to have a transformative effect on British politics. While that was due in part to him simply not being David Cameron or Gordon Brown, he also radiated genuine possibility, being the change a significant part of Britain needed[1]. His public school education appeared not to matter, because it felt like he was representing us.

That aroma of optimism is redolent in Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to become leader of the Labour Party. With the results set to be announced on Saturday, Corbyn is the favourite to win, prompting handwringing from much of the established press. David Wearing dubbed it; a “gala of performative centrism.”[2]

While not identical situations, there’s a discernible echo in the ardour Corbyn has inspired in supporters, and the enthusiasm Clegg engendered in his five years ago. I’m not focusing the merits and demerits of his policies here, but looking at just why so many people believe in him with such fervour.

For as long as I’ve been alive, the archetype of a politician was as follows: Besuited; expensively educated; a combination of career-motivated desperation and an untrustworthy disposition. All told, an exercise in duplicity, brilliantly exemplified by the Harry Enfield character, Norman Ormal.

The political process doesn’t often spring to mind when watching Doctor Who, but in a 2010 episode of the show, the Doctor and his companion, Amy get in a situation that results in the ostensible death of Amy’s husband, Rory. When Amy pleads with the Doctor to save Rory, the Doctor solemnly explains he can do nothing to help. This results in Amy shooting him a withering look, before saying, “Then what is the point of you?”

At times, one feels like asking this same question of our politicians. Just look at the other challengers for the Labour leadership. They appeared unable to comprehend that no matter how well they’re polished, sometimes one can tell when what’s being polished is a turd.

The auspice of Corbyn is that he appears antithetical to the wearying status-quo. While his policies are obviously important, the key to his allure is that one feels he actually intends to use his position for the purpose of helping others.

It’s telling how the bulk of the critiques towards him don’t try to emphasise how much the alternative candidates care about the public, but attempt to discredit Corbyn and his supporters as a parade of jejune simpletons, who don’t understand how the real world works[3]. But the problem with the “real world” is that it doesn’t work for many people.

IMG_20150823_231212This shouldn’t discount that some of favourable sentiments regarding Corbyn carry a patina of expectation for him to be this socialist superhero, who will singularly free Britain from the lasso of big business, and the structural suffocation of its disenfranchised. Amit Singh has written about why this won’t be the case, and while I largely agree, Corbyn could still represent something considerable.

His central contribution may be to help alter the way politicians mediate with the body politic, and vice versa. A key philippic of his candidacy is that he is unelectable as Prime Minister, revealing the received wisdom that politics is less a tool to better the lives of as many as possible, and more a game, where the primary goal is the satisfaction of saying that your team won.

Also, such thinking grossly overlooks that you don’t need to be the incumbent political party to have a discernible influence on a country. UKIP, Golden Dawn, or Sweden Democrats have all demonstrated how backseat drivers can have a significant say in the direction of the vehicle.

For a generation – if not longer – Britain has been enclosed in a grip of selfishness, greed, and cruelty, mirrored in our political system. I’ve long suspected that few MP’s would enact anything to leaven actual good if it meant risking their own position of power[4]. At present, our governance is powered by an engine of voracious neoliberalism. But if politicians suddenly needed to care less about their inner circles, and more about the totality of public will, it would fracture the entire system as we currently know it.

That’s what Corbyn embodies. Both a promise, and a threat. The kindling for change already exists. Corbyn is the potential spark. His appeal can be summed up in a line from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: “You know, you look like one of them, but you talk like one of us.”

[1] – Channel 4 recently made a docudrama detailing the events that led to the 2010 Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.

[2] – Who knows what Comment is Free will write about when the election is over.

[3] – Notice how often talk of being serious and grown-up aligns with the way power and influence is corralled at the expense of the numerical majority.

[4] – Politicians willing to make such sacrifices shouldn’t only exist in Robert Jones TV shows.

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TWOWEEKSNOTICE “Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing. Pop culture to sport, and back again

A mixed-race film graduate, Shane comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to ‘Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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