With Jeremy Corbyn now a leading Labour leadership contender it looks like the straws in the wind I detected in my last blog 6 weeks ago may be a fairly well-rooted crop.
A photo of a solitary, pensive, weary Corbyn on a London night bus went viral a week ago. Unless it’s a brilliant piece of grunge PR it’s a defining image – caught by a fellow passenger’s i-Phone, not tailored by a glossy PR team. He’s One Of Us, not One Of Them is the poster’s obvious message.
‘Them’, of course, is the whole Big Party machinery of British politics. Corbyn and Farage are symptomatic not just of ideological divisions within the Labour and Tory camps. They represent a much deeper disaffection with the political apparatus as a whole. ‘Corrupt’ is a word I’ve heard a number of times during filming Groundswell.
A few days ago a couple of Tory-inclined friends dismissed politics as “all just business now.” Their contempt and frustration was palpable. The film catches the disenchantment with how politicians have become enmeshed by Big Business and the banks over the last 30+ years, a disgust even, which crosses party lines.
It’s not just the literal corruption of ‘cash for questions’. It’s a more insidious corruption whereby Parliamentarians like Malcolm Rifkind really do see the pocketing of a £60k backhander as an ‘entitlement’ just as bankers do their bonuses.
Labour supremos like Blair and Mandelson gliding qualmlessly through the revolving door out of politics and into lucrative consultancies and directorships, and a cross-party political establishment that leaps to bail out a bust and corrupted financial sector, reinforce the public’s image of a ruling order who, as Joanna Adams quotes in Groundswell, “know the price of everything and the value of nothing”.
This perceived corruption deepens the public’s sense of impotence in the face of a free-market order whose much-trumpeted ‘globalisation’ has reinforced its apparent uncontrollability and unstoppability.
It also feeds the dystopianism of those like Lucy Reynolds in the film who see the free marketeers as ultimately bent on destroying our faith in democracy and thereby gaining more direct control over society’s workings. Behind the refrains of Reynolds and other 999 Callers lies a deeply-held belief in democracy and free speech which they see being grossly violated.
Far from being the ‘Left-wing’, Labour-destroying loonies portrayed by both Old ‘New’ Labour and the Tories, they and other dissidents we have filmed who are opposed to the Party’s City-sugared policies come across as actually fighting for values which our WW2 forbears fought for, voted for and died for. And which successive moderate Labour administrations supported prior to the ascendency of the free-marketeers in the Thatcher era.
The defection of WW2 vintage Harry Leslie Smith, poster boy of the last Labour Conference, from Old ‘New’ Labour to Corbyn adds to the sound of nails being driven into the Mandelblairson ‘project’ which we hear in Groundswell.
The ‘project’ was realisable in an economic upwave, But this isn’t 1981 when the right-wing press had a still waxing trades union movement and the Falklands War as artillery; nor 1993 when a free-market ideology could still plausibly deliver prosperity built on a sea of debt.
It’s 2015 and 7 years into a debt-encrusted global economy showing few sustainable signs of achieving the necessary ‘escape velocity’ in growth needed to forestall continuing long-term economic stress. Old ‘New’ Labourites who failed to see the coming debt Bust and who are now banding together to shore up the Red Rose look like they are watering a poisoned hybrid.
Behind their snickering the Tories aren’t laughing either. What Corbyn is tapping into is a deep well of disdain for a political apparatus wedded to a free-market ideology that has delivered a catastrophic global banking failure and shrinking prospects for the many whilst a few reap humongous rewards. My Tory-inclined friends are part of that well.
The NHS is the one issue that crosses party lines and could draw on that well. Groundswell shows a group of its grassroots defenders’ rites of passage as they fight for the principles it enshrines in the face of a long-established ideology and the dark side of Big Party politics and its machinations.
Whilst Corbyn and Burnham only feature fleetingly in its story the themes they represent course through the film. It points revealingly to why Labour lost the Election and why its leadership ballot now represents a moment of truth for the Party.
We are planning to distribute a selection of excerpts from Groundswell during the ballot. Watch this space.
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