UK Politics

Jeremy Corbyn’s asceticism of the Left

Writing at The Guardian, Suzanne Moore notes yet another reason to oppose Jeremy Corbyn– his devotion to the politics of asceticism as somehow authentically “working class.”

In personal terms, everyone describes him as an extremely decent man. Politically, though, Corybynism now represents a kind of purity. And, on the left, purity always shades into puritanism, an unbecoming exercise in self-flagellation that is curiously indulgent.

It is entirely unfair to judge a man, or indeed his movement, by a vest, but life isn’t fair and that’s why we have politics. If Corbyn now reigns as the King of Unspin, the real deal, the arbiter of authenticity, then presumably he will appeal to exactly the sort of working-class voters whom Labour needs back. Let’s see!

The anti-austerity movement is real and necessary, but the need of middle-class people to pretend to live austere lives is beyond me. It demonstrates a fantasy of class difference fuelled by guilt that I don’t share. If you have been poor, you don’t want to be again. Now a peculiar re-enactment of poverty is available to all in the name of being Green or even healthy. Entire conversations revolve around people who, unprompted, will list the things they are depriving themselves of, with a further 10 minutes on their fascinating “intolerances”. The rise of the individual detox sits alongside the rise of food banks, whose users have no choice about the manner of their deprivation.

So, in Labour we now have an entire party going into some spaced-out detox mode. It may feel itself more energised, invigorated even. If it bores on long enough, maybe it can sell that detox to the workers? After all, it works well for the shiny young women who tell us that unadorned raw vegetables are “a treat”.

The late, great American democratic socialist Michael Harrington used to say that there’s nothing wrong with the finer things in life; the problem is the way those things are distributed. Republicans like Mitt Romney (who have their full share of the finer things) don’t understand the second part of that. Socialists like Corbyn don’t seem to get the first part.