Apart from recommending Turgon’s corrective to the UK’s misremembered (and highly politicised) recent past, Matthew D’Ancona’s comparison between Trump and Corbyn throws another compelling perspective on history and time in the digital era:
The structure of western politics is in radical transition. In May, the British general election was won in the most conventional manner imaginable. As Blair had warned in an interview with the Economist in January, it proved to be an election “in which a traditional leftwing party competes with a traditional rightwing party, with the traditional result”.
Yet alongside this conventional system a quite different form of politics is emerging, with a quite different structure. To borrow the jargon of semiotics, it is “synchronic” (cross-sectional) rather than “diachronic” (part of a serial narrative, with a before and after). It is governed by what Martin Luther King, in a very different context, called “the fierce urgency of now”. It recognises that today’s voters are the children of the digital Big Bang, bombarded with an unprecedented blitz of information, data and noise.
They exist in bubbles of digital mayhem, less bothered by the future and the past than by getting through life moment to moment. Their universe is defined by the immediate and the deafening data stream. The contents of that stream are not ideologically coherent but they are identifiable. Corbyn, for instance, speaks to the fear that global capitalism, for all its success, has made serfs of us all, no longer citizens but the puppets of planetary corporations that are accountable to none.
History did end, but not the way that Francis Fukuyama meant. It was simply absorbed into an all-encompassing present. “Our leaders are stupid, our politicians are stupid,” says Trump. The candidates who will succeed are those who intuit what is bothering the electorate at that particular moment, who seem to empathise and who promise to ease the worst aspects of modernity’s pressures while exploiting all of its tools to full effect.
In the Babel of the digital nanosecond, voters are driven less by pristine moral imperatives than by the crushing weight of the immediate and of proximate stimuli. Successful politicians of tomorrow will be those who stretch out a hand and offer an analgesic. That’s why Corbyn is winning. He understands that the axiom of our era is not “Lest we forget” but “Make it stop”.
Talk to anyone involved in serious constructive politics anywhere in the West, and this is their abiding problem. It doesn’t mean to say that Corbyn and Trump are by any means the same quantity, but that in some quarters disgruntlement is replacing ambition as the primary motivator of mass audience.
Alistair Campbell provides some much needed perspective from outside the current Labour bubble, on how that generally works:
I am beginning to fear that Mr Cameron, surely the least strategic Prime Minister of our lifetime, is beginning to pass Napoleon’s test for generals by being the luckiest. He told his wife on the morning after the 2010 election that he feared they would not after all be moving into Downing Street. Five days later, helped by Nick Clegg, he was there. Five years on, he left Downing Street staff in little doubt that he thought they would be having a new boss after the election.
But the fear among the non-committed, who ultimately decide elections, that a Miliband-led minority coalition propped up by the SNP would not represent stable or effective government, allied to the Tories winning the politics of the economy because of what the Guardian’s Larry Elliot today rightly called the ‘catastrophic misjudgement’ of failing to rebut the idea Labour caused the crash, was enough to get Cameron over the line.
The problem is that Campbell is not running, and as the contest has gone the grey middle aged man from the Tory heartland of Wiltshire has been providing all the colour in this campaign. So much so that the latest YouGov poll is suggesting that the game is already over.
Simon Wren Lewis, (channeling Buckmeister Fuller?) argues that regardless of the result Labour must get over its managerialist timidity:
Whether Corbyn wins or loses, Labour MPs and associated politicos have to recognise that his popularity is not the result of entryism, or some strange flight of fancy by Labour’s quarter of a million plus members, but a consequence of the political strategy and style that lost the 2015 election. They should reflect that if they are so sure they know what will win elections, how come they failed to predict the Corbyn phenomenon.
A large proportion of the membership believe that Labour will not win again by accepting the current political narrative on austerity or immigration or welfare or inequality and offering only marginal changes to current government policy. On economic policy in particular they need to offer reasons for voters to believe that there are alternatives to the current status quo of poor quality jobs, deteriorating public services and infrastructure, and growing poverty alongside gross inequality at the top.
That means, whether he wins or loses, working with the Corbyn phenomenon rather than dismissing it.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty