With the Option to Sell Out
Jeremy Corbyn Leader of the Labour Party speaking at a “Labour Roots” event, Bolton, 17th August 2019. Image by Sophie Brown via Wikimedia Commons (cc)
For forty years the center had been drifting steadily to starboard. So what if it jumped a ways to port? It might have been abrupt, but it’s not as though anyone was proposing the abolition of the monarchy or the nationalization of heavy industry. They could adjust. A handful even did. The panicked reaction of the majority, however, only makes sense if the threat was on a far deeper level.
Most sitting Labour MPs had begun as Labour youth activists themselves, just as most centrist political journalists had begun their careers as leftists, even revolutionaries, of one sort or another. But they had also risen through the ranks of Blair’s machine at a time when advancement was largely based on willingness to sacrifice one’s youthful ideals. They had become the very people they would have once despised as sell-outs.
Insofar as they dreamed of anything, now, it was of finding some British equivalent of Barack Obama, a leader who looked and acted so much like a visionary, who had so perfected the gestures and intonations, that it never occurred to anyone to ask what that vision actually was (since the vision was, precisely, not to have a vision). Suddenly, they found themselves saddled with a scruffy teetotaling vegan who said exactly what he really thought, and inspired a new generation of activists to dream of changing the world. If those activists were not naive, if this man was not unelectable, the centrists’ entire lives had been a lie. They hadn’t really accepted reality at all. They really were just sellouts.
One could even go further: the most passionate opposition to Corbynism came from men and women in their forties, fifties, and sixties. They represented the last generation in which any significant number of young radicals even had the option of selling out, in the sense of becoming secure property-owning bastions of the status quo. Not only had that door closed behind them; they were the ones largely responsible for having closed it. They were, for instance, products of what was once the finest free higher education system in the world—having attended schools like Oxford and Cambridge plush with generous state-provided stipends—who had decided their own children and grandchildren would be better off attending university while moonlighting as baristas or sex workers, then starting their professional lives weighted by tens of thousands of pounds in student debt.