Jeremy Corbyn’s Electile Dysfunction
(POST BY MANDOS, just in case you didn’t notice)
I have a theory about why Jeremy Corbyn seems so unpopular in the UK, despite the fact that he represents a lot of policy positions that are in themselves popular. My theory is that, deep down, in their collective subconscious (if not their actual consciousness), the British public doesn’t think that Corbyn will send fighter jets to bomb people in foreign countries on under-substantiated suspicions.
Oh, to be sure, there are lots of other problems faced by Corbyn worth discussing, like an extremely disloyal caucus (although disloyalty is probably not the right word as it presumes that they had once been loyal, and they’d made it clear from the beginning how little they thought of him). But the antiwar thing is basically a deep psychological show-stopper in terms of the electability of leader in any medium-to-major military power. People may not precisely articulate this discomfort with a leader who doesn’t seem like he’d attack small countries on a small suspicion when world politics suggests that said lethal use of military force is a diplomatic, strategic thing to do.
Now there are actually other things you can do to satisfy this urge. For example, Theresa May already proved her willingness to harm innocents with a pathologically, maniacally, cruel immigration policy, for which she was responsible. That policy has made her credible, governmental. You know that May will send fighter jets to foreign countries when the media requires it.
Now, you may ask, why is being bombing-credible, or at least cruelty-capable so important for the election of a leader? The reason why is that the leader is supposed to Protect Our Children. (I’m using “our” figuratively here, since I’m not British.) You’d do anything for your child, right? If you’re an upstanding, caring parent, that is. So consider the very slim chance that someone in a foreign country may concoct a successful global takeover plot when you’re dead and your children are old people. Surely avoidance of such demands a low threshold for long-distance war. After all, it’s either your children or theirs, right?
But Corbyn is perceived as a repudiation of Blair. And there’s nothing that defined Tony Blair more as a politician, nothing that placed him more in history than his willingness to go to war on thin evidence. Corbyn and his core support base are visibly angry at that. And that is, at a ground, atavistic level, killing Corbyn’s candidacy. (As I said, among other things.) Blair may be unpopular now, but most people are willing to issue negative judgements after the fact, having voted for the man before the fact. Blair already Protected Our Children, was believed to be credible on this front, and won elections.
You may protest: There are lots of other things that threaten people’s children, like lack of health care, unemployment, impending global enviropocalypse, and other very real but rather imperceptible problems like those. My experience of watching how the European refugee crisis unfolded, particularly in anglophone media and public opinion watching from outside, is that people perceive threats very differently, and react more viscerally to a low-probability threat from other individual humans than they do from higher-probability things like their own potential poverty or workplace safety and suchlike. An incident of lawlessness in Cologne, perpetrated by a tiny fraction of the refugees and not only them, overshadowed in Western media all of the other things that humans, including refugees, face. Because we have to Protect Our Children.
To be sure, lest someone object, a lot of this attitude descends and is transmitted by certain sorts of elite opinion-makers like newspaper columnists and so on. Yes, that is so. But they are working with a public that is highly primed for this visceral syllogism.
Does my theory about Corbyn’s unpopularity demand that this situation remain so forever? No: I don’t counsel despair. My theory is about explaining what has happened so far. People always have the possibility to choose otherwise. Maybe even in time for the next British elections. You never know.