Actor EDDIE MARSAN, who has become a leading online critic of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, on why the far-left misunderstand the working class, and are failing it over Brexit.
In recent days, we’ve had polls suggesting that 72% of Labour members think Jeremy Corbyn should fully support a second referendum; that 88% of them would support Remain if such a vote was held; and that support for the party would slump to just 26% if it backed, or allowed its MPs to support, any kind of Brexit deal.
So why does the Labour leader carry on as he is, defying calls for a People’s Vote from his own supporters and insisting his party would pursue Brexit even if it won a snap election? Why would a man who claims to have dedicated his life to fighting inequality commit himself so vehemently to a policy that will cause greater inequalities? The answer is self-delusion.
We may feel the threat of populism most immediately through the right-wing mass movements of Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Nigel Farage, but it is found more widely than that, and it begins on a personal level.
It’s the family argument at the kitchen table, the personal choice to select simple lies over complex truths. It stems from our need to create comforting, familiar narratives by which to live by, and it is an understandable response to an ever-changing, sometimes unforgiving, world.
But it is still self-delusion. And Corbyn is as guilty of it as anyone.
Britain desperately needs political leaders who can help us develop new narratives that more closely resemble the stark realities that we are encountering. I believe those potential leaders do exist across the political spectrum in the UK. Unfortunately, none of them are leading our two main political parties.
The problem with Theresa May is that she doesn’t seem to believe in anything. She knows the narrative behind Brexit is outdated, that it is false and that pursuing it will result in great harm. Yet she doesn’t have the courage to stop it. Instead, she has come up with a deal that is an attempt to mitigate the damage, and in doing so pleases nobody.
Corbyn on the other hand does believe in something. This is no doubt one of the key components of his initial success and one of the reasons why he galvanised so many young people to his cause. In the wake of the financial crash and years of austerity, he offered a narrative to believe in. The problem is, however, the detail.
It’s all very well to have the aspiration of creating a fair and equal society – how can anyone reasonably argue against that? But Brexit has exposed the means by which Corbyn would achieve this utopia to be based on a narrative as outdated and regressive as those of any right-wing populist.
On Europe, Corbyn is as out of step with his young followers and the wider Labour membership, as, for instance, Nigel Farage or Iain Duncan Smith.
Now, I could be a really trendy actor and rail only against the populism of the right – the racism, the xenophobia and the Islamophobia that this has enabled. But I have never looked to the far-right, or even the Conservative party, to be the vehicle of change that I think this country needs. Rather, I’ve always looked towards the Labour party to bring about a society that can be, as Billy Bragg puts it, ‘reorganised so that everyone has access to the means by which to fulfil their full potential’.
But right now, this is not what is on offer from Corbyn and the more privileged members of the far-left now in control of the party. Instead, what we have is a populist, self-deluding, narcissistic narrative that is blocking such an outcome. The clearest expression of this is their opposition to a People’s Vote. In their mindset, they rescue us.
Despite all their talk, this part of the party – now in the ascendant – has no interest in empowering the working class, for instance, by supporting a second referendum. To do so would challenge their narrative. No, they define us. They define our class, they demand that we stay within that definition, and if we transcend it in any way then we are traitors to it.
They, as high priests of their ideology, lead the collective, but if we don’t do as they say, they turn that collective into a mob. Corbyn and his supporters try to suppress or even block the campaign for a People’s Vote, saying that it doesn’t reflect the concerns of ordinary working class people.
You can see it clearly on Twitter. Any time Andrew Adonis makes a coherent and eloquent argument against Brexit, the loudest jeers are not from the Tories but from Corbyn supporters, who dismiss the peer – and columnist for this newspaper – as a member of the ‘elite’, in the hope that it will drown out his message and prevent anyone comparing it to the Labour leader’s inarticulacy and ambiguity. Adonis – the son of an immigrant, who was raised in care, and through his own intelligence and perseverance got into Oxford University – is one of this country’s finest examples of somebody who has succeeded on their own merit. Yet apparently his success disqualifies him from having a voice.
This sort of prejudice among a section of the left predates Brexit. There have always been those on this side of politics who have had a difficult relationship with the aspirational working class. I just don’t think they understand them. They see the aspiration as purely economic, when in fact it is not. From first-hand experience I know that in many ways, the aspiration is psychological. It is a response to the chaos of poverty, a need to have a sense of autonomy over your life.
I first began to experience this phenomenon as a young actor working with well-meaning, left-wing, middle class directors. There was always a discrepancy between their view of the working class and mine. It usually showed itself in the selection of costumes or in the design of the characters’ homes.
They would always want working class characters to have terrible suits or dirty houses, whereas I knew that we would have only the best clothes and that our mothers kept our homes immaculate. I began to realise what was going on. They wanted to create a narrative where we were the passive victims of some great social injustice and that they – as film makers, writers and producers – were the heroes coming to our rescue.
If you psychoanalyse it, the perpetrators of this great injustice were their parents. The film makers, writers and producers were now bohemian artists rejecting the suburban, net curtain, bourgeoisie they were born into, and we were the noble, infantilised, victims they were slumming it with. The only problem was we didn’t live in slums, we weren’t all noble and we quite liked net curtains, because they kept prying eyes away from the knocked-off video player that our dads were installing in our front rooms.
Their resistance to our nice suits and clean homes was a resistance to any notion of our own volition, because this challenged their sense of heroism and self sacrifice. Remember, first and foremost, they are the heroes of the story. Everybody else is either a villain or a victim.
When you see a middle class, privately-educated socialist like Corbyn dress down in an attempt to connect with the working classes, you know he doesn’t understand them. When he turns up, scruffily dressed, at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and his cultish supporters say the resulting criticism is all part of an establishment, right-wing media conspiracy against him, it’s not. It’s in working class homes that the shouts of ‘wear a proper coat, suit and tie!’ are the loudest.
Now, I’ve never met Seumas Milne or Andrew Murray, the two aides who are said to have the greatest influence over Corbyn, but if I was writing this as a script, I couldn’t create two more caricatured personifications of the phenomenon I have just outlined. One is a Winchester-educated revolutionary, son of a former BBC director general, the other has an aristocratic background and an entry in Debrett’s Peerage. Together, they are trying to stop ordinary people having an informed vote over the most important issue they’ve ever faced.
The right-wing Brexiteers believe that a free market utopia will rise from the ashes of destruction that our departure from the EU will bring; left-wing Brexiteers say it will be a socialist utopia which will emerge. What both have in common is that they believe the destruction is a price worth paying.
Corbyn and his supporters know that voters were lied to over Brexit, but they don’t want to give people the facts and enable them to have their say again. No, they know what’s best for us, even if we don’t. A socialist UK outside of the EU has been Corbyn’s life-long dream, even if it is not what people voted for. So we are left with our main opposition party in the grip of a far-left populism which is every bit as harmful as the populism of the far-right. Both are deluded, manipulative, undemocratic and authoritarian. For both, it is ideology which matters, not the people they claim to serve.