Editor-in-chief Claire Connelly examines why Jeremy Corbyn’s presence at Glastonbury was a watershed moment in British history that will have global repercussions.
Last week at Glastonbury music festival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reminded us what it means to live in a democracy.
He reminded us what elections are for. And who they are for. Not the private sector. Not the banks. Not property developers or party donors.
They are meant for we: the people.
Corbyn’s reception at Glastonbury over the weekend demonstrates what an excellent job this government has done at managing our expectations. That is to say: we have been trained not to have any.
Over the last 15 years or so, voters have somehow been convinced that the government is no longer responsible for employment, or for the overall health of the economy. Why ensure ample productivity and consumer spending when you can easily achieve growth without employment? Sure, only 100 or so people will benefit from said growth but it looks good in a headline.
We forgot, somewhere along the way, or were trained to forget, the entire point of government in the first place.
We forgot that the social safety net advocated by Labour isn’t a radical idea. Nothing Corbyn proposes hasn’t already existed in recent British history, and these policies have already proven to endow the middle and working classes, particularly after the war.
And the class warfare being waged by the Tories tells us culture is a luxury of the elite, poetry the dominion of the upper class, that music is a thing that sells records and festival tickets, not a tool of political protest. Not a tune that accompanies living history, or reaction to the zeitgeist.
So it is the ultimate act of irony that the Tories and their supporters have tried to characterise this ‘ah hah’ moment as the luxury of the cashed-up left, after years of characterising anyone left of centre as good-for-nothing dole-addicts.
Just yesterday Boris Johnson stood in Parliament and claimed those who cheered for Corbyn were members of some mystic cult, so foreign is the concept of government that represents the will of the people. It takes a real nerve to stand before the British people and claim a government that offers nothing but an almost permanent winter with no Christmas, is a better alternative to the one concerned with addressing the wellbeing of the greatest number of people.
Boris Johnson on "Glarstonbury" pic.twitter.com/055kTZ1LI2
— Esther Webber (@estwebber) June 26, 2017
Bo-Jo is basically telling Britain: “Vote Tory, we promise not to do anything.” How this qualifies as a credible political strategy is beyond me.
Perhaps more importantly, we forgot the importance of an eloquent phrase; to quote Aaron Sorkin, “that words when spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music.”
Or to borrow another Sorkin phrase: “that the world can move – or not – by changing some words.”
Well, the world may have stood still for those 13 minutes and 40 seconds in which Corbyn held court, as, what seemed like all of England, bore witness to this watershed moment.
Corbyn changed some words alright. He is reading out of an entirely different play book to his political rivals, and it is these same words which removed May’s majority, and hopefully soon, the Tory government.
And what an inspired performance it was.
Corbyn has given Britain – and the world – new words with which to move the nation forward.
He reminded us what it means to have a leader that is a true servant of the people, whose interests he is elected to protect.
He reminded us – as economist, Ann Pettifor did on Renegade Inc recently – that it is not the government or even the Bank of England who controls the economy: we do.
And it is not governments who elect themselves (however they may try), it is we the people.
“Ye are many, they are few.”
In six words, Jeremy Corbyn began to give the British people their power back. (His next challenge is getting his own party to agree with him).
A quick digression while we’re on the topic of words. What does it say about the merit of the Tory argument that their leader Theresa May has used so few of them?
May refused to debate Corbyn during the election campaign and has avoided saying anything of any substance both about the Tories’ policy proposals, or the tragedies that followed the election. This woman will inevitably have to stand before Corbyn every day in Parliament and make her case, yet has almost religiously avoided making her case to the British people, then or now. The Tories are kidding themselves if they think they can claw back their mandate by calling Corbyn supporters brainwashed members of some mystical cult. Its reaction to Britain’s rejection of its neoliberal policies only further demonstrates how out-of-touch the government is with the cultural zeitgeist.
But back to the matter in hand… To quote Yehuda Berg: “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
Corbyn has indeed humbled the Tories, and any leader who arrogantly makes the case for government by telling people they’re on their own. Even the Super Tory, Jacob Rees Mogg now wants to be a servant of the people – it looks like there is such a thing as society.
Mr Corbyn has used his words to reject the premise of his opposition’s argument. By doing so he has changed the conversation. Our expectations have been raised.
He reminded us what government is for. And of the importance of culture and shared experiences. This is the country of Orwell. Of Shakespeare. Of The Beatles and The Clash. The Sex Pistols. Pink Floyd. Of Zadie Smith, of Verity Lambert, of Kia Abdullah. Each one capturing snapshots of moments in time.
Corbyn reminded us of ourselves. That, all in all, we are not all just bricks in a wall. We are not passive receptacles for credit and consumer goods, however hard the Tories may try to tell us otherwise.
We are living, breathing, voting constituents whose interests must be met if political parties expect us to vote for them.
They are the servants, we are the many, and now there’s no turning back.
Specialising in economics, technology and policy, Connelly is working on her first book due out in 2018.
With more than a decade of experience under her belt, Claire has written for leading publications including The Australian Financial Review, The Saturday Paper, ABC, SBS, Crikey, New Matilda, VICE & others. She is the co-host of The Week In Start-Ups Australia, and features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio shows including Radio National's Download This Show, ABC's The Drum, Ten's The Project, and more.