Neoliberals feel chill of Corbyn’s Labour takeover
Brighton Letter: Centrists shocked by cult of personality around party leader
Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn removes a garland after delivering his keynote speech in Brighton. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
It was on the pebble beach next to Brighton Pier, as I watched a couple wrapped up warm against the autumn sun in their deck chairs, reading. A boy and a girl stood on the shore in black bathing suits, their pale, blue-veined skin shivering as the water approached their toes.
A seagull swooped past on its way to the amusements and suddenly it was back, the cheap Italian pop song that had lodged in my ear for the month of August, fading away with the memory of summer. It was a silly song about a selfie but what stuck was the refrain, sung with an absurd pathos above a beat so jaunty it felt like an affront.
Ma tu mi manchi, mi manchi, mi manchi Mi manchi in carne ed ossa Mi manchi nella lista Delle cose che non ho.
(But I miss you, I miss you,
I miss you in the flesh
I miss you on my list
of the things that I don’t have.)
It returned again and again during the Labour conference, adding its own, mocking twist to the melancholy peculiar to seaside towns at the end of the season. It was there as I listened to a right-wing Labour MP lament the wholesale takeover of the party by Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters.
“They have everything now, so it’s their responsibility. We’re the insurgency now,” he said.
He sounded cocky but he looked scared as he saw no prospect of Labour returning to centrist control. A few months ago, he was looking forward to the purge of the Left that would follow the expected electoral disaster in June. Now, he was frozen out, despised or at best ignored by the young cadres who are tightening their grip at every level of the party.
“Is this the End of Neoliberalism?” a woman asked as she tugged at my sleeve.
“It most certainly is,” I told her.
We were queuing outside the Synergy Centre, a former nightclub that was now a community centre, for a session on the end of neoliberalism and how to make the most of it. It was part of A World Transformed, a festival organised by Momentum, the group set up to support Corbyn’s leadership which played an important role in mobilising young voters in June.
For Labour centrists, Momentum are the shock troops of a cult of personality around Corbyn, part of a broader culture that bullies dissidents and tolerates anti-Semitism. Some on the far-left are online trolls and Corbyn’s circle have a tin ear on anti-Semitism, so that Jews are perhaps the only minority not to be allowed to define what constitutes prejudice against them.
Most Momentum activists I’ve met have been gentle and thoughtful rather than strident or angry and the transformation they seek is not just to a fairer world but a kinder one. At the Synergy Centre, journalist Paul Mason described neoliberalism as a coercive system to introduce competition into every area of human experience.
“It’s an attempt to force human nature in a certain direction. It’s a coercive thing that strips us of everything else other than our economic function,” he said.
In the same way that workers in communist countries were eventually able to check official claims against reality when they were free to travel to the West, Mason suggests that neoliberalism’s claims can be checked against our own feelings.
“Does it feel good? No it doesn’t. Neoliberalism is a defeatable ideology on the basis of reality,” he said.
The Labour conference was the most upbeat for years, with the party united around a left-wing manifesto and the whiff of power acting as a powerful adhesive. But it was emotionally charged too, with the defenestrated centrists feeling besieged while the triumphant Left still nursed bruised feelings after years of being ridiculed and written off.
At the parties on the last night of conference, chants of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” were followed by calls to “send Tony to The Hague”, and many old scores remain to be settled. The nightclubs hosting the parties, clustered close to the seafront, told their own story.
There was a steady stream in and out of Coalition and a crowd waiting at the door of Revolution, but they were queuing around the block for Revenge.