Opinion: Jeremy Corbyn is not the leader that the Opposition needs

George Walkden's picture

Not because of what he believes, but because of why he believes it.

For the past month-and-a-half, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been abuzz with Corbyn-mania. It's impressive how a man who no one had ever heard of before June 2015 (despite being an MP for thirty years) has been able to generate so much buzz. Yet the reason people like Jeremy Corbyn is simple: he's left-wing. Really left-wing. At a time when the Labour Party is perceived as sliding ever further right, here's someone who promises to buck the trend.

And I can't fault him for that. By most measures, I'm pretty damn left-leaning myself. I applaud, for instance, his proposal to scrap university tuition fees. Such a measure would be likely to reduce income inequality; moreover, tuition fees are regarded as a failed experiment by Germany's current right-leaning government, and feelessness has hardly led to economic disaster in Scandinavia.

For all that I agree with many of Corbyn's policy suggestions, though, in one respect the man is a continuity candidate: his politics come straight from ideology rather than evidence.

The obvious example is his support for homeopathy, on which he signed a motion in 2010. In his tweet from that time he states that it "works for some ppl" - apparently placing anecdotal self-report above the scientific consensus. Moreover, his rationale - that "they both come from organic matter" - is ridiculous (so does shit). In economic policy, too, Corbyn has frequently voiced his opposition to austerity, but much more rarely taken the time to set out what's led him to that conclusion. My own impression is that the economic consensus is that austerity is a misconceived response to an economic slump - but that is a case that needs to be made, not a truth that speaks for itself.

Of course there's an irreducible ideological core to politics (for instance, don't ask me why I think that evidence-based policy is a good thing!). But economic and health issues must not be part of that core. To allow otherwise is to allow the debate to be framed in the same dreary terms that we're used to, with "persuasive" and "charismatic" politicians dominating the stage rather than ones who've taken the time to assess the issues. Corbyn is often described by supporters as uncompromising and consistent. These should not be taken as virtues in a politician. What matters far more is the willingness to weigh the evidence and, if the case is made, to change one's mind. Consistency is for football supporters and religious fundamentalists. In and of itself, it has no place in the politics of the twenty-first century.

I'm not going to recommend a candidate in the Labour leadership contest, which seems like a pretty dismal affair to me. Pirates won't be able to vote in that election anyway, since members of political parties who stand candidates against Labour are not allowed to be Labour members (the Pirate Party has no such restriction). But if you're after evidence-based policy, then Corbyn lookalike Obi-Wan Kenobi probably put it best: these aren't the droids you're looking for.

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