Source: The GuardianI have a confession to make: I have never voted in a general election in my life. Despite attending more demos with my parents than I care to remember, I have never yet cast a vote. I can hear the voices of disapproval. Don’t bother; it has been a conscious choice. Many people have been trained to see the Houses of Parliament as the only site of political activity and their vote as their only, or at least primary, obligation. I was, thankfully, not raised with such a narrow view of political engagement.
However, I will be voting for the first time in June and I will – I am shocked to be typing this – be voting Labour. I am not a Labour supporter; I do not share the romantic idea that the Labour party was ever as radical an alternative as some would like to think. Despite building the welfare state, Labour has been an imperialist party from Attlee to Wilson to Blair, thus as a “third world” internationalist I have never been able to vote for them.
So why will I be voting now? Jeremy Corbyn. It’s not that I am naive enough to believe that one man (who is, of course, powerless without the people that support him) can fundamentally alter the nature of British politics, or that I think that if Labour wins that the UK will suddenly reflect his personal political convictions, or even that I believe that the prime minister actually runs the country. However for the first time in my adult life, and perhaps for the first time in British history, someone I would consider to be a fundamentally decent human being has a chance of being elected.
I recognise that Corbyn is an imperfect “leader”. He was abysmal during the Brexit campaign for example. He is a politician, and he will make more mistakes.
We do not need perfect politicians, because we are not perfect people ourselves. As well as his historical stances on apartheid and other issues, Corbyn has consistently voted against the UK’s worst acts of foreign aggression, including being one of only 13 MPs to vote against Nato’s horrific intervention in Libya in 2011 – an intervention that has played no small part in the subsequent refugee crisis and the direct spreading of terrorism.
We keep being told Corbyn is unelectable. Yet we were also told that he would not win the Labour leadership. He may not have the “electric” personality that electorates are concerned about in these days of celebrity culture, but politics should not – primarily – be about personalities; it should be about policies – and Theresea May hardly exudes charisma. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are probably the most charismatic English-speaking politicians of my lifetime, but their actual policies were horrendous.
I understand that for much of the UK electorate British foreign policy is not a priority. But for those of us that still have family in the global south and/or have political worldviews shaped by ideas of human solidarity, this is a primary concern.
What would happen if at some point in the future the Jamaican (or any other global south) government decided to nationalise what little bauxite (or other commodity) it has left, or to default on its IMF repayments? What would be the US response? Blockade? Invasion? Would Jamaica’s homophobia and police brutality suddenly get bumped up into the “human rights issues” club? Would the positive trends in Jamaican society (such as ranking 32 places above the UK for press freedom or being one of only three countries on Earth where your boss is more likely to be a woman) be ignored by the media so that a one-dimensional, despotic, draconian vision of the country could be drilled into the global psyche in preparation for invasion? Would Britain berate its American ally for its aggressions and force it to seek a peaceful solution to a problem in a Commonwealth country? Maybe ask the Grenadians.
We could ask the same of much more powerful countries, say India; could the treatment of Sikhs, Adivasis, the issues in Kashmir and what Narendra Modi himself oversaw in Gujarat be manipulated to justify war, should India disobey global corporate power? Certainly. It seems increasingly clear that America is preparing for war with North Korea and make no mistake about it – if the Tories get their mandate, our taxes will be right there with them.
These scenarios may seem far-fetched to some, but when we hear these revisionist imperial morons chanting about Empire 2.0 like it’s a new flavour of sugar-free drink what are we to think?
There are a great many other progressive policies that make Corbyn a genuinely different candidate from what we have seen before, but another key area is the NHS. If you want to see what privatised healthcare looks like just ask any American. The ethos behind the NHS is one of the most egalitarian ideas ever: it must be protected at all costs. The Tories have made their intentions in this area quite plain – as has Corbyn.
Let’s be quite clear, I am not suggesting that we cease any other sort of progressive political activity. I simply think we cannot afford, in this very particular set of circumstances, to not vote. You may believe Labour has no chance of winning and therefore it is pointless. I disagree. Let’s at least show how many people need and want the progressive ticket that Corbyn is running on. Then, at least, we have something to build on. Though of course the aim is to win – and there are more than enough people like me that did not vote in the last election to swing it entirely.