Friday, 28 August 2015

Corbyn, Segregation and a Sense of Perspective

In keeping with the new theme of this blog, this is as good a time as any to discuss the way that many in the media and elsewhere have responded to Jeremy Corbyn and just about anything he has done, said or stood near. The most recent example of this is his unstoppable desire to "segregate" women on trains, triggering an overwhelming "backlash". From an outside perspective, it's hard to see this as anything but absurd because the text in question is as follows:

Consultation on public transport: Some women have raised with Jeremy that a solution to the rise in assault and harassment on public transport could be to introduce women only carriages. My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform, to the bus stop to on the mode of transport itself. However, I would consult with women and open it up to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome – and also if piloting this at times and modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest.

There's nothing in there that looks like Jeremy Corbyn imposing segregation on women, given that it does little more than refer to a planned consultation. What's interesting then is not just that political opponents have used this to attack him (which would happen in any context), but that people are so willing to believe it, throwing around a word as uncomfortably charged as "segregation". While there is a legitimate debate to be had on how the existence of safe spaces for women and other oppressed groups interacts with a culture of victim blaming, that does not seem to be the driving force. Instead, it seems to be the case that many people believe that Corbyn's ideas are ridiculous, implausible and impractical, and any usual level of skepticism is left behind when another example of that appears.

This isn't about saying that Corbyn's ideas are in fact perfect, but pointing out that very different standards are applied to his policies from those of "sensible" candidates. The very same women-only train carriage idea was in fact floated last year by the Conservative Minister for Transport Claire Perry, and there was nothing like the current furor.

My own opinions on Corbyn, his policies, his ideals and his prospects will appear on this blog in due course, but it's important to remember how easy it is to lose perspective in politics, and it would be nice if a politician could express some of the mainstream social democratic ideas that Jeremy Corbyn has without everyone deciding the world is about to end.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Catchy Names

It occurs to me that there is so far no agreed upon name for the as-yet hypothetical pact between the Greens, Labour and the SNP, so I would like to propose this: the Christmas Coalition, Red and Green with a big Yellow star on the top. Alternately the GRO Pact (Green. Red. Orange). This is the kind of thing where if you coin it, everyone has to cite you all the time so it's really worth getting in there early.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Name-Change

In what I suspect will be something of a common occurrence, I have decided to change the name of this blog. I felt like it was a bit too combative (pun intended) and implied a certain kind of directed zeal that I don't always have. Instead, I have named it after the phenomenon that I believe defines the vast majority of political and cultural discourse: the knee-jerk reaction.

There are many things that people say, do and believe that I can't even begin to understand. Why would anyone (apart from a monarch) want a monarchy? How could anyone possibly think Boris Johnson would be a good Prime Minister? Same goes for Tony Abbott, or the king of all baffling political heavyweights, Donald Trump. What I can understand, however, is the uncontrollable urge to leap to the defense of things, movements, people and ideas that you like or identify with. 

I write this in the midst of an intense debate about the Labour Party in general, Jeremy Corbyn as an individual and his links with various anti-Semitic figures in particular. Every time a new story pops up I wonder what pathetic scrap of out-of-context conversation a shameless journalist has found in the hopes of getting a front page headline. While that is largely the case, as it is with most gaffes, scandals and improper connections, I know on reflection that my immediate reaction would have been very different if Nigel Farage or David Cameron were the ones being linked to racists of some kind.

I don't write this as a judgement of Corbyn, or the anti-Zionist Left, or anyone really. I only note that in a society that defies generalisation, the importance of bias, identity and knee-jerk (hey, that's the name of this blog!) reaction is about as universal as you get. I hope to write more about when and where I see this kind of thing, when I do it myself and how you're supposed to engage passionately in politics without losing yourself to your own tribal instincts.