In a hall somewhere in England, a propagandist for the Tories, a sort of marketing man, is being bombarded by angry citizens on bad schools, bad housing, bad health service. The salesman, wriggling against the wall, furrows his brow and comes up with an explanation. After stuttering a few times, he says:
“The answer to your problems is here, in this very room.” Then, foaming at the mouth on the issue of health services, he points to a young man. “Ali” he blurts out. “It’s all because of him.”
A white man shouts back. “What has Ali got to do with the fact that my mother can’t get a surgery?”
Well, there is a shortage of money, says the salesman, “There is too much pressure on the system because of”, stutter, stutter, stutter. “Ali”.
Ali at the back mutters shyly. “But I am a doctor.”
An alert audience has seen vast sums being passed on to a man in a pin stripe suit by the very same salesman. A howl of protest goes up. “You said you had no money.”
“He is the CEO of a major tech company — he is a job creator” says the salesman. Wealthy corporations need massive tax cuts for this reason, he says.
Boris Johnson and the Tories will of course mount a resounding rebuttal, but they do not seem to have a case which can be encapsulated like Corbyn’s. The Right, it was said, has to make up in style what it lacks in substance. In the British context, The Spectator and The New Statesman were cited as examples of the Right having more head and the Left more heart. But those were days when debate was civilized.
After the collapse of one system represented by the Soviet Union, the victorious system embarked on a mission which did not promote human rights, democracy; it promoted runaway capitalism which, alas, slipped and fractured its legs on a bend in 2008. Since this major fracture, capitalism is being made to run on artificial legs. People are “occupying Wall Street”; Mammoth Corporations are mobilizing powerful establishments to thwart the march of people screaming “inequality”.
Liberals, under the Establishment’s “Chhatra-Chhaya” or canopy, begin to show their colours: “Communism” they say. Ed Murrow of CBS News single handedly stopped Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt. Murrow’s was the compassionate, liberal, democratic expression of journalism.
After the first Boris Johnson-Jeremy Corbyn debate three weeks before the elections, the media commentariat has been even handed. They gave victory to neither. They did not take into account Tories fixing a twitter account to boost debate ratings. This “balance” would appear to be a tilt in favour of Corbyn, because earlier BBC’s political correspondent, Rob Watson, for instance, never mentioned the Labour leader’s name without shrugging his shoulders and wincing. Such gestures would certainly touch the right chords with the establishment that keeps Watson buoyant.
Boris is not exactly an adorable character. He is Prime Minister without having been elected as one. A reputation for lying, inflating expense accounts, making merry with the rich on the Continent, looking lost at airports after late night binges, public quarrels with girlfriend and so much more — all these the establishment will overlook if only Johnson can help abort the Corbyn project. “You can go to Caracas or to your Mullahs” snarled Johnson in Parliament. For Caracas read Hugo Chavez, disciple of Fidel Castro, Communist, enough to invoke the ghost of McCarthy. When Johnson taunts Corbyn about the “Mullahs”, the Labour leader is sought to be cast as one soft on Muslim immigrants, the basic source of terrorism — “Ali” of the clip above.
The only way capitalism in trauma can fight a progressive politician is to cast him as a “Communist”, anti-Semitic or one negligent of Islamic terrorism. When Johnson handpicked Priti Patel as Home Secretary, he had all these themes in his mind. Consider Patel’s background: as Secretary of State for International Development in Theresa May’s government, she travelled, without any authority, to Israel, meeting Benjamin Netanyahu’s ministers in pursuance of her own agendas. She was found out and was sacked but Johnson needed just such cloak-and-dagger talent. Recently, when Hindu groups turned upon Corbyn because he was critical of recent actions of the Modi government in Kashmir, informed folks asked: is this Priti’s handiwork? For electoral gains, Johnson would not mind Priti Patel (strictly behind the scenes) stoking a little Hindu-Muslim polarization.
Look at the contrast. Corbyn has reached out much more elegantly for sub-continental support. The Labour party has promised in its election manifesto something Indians have been demanding for some time: an official apology for the Jalianwala Bagh massacre.
That is why the December election is not just a Brexit election as the British see it. The outcome will tilt the global balance one way or the other. Two competing forces, in a general sort of way, are Progressivism and an ultra-right global coalition which I call Bannonism.
Even though his stay in the White House as President Trump’s principal adviser was found to be untenable because of his brazenly racist, ultra right views, Steve Bannon has been travelling around the world stitching together Right extremism everywhere under the banner of what he calls the Movement. Trump to Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Matteo Salvini, (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France), Nigel Farage (Britain), and the new Rightist eruption in Spain, Vox, under Santiago Abascal have all been embraced by Bannon. Johnson’s victory will strengthen this group of which Narendra Modi’s India too is a part.
At the progressive end, Podemos is the first communist party to be in a Spanish coalition government. Portugal, Greece, Italy and France have strong Left currents. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are Americans of this bent. This entire formation would take heart from a Corbyn victory. But, beware of establishments which can cause even a conflict to protect a crumbling capitalist order. Nothing can be taken for granted.
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)