Jeremy Corbyn is going to be Prime Minister. There can no longer be any doubt. He has seen off Tony Blair; the Parliamentary Labour Party folded; and Theresa May just hopes no one notices her anymore. With Ed Sheeran’s endorsement, Corbyn’s transformation from Leninist crank to PM-in-waiting is complete. He has been sucked into the great banal morass of middle-class culture, embraced by the human form of Radio 2, accredited for the easy listeners and the Astra drivers and people who say ‘Pimms O’Clock’. Sheeran, the soundtrack to Wetherspoons, is the ultimate in early-onset centrist daddery, a millennial Phil Collins. He told the Sunday Times:
‘I love Corbyn. I love everything Corbyn is about. And I feel people thought that, because I didn’t put myself behind him, I wasn’t a Corbyn supporter. But if you knew me as a person, and listened to my music, you would be able to make a pretty educated guess that he would be the kind of person I really dig. He cares about other people. He cares about all classes, races and generations, and that’s how I was brought up — we need more people that care about everyone.’
So, a couple of things: 1) No one from Framlingham in Suffolk, where Sheeran grew up, has ever ‘dug’ anything. They have gardeners for that; 2) There was a political critique running through Sheeran’s discography all this time. I’m pretty ashamed I missed the Marxist dialectic contained in lyrics like:
‘We’re going out on our first date/ You and me are thrifty, so go all you can eat/ Fill up your bag and I fill up a plate/ We talk for hours and hours about the sweet and the sour.’
But it’s in his reasoning for Corbyn that Sheeran gives us a dread glimpse of the future. Corbyn cares. Not Corbyn is right about tax or Corbyn has better ideas for solving the housing crisis. No, he cares. He emotes in an appealing way. He is for things that are good, against things that are bad, and makes us feel warm and fuzzy. When this is your politics, when good intentions trump policy impact, when the world is made up of the caring and the callous, you will be drawn to the swaggering, contentless radicalism of a Jeremy Corbyn or a John McDonnell. Corbynism is a spasm of moral superiority masquerading as a cult of personality pretending to be a movement for social justice.
Such muddle-headed thinking is how you arrive at a left that damns Tony Blair as a war criminal and lauds Jeremy Corbyn as a peacemaker; that dismisses as cautious, ineffectual, even reactionary a transformational Labour government. New Labour did stuff but it didn’t care, which is to say it preferred real world results over impotent virtue. And because Corbyn cares he can get away with things his uncaring opponents wouldn’t. Caring absolves you of the need to show judgement, grace, or moral intelligence. Caring is a licence to behave any way you want to whomever you don’t like.
Just as the hard-right is made up of radicals who have convinced themselves they are traditionalists, the hard-left is home to conservatives who believe themselves to be subversives. Look how they flirt with the symbols and rhetoric of 20th-century totalitarianism. Jeremy Corbyn is not so much a leader as a comforting figure of righteous inertia. He doesn’t challenge, take uncomfortable decisions, take any decisions at all for that matter. He cares and suddenly that’s enough.