Deborah Orr writes:
Tony Blair says he is “baffled” by the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders because of “the question of electability”.
For him, these choices are simply not pragmatic.
No matter what fine ideas candidates may espouse, for Blair the key matter is whether they can achieve power.
Not that he thinks Corbyn and Sanders are exactly brimming with fine ideas: “Free tuition fees: well, that’s great,” he says. “But someone’s going to have pay for it.”
But the answer, of course, is obvious. Pragmatism itself doesn’t seem terribly pragmatic any longer. Pragmatism, as practised by Blair, ended in disaster, despite the supposed cleverness of its compromises.
Even if the financial systems that Blair so pragmatically supported hadn’t collapsed, pragmatism had been delivering high and increasing inequality, of a type that even the most pragmatic of social democrats – which Blair claims to be – could only ever look upon and say: “I failed. I utterly failed.”
But Blair is not quite pragmatic enough to observe that.
It was people exactly like Corbyn and Sanders who were contemptuously ignored, when they warned about seemingly pragmatic choices actually being dangerous ones.
Pandering to wealth creators made them more wealthy, so that they had to be pandered to more.
When everything blew up in our faces, when the wealth they’d created was revealed as fraudulent, they’d already been pandered to so much that they were inviolable.
There was no alternative but to do more pandering, while ordinary people, especially young people, were instructed to suffer the pain of austerity.
That’s where Blair’s pragmatism led. And he wonders why people don’t want more of it.
There is no mystery, nothing to be baffled by, in youthful enthusiasm for Corbyn and Sanders. Pragmatism cuts no ice with those guys.
They know that Blair was unconcerned about spiralling property prices. They know he grabbed plenty of that action for himself.
They know that Blair was unconcerned about low, insecure wages, because there were always people who had no choice but to accept them, in the globalised economy the City wanted.
They know, even if Blair doesn’t, that the Iraq war was conceived as a dynamic economic power play, one that turned out to be exactly the disaster he was warned it would be.
Pragmatism, people have learned, transfers ever increasing power to the already powerful, protecting them from their own huge mistakes, and exposing others to their consequences.
People have become ardent supporters of Corbyn or Sanders partly as a rebuke against the recent past, which judged it pragmatic to dismiss their concerns and fears.
But sometimes it’s simply because they understand that they can’t win, but vastly prefer to go down fighting anyway.
It may not be pragmatic. But it’s defiant, hopeful, courageous, even.
When you’re so pragmatic that you can’t see that – then it’s because pragmatism has hollowed you out, and left nothing but a ghastly husk.
Supporting Corbyn or Sanders are ways of resisting that fate. They may not be sophisticated ways. They may not be sensible.
But they are so much more invigorating than the cowed acceptance that pragmatism demands and keeps on demanding, again and again.
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