Kathy Sheridan, Irish Times Liberal-about-town and crusader of the collapsing centre, responsible for gems like this, is reacting to the Grenfell tower disaster and the UK election. She has some thoughts.
The hot take is quite simple: Corbyn and May, bemoans our Kathy, are two sides of the same coin. Given their clearly different political visions (as demonstrated by the fact that they both produced manifestos saying exactly what they intended to do) it’s unclear what exactly she means by ‘two sides of the same coin’. Indeed, the UK election may have seen some of the most clearly defined political and ideological battle-lines since the 80s. Let’s soldier on and see if she can make herself clearer.
The sub-headline reads: ‘Labour leader may have handled the Grenfell disaster better but he is flawed too.’ I don’t deny this is true but it’s sufficiently banal that the names and actions could be replaced with anything else conceivable and still more or less make sense:
- Morris might have eaten more sausages than Seán but he is flawed too.
- Sinéad O’Connor may be a better singer than former Finnish president Tarja Halonen but she is flawed too.
- Cats may have more fur than Irish Times Columnists but they are flawed too.
Some light could possibly be shed on all this by examining her column from the previous week, in which she attributed May’s election disaster to her own personal failings. An element of truth in that certainly, but the defining feature of the election was policies not personalities. For a centrist who imagines politics simply to be a matter of following the rules and doing just enough to sell neo-liberalism to the great unwashed this may be unimaginable, but it is what happened. Tellingly, her post-election piece contained the following.
If your pig-headed, 14-year-old with the edgy boyfriend took the family car and crashed it into a wall, you would probably be teary eyed at her contrite apology and her promise to ditch the boyfriend and consult all round before indulging in any further japes with family property.
. . . May, a grown woman, did that to a country.
Not sure what to make of that but it’s telling that nowhere does Sheridan mention the Labour Party, manifestos or policies, the latter of which she likely considers ancillary unless they relate to EU membership.
Incidentally, if my pig-headed 14-year-old with the edgy boyfriend regularly wrote the sort of muck that Sheridan does she’d be sent off to boarding school. You’ve been warned Sorcha.
This week’s column comes out fighting, or at least shouting. The central claim being a (kinda) defence of May’s refusal to visit Grenfell residents and an attack on the comparably positive reaction to Corbyn’s handling of the disaster.
You can only admire the stamina of Jeremy Corbyn. By the weekend, the 68-year-old had surely hugged the entire populace of north Kensington and environs. His characteristically hangdog persona exuded humility, tears and empathy – and something new. Still jubilant from losing the general election to the Tories less catastrophically than expected, he walked among his people under showers of pixie dust, as the world’s media – the ones not busy struggling to decode the DUP’s DNA – scrambled for a look at the man who had defied all predictions of extinction. Zero to hero in a few weeks.
Perhaps reflecting on how the media (i.e you) were so utterly clueless with regard to what was going on in UK politics and society may prompt some self-examination, Kathy? Or maybe we just need a British Macron. Yeah, we need a British Macron. He’ll be called Mr Hamish Shirewood-Macronington and he’ll sort all this out.
By the way, notice how she dismisses an election which saw Corbyn’s Labour Party gain its biggest vote increase since Clement Atlee by using the (already-tired) trope of ‘Hate to break up the party guys, but he did lose’? Even the people employing this shite don’t really believe that the election was anything but a triumph for Corbynism. In Sheridan’s case the fact that just one week ago she wrote a column excoriating May for an electoral disaster would suggest that, on some level at least, she understands that it was the opposite of a disaster for the main opposition party. Or so one would hope.
Meanwhile, Corbyn’s lifelong avoidance of power has rendered him untouchable. The beauty of fashioning long, political careers out of protest and making the right noises while avoiding responsibility and consequences have nothing to fear from angry voters. So Corbyn can slug it out with the queen in the empathy stakes and bask in the contrast with scaredy cat May. Right now, he owns the hugs and tears territory because he seems sincere but also because he remains untested.
Lately Corbyn has been avoiding power through the unusual means of aggressively attempting to become Prime Minister. It’s also worth noting that to your average empty-headed centrist cliché-peddler, the very notion that articulating, arguing for and working towards a political vision consistently, and then refusing to compromise on that vision by stampeding to the Blairite centre (de-regulating banks, selling off the NHS and bombing Iraq along the way) can only be understood as a bizarre form of careerism. If anything, Corbyn’s consistency is precisely why people like him. They like his politics. They voted for those politics. They did so because the politics of the neo-liberal centre have been tried and they have failed spectacularly. Again, this is an idea utterly alien to someone like Sheridan who sees politics in fundamentally managerial terms. The neoliberal rules of the game are always the same. Until, of course, the rules get thrown out the window by the electorate.
We look at political leaders and fantasise about what a composite of them might be. Someone with dignity, energy and a well-stocked mind; someone who listens without ego; who has the moral authority to change course from a cherished goal, humble enough to admit it and to explain why; someone who does not pull moronically transparent strokes or patronise the people with simplistic narratives. Someone who is cunning, yet steadfast and decent; who instinctively recognises the boundary between building warm relationships with world leaders and licking their toes; who plays a long game and is incapable of putting party before country; someone who doesn’t feel the need to be a gas card, to have a quip for every lad up a ladder, or to have a pint with every voter. Someone who doesn’t want to be our new friend; someone who seeks not to divide but to appeal to our better selves; who engenders hope and a can-do spirit by fostering quality and fairness in everything they touch, beginning with housing, jobs, education, healthcare and laws that favour the greedy. How hard can it be?
Actually, most people don’t give a shit about any of that. In the UK, people voted en masse for policies and manifestos, not amorphous leadership qualities. They’re a lot smarter than you give them credit for, Kathy. It’s the commentariat who are fixated on managerial leadership and PR spinnery. Luckily, that commentariat looks increasingly sad, discredited and irrelevant.
Incidentally, I can imagine quite a few broadsheet columnists reading out that last quoted paragraph, looking at a Macron election poster and masturbating furiously.
We can dream. More realistically, maybe, the question is less about what we want or expect from our leaders than what we can do to protect ourselves from them when they turn bad. Checks and balances were supposed to protect America and Britain from autocratic leaders. How’s that working out?
It goes without saying that neither of Sheridan’s columns since the UK election are worth reading. They contain little in the way of analysis and are incoherent in their fury. They are also just incoherent. Indeed, as political developments take place that are just utterly beyond their already-frayed intellectual apparatus, the cretinous centre seem increasingly unable to respond with anything but inchoate dismay.
This isn’t so much an opinion piece as a temper tantrum by a liberal struggling to make sense of a world she simply can’t comprehend anymore (and never really did).