Jeremy Corbyn – refreshing sincerity

Most of my readers are not in the UK, so perhaps this posting requires some background information.

The UK media are currently working themselves into a lather concerning the candidates for election to be the next leader of the Labour Party. This position will carry with it the title of Leader of The Opposition. The erstwhile incumbent, Ed Miliband, resigned after Labour was (unexpectedly to the pollsters) thrashed by the Conservative Party at the General Election in May. The Labour leadership election is not till 10 September, but what is exercising the chatterati now is that the pollsters – yes, the same ones that had the result of the General Election spattering egg all over their faces – have a firebrand left-winger, Jeremy Corbyn MP, in the lead. (If you are a regular reader of this blog, and that name seems faintly familiar, it could be because we fairly recently critiqued a speech by his brother Piers.)

The received psephological wisdom seems to be that the only way to win an election these days is to pepper your pre-poll public pronouncements with all manner of declarations that place you in the political centre-ground. Once elected you are free to junk all those promises and no one really minds any more because everyone has come to expect it. In short, all the politicians representing their countries in international corridors of power, have therefore – by definition – to be duplicitous little shits. That’s the received wisdom; and if you look around the world stage you have to admit that … well anyway that’s the received wisdom.

Jeremy Corbyn makes absolutely no attempt to occupy the centre ground or pretend that he is anything other than an extreme left-wing firebrand, and therefore – so the ‘experts’ have it – he is unelectable.

In November 2013 Corbyn spoke at a debate in the Oxford Union. This blog has previously covered a speech by Daniel Hannan at the same debate. The motion was This House Believes Socialism Will Not Work. Corbyn spoke in opposition.

Corbyn is a very good speaker indeed.

It’s not just the fluent, paperless confidence that makes him so good; it’s also the quality of transparent sincerity. I work very hard to get my trainees to convey those same qualities and this speech shows why. You can’t help believing that he means what he says.

He doesn’t have much chance to get into his own flow because people keep interrupting him with interjections, heckling and points of order, and in fact this causes him to over-run his time and be bombarded by the time bell. But he still manages to promote his arguments, and he combats the time-bell with the words, “I’ll conclude with this thought”.

I happen to think his opinion is profoundly misguided. I don’t want to take time here to make the distinction between corporatism and free-market capitalism, but he seems not to recognize the difference. I do not believe in equality for the same reason that I do not believe in Santa Claus. Neither exists; and trying to force equality is a doomed mistake, as Milton Friedman said –

“A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”

Socialism operates through coercion instead of freedom, and the experience of the consistent failure of all the worldwide socialist experiments, up to and including North Korea, show that the movement thrives on stated intent rather than being able to cite any results. I marvel that any socialist any longer genuinely believes that the stated intent has any hope of materializing. It is almost as if freedom is suppressed for its own sake – like in North Korea.

Nevertheless Corbyn manifestly believes in it, and we can listen and know that he means what he says. That is a refreshing quality these days for a politician aiming for the top of his tree. I would loathe to live in a country governed by a party led by him, but that ain’t going to happen at least for a few years.

Milton Friedman discusses humaneness.

Even though he has been dead for eight years, the teachings of Milton Friedman live on as robustly as ever, either directly through his books or indirectly through the works of his students.  He was mentor to the great Thomas Sowell, who continues to publish books like the excellent Intellectuals and Society.

The Free to Choose Network, which is lead by Robert Chitester, the man who probably did more than anyone to promote Friedman to the world at large, and which is named after Friedman’s landmark TV series and book of the same name, keeps his memory and teaching alive. Indeed we have the network to thank that this speech, which he delivered at Cornell University in (I think) 1978, is available to us.

Almost immediately Friedman commits an error.  In the first few seconds he tells an overt gag. All my trainees have been taught that – and why – this is almost guaranteed to fail (I’ll spare you the why). As a visiting celebrity professor, addressing a roomful of awestruck students, he’s packing a shed-load of ethos and could get at this stage a positive reaction from almost anything he said or did; yet listen to how agonisingly slow the reluctant laugh builds despite his working hard to stoke up the process by smiling benignly at the audience. There is a right way and there is a wrong way to introduce a piece of early humour, and this is the wrong way.

That horror dispensed with, he is now into his own territory. He lays out his stall very clearly and launches into his arguments.

Yet something is preventing him from concentrating on the matter in hand. Look how often in the first six minutes or so he loses his own track, stumbles, corrects himself, etc. I find myself searching for an explanation. I see no other symptoms of nervous stress, but something is preying on his mind and getting in the way of smooth thought.

At any rate from around the six-minute mark the gears stop grinding and then he gets properly into his stride.

I have quite often in this blog used the metaphor of aeroplane flight. The take-off and landing are the difficult and dangerous bits; the main body of the flight tends to look after itself. I remain puzzled as to why it took so long for Friedman on this occasion to climb to cruising altitude. Perhaps it was that ghastly opening!

If I remove my rhetor hat my only puzzlement concerning his actual message is that all his arguments and case histories were crystal clear when he made them. We now have nearly forty more years of experience and data proving him right, yet still governments – egged on by intellectuals – continue down their ovine path, making the same appalling mistakes.

We either need to question their motives, or we need to re-examine the definition of the word ‘intellectual’. Perhaps ‘intellectuals’ are merely people who might have read a book or two but otherwise are not bright enough to be called anything else.