Jeremy Corbyn launched his 'Project for Peace and Justice' on Sunday with a Zoom conference featuring a starry panel of left-wing activists. The online format is a weak and feeble beast compared with a live rally. You miss the crackle and excitement in the air. You long for the cheers and whoops of a properly pumped-up crowd. Instead we got the beaming face of Baroness Blower, a former teacher, who introduced the participants from a desk in her sitting room. After each speech she offered sugary compliments like a kindly aunt feigning wide-eyed surprise while opening her birthday presents.
‘That was absolutely fantastic,’ she said as Scarlett Westbrook finished the opening contribution. Ms Westbrook is a rabble-rouser-on-the-make who has spotted an opportunity. Greta Thunberg, the truancy expert and international yachtswoman, can only sail to one climate panic conference at a time. This leaves room for a doppelganger to promote the brand of doom. Westbrook seems to have passed the audition. She’s 16. And she speaks pure calamity.
She talked of historic colonialism, stolen resources, and massacred populations. And she argued that this multitude of evils had been ‘crafted’ and ‘spearheaded’ deliberately by an elite. Her proposal is to thwart their hellish tricks with a green economic deal that will ‘pay back our historic colonial debt’ and spread justice and equality while saving the planet as well. Just like that. All her solutions involve money and her manifesto looks like a massive insurance claim. ‘Leave it to me, the cheque’s in the post,’ is how her pitch would sound to an intelligent, sceptical teenager.
The next Zoomster, Ronnie Kasrils, is a South African activist who served in Mandela’s government. His presence gave the event an international flavour which helped to curb the impression that Corbyn’s real game is to launch an anti-Starmer splinter-group within the Labour party.
Kasrils took up where Westbrook left off. ‘We live in very dark times,’ he gloomed. ‘The raging pandemic, the rise of neo-fascist forces, a rapacious neoliberal global system'. He also proposed a remedy which — surprise, surprise — involved crushing the corrupt elite. ‘You are the many, they are the few,’ he said, attributing the words to Shelley. (The line is, ‘Ye are many, they are few’, which has a more august rhythm than Kasrils’s tinkly version.)
Then he blundered. Without mentioning Starmer by name he said that the current Labour leader had ‘ousted Jeremy in an atrocious coup'. In plain English, Sir Keir seized control of Labour in an unjust putsch. Does Corbyn agree? He ought to be asked.
‘Ronnie, that was fantastic thank you so much,’ said Baroness Blower as she introduced the man himself. Corbyn, using his privilege as founder, talked at great length and repeated the same cracked-record speech that has served him for decades. To everyone’s surprise, he said something noteworthy. The British government, he argued, should ‘use its power in the World Trade Organization to support Indian and African governments wanting to provide access to vaccines without paying vast sums to private firms.’
But hang on. Britain’s ‘power in the WTO’ is a direct consequence of Brexit which Corbyn used to support but opposed when he became Labour leader. The pendulum has swung back, and Corbyn is now happily cheerleading for the Brussels-bashers.
Then, the biggest name on the guest list, Noam Chomsky, aged 92. The elderly maestro of international socialism was very clear about the crises humanity faces. ‘If we do not confront and overcome them — and soon — the game is over, literally. The human experiment will have come to an inglorious end, bringing down much of the living world with it.’
That was the most upbeat thing he had to say. Next Zarah Sultana, elected in 2019 for Coventry South, who made Chomsky sound like Father Christmas. She cursed the ‘rotten’ and ‘ideological’ Tories who had ‘delayed lockdown’ and ‘let the virus run riot'. All quite deliberately, she seemed to imply. Their aim is to 'turn on each other, white against black, ‘Christian against Muslim against Jew... They want us to feel alone and without hope because that’s how they win. And in a post-Covid crisis, they will do this with more venom than we have ever seen before.’
‘Thank you so much for those utterly brilliant remarks,’ said Baroness Blower. The final speaker, former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, made some valid points about the financial crunch in 2008. The crisis was solved by transferring ‘huge wads of wealth’ from taxpayers to bankers, he complained. But Varoufakis’s solution is much clunkier than his analysis. He wants to scrap the banking system altogether and the stock market with it. Presumably, he’ll ban mortgages and private loans as well. But replace them with what? It’s hard to say. If he were a doctor he’d treat athletes foot with amputation.