Jeremy Corbyn, the Absolute Boy, the total madman, is Prime Minister. Many people say so. Tom Whyman, writing a Vice article titled “Theresa May Is Not the Prime Minister” noted that “The fantasy that May is in any way in charge can’t be allowed to continue … Something monumental happened on the 8th of June. Jeremy Bernard Corbyn, the once-embattled leader of the once-struggling Labour party, defied almost every piece of electoral received wisdom to overturn the polls and win the political battle in the election.”
Shockingly enough, however, a strange conspiracy still persists. Jeremy Corbyn clearly looks like the Prime Minister – his ideas now dominate our political conversation; his magnanimity in meeting victims of the recent atrocities at Grenfell Tower and Finsbury Park have established him, swiftly, as a sort of father of the nation – but the media continue to refuse to acknowledge his position. Open any newspaper, or turn on the television, and you will be told that – despite having lost her majority in parliament; despite having no support from basically anyone; despite being so widely despised that she’s started to dry-heave whenever she catches sight of her own reflection – Theresa May is still the Prime Minister.
“It’s time we put a stop to these lies,” Whyman wrote:
Theresa May can’t be the Prime Minister. If Theresa May was still the Prime Minister, she wouldn’t have initially refused to meet the victims of the Grenfell fire; she wouldn’t have run from a crowd of them screaming “coward!” at her outside a church. She would have been able to go on Newsnight and answer questions about the atrocity with dignity and courage, not the cringing waffle she in fact served up.
This battle cry was taken up across Twitter and everywhere else that mattered: at the Glastonbury Festival, where Corbyn was received with mad, open-mouthed applause and bewonderment. Twitter accounts with names like “Jeremy is PM” materialized out of the ether to let the world know that, indeed, Corbyn is Prime Minister.
They have a point. He is Prime Minister in every way except the legal sanction which gives him the office. This may sound like a joke, but I’m serious. Everything but the blessing of the system argues for Corbyn being Prime Minister. This is still true, despite the breaking news that Theresa May’s Conservatives secured a desperate alliance with the ultra-right Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP are zany, Catholic-hating nationalists. May’s Cadillac-fire of a government couldn’t find enough money to pay for school meals, tuition fees, nurse salaries, or fireproofing high-rise apartments. Yet they somehow managed to magic up one-and-half billion pounds to bribe the crazed ravers in the DUP to prop up her monstrous government. Everyone in Britain understands this, including May.
So Corbyn is still Prime Minister in all but name … which leads to the question of how a man who does not have legal sanction has become the leader of the nation. Power has flowed into his hands, despite Corbyn’s personal lack of ambition, despite the best efforts of all the king’s horses and men.
Corbyn’s story is the story of the world. The Overton Window just got shot out in a drive-by.
In this era, the public lends its power to people and ideas which are outside the system.
Historically, power has flowed along set lines, according to certain laws. These rules were designed in aristocratic ages. Property-owners built the political systems in Britain and America. They designed an order which kept power in the hands of the few, away from the mob. They set up walls to prevent the people from gaining too much influence. During the 20th century, bit by bit, these walls were broken down. Men like Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, who had not been born to wealth nor gone to Harvard, could become President. During the rise of neoliberalism in the seventies, the walls went back up. Class boundaries began to rise high above us again, like the barriers of a castle keep. The peoples’ parties were bought off by stockbrokers. It happened to the Democrats in America, the Labour Party in the UK, and the Socialist Party in France. Each of these were liberator organizations which became hostage to the new order. If you weren’t in on the market, there was nowhere to go.
Voices were raised. Voices were ignored.
Only approved ideas and approved meritocrats could rule. From the age of Clinton to the end of Obama’s term, the centrist consensus of disaster capitalism, endless war, and austerity held. It was as unresponsive to change as the Romanov Dynasty. Year after year, voters would send representatives to Washington, but nothing changed. Behind the scenes, the system was collapsing in an embarrassing series of connected calamities, like a string of Cancun party buses falling into a snake landfill. The system caused the problems, and then couldn’t fix them. Publicly, the people who held power—the power of the purse, or the power of the state, or the power of the soapbox—seemed more and more incompetent; freakish mutants with good transcripts and poor coping skills. Michael D. Brown, the Horse Judge who botched FEMA’s Katrina response, is not so different from Barack Obama, who couldn’t close Gitmo, or Hillary Clinton, who couldn’t beat Trump.
Our grandparents made institutions. The Boomers hollowed them out. So this is the age of getting around institutions.
The people aren’t dunces. They know the fix is in, and so they find ways to circumvent the fix. They have found ways of getting around the status quo, of bypassing the systems of approval. This is the age of outflanking.
Although Obama turned out to be a creature of the system, he was the first attempt: a first-term Senator without a long resume. Consider the last year in politics. There’s an entire guardian class of Very Important People and Institutions, and Trump got around them like Lee at Chancellorsville—if Lee had been a semi-literate sexual predator. Bernie broke every rule of the Beltway, and almost took it from Hillary. In Britain, Corbyn flummoxed the liberal pundit class during the last elections. Le Pen came close to taking over France.
Traditional media dumps these people in the same bag, by calling their ideology “populism.” This is because traditional media speaks for the status quo. Corbyn and Trump and Le Pen and Bernie are not really the same at all. The only attribute they share is that they are all threats to the Standing Order of Things. That should tell you something about the way the press labels people. To a man high on a pedestal, everyone below will look the same.
Outflanking extends beyond politics. The public has followed this strategy everywhere. In fact, pick an issue, any issue. What you’ll find is that the public have found a way to outflank the Powers that Be, to favor the Powers That Might Be.
Peddle bland monopoly beer, and craft brews will begin to sell. Feed the public Big Food, and they’ll eventually buy organic. Deny that traumatic cranial injury happens in football, and they’ll switch their kids to soccer. There is a dark side to this, as well: alternative medicine can lead to anti-vaccine theory, and the same impulse that drives people to research our secret Yemen war can lead to denying Sandy Hook ever happened.
Authority figures only have power if we believe they are legitimate. Look at what is happening across the world. What do we know?
We know the police do not keep the peace, but will shoot innocent African-Americans. We know that the Ivy Leagues do not create or prepare the best and the brightest, only the well-heeled and already-loaded. We know the Presidency is not a semi-divine office, graced by philosopher kings, but the state equivalent of a roadside rib house that any lucky yahoo or smooth dope can swing for a couple of rich friends and Wisconsin. We know megachurches shill for Mammon, and that cardinals protect their priests. We know the Senate is an kegger of decrepit corporate tools, that late-stage capitalism is a long shaft, that Wall Street are a collection of con artists above the law. We know Silicon Valley is a frat house, with better spin and less arrests. And we know that the mainstream media are a collection of swell chums, in love with war, the Official Narrative, and power. They can be bought for a pack of Fiji Water Bottles and free tickets to Kinky Boots. If each and every one of these is illegitimate, if all of them are severed from our beliefs, then what’s to stop us for putting our faith into outsiders and strange new beliefs, no matter how odd they might seem?
That is why the people online, and working people, cry out that Corbyn is Prime Minister … even though Theresa May occupies Downing Street. How can they make these claims? Because in modern democratic systems, authority does not work the way it used to. Our system tells us that the President is the President of all of us and a distinguished gentleman. But the system is wrong. If the systems we use to decide authority are broken, what do we do?
This is the great conflict of the age. If the king confesses treason, who’s right? When the system itself confesses to its own brokenness, what happens then?
Corbyn, the all-but Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, shows the way it will go. Outflanking is the new order. The shared idea is not populism, but the new epoch of getting around the system. Corbyn and Trump equal day and night, figuratively and literally, but they are also mirrors of the same process. When the old is so bad, anything new will do. Centrism told people there was no alternative, and sure as hell it looked to be that way. So when somebody set up an off-ramp—even if it was a Mario Kart speed ramp into hell, in Trump’s case—they went for it. Wouldn’t you? Government dies, change remains, voices carry.