Leeds academics argue Corbyn is capitalism’s anti-hero

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It’s fair to say the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader came as something of a shock to the established order and ever since, the crumple-suited, no-tie wearing former backbench MP has continued to surprise and beguile political commentators.

But, according to one theory, his idiosyncrasies - wearing socks with sandals, making unscripted U-turns and not bowing to the Queen - are a kind of anathema to the buttoned-down, pinstriped form of corporate politics that seems to have become the norm.

But politics is rarely transparent.

Some academics at Leeds Beckett University will today put forward the case that Mr Corbyn’s rise to power was as inevitable as the tide - that it, or rather he, is a kind of equal and opposite reaction to the various grotesqueries of the political establishment.

In other words, he’s Neo to The Matrix’s Agent Smith, he’s Borat, Jack Sparrow or Michael Douglas’s William Foster from Falling Down (1993) or any number of other antiheroes

The point is, argues Dr Katy Shaw, Corbyn didn’t just appear from nowhere, he was made, moulded, nay almost crafted (albeit subconsciously) by us, by the system, by the very people he managed to sweep so effortlessly aside during the Labour leader election.

The event, being held tomorrow (Wednesday November 11) is part of the Leeds Cultural Conversations series, a series of monthly lunchtime talks organised by the Centre for Culture & the Arts at Leeds Beckett University in partnership with Leeds City Council.

Dr Shaw, whose research interests include working class literature, is the author of Crunch Lit, David Peace: Texts and Contexts and Mining the Meaning: Cultural Representations of the 1984-5 UK Miners’ Strike. She lectures at Leeds Beckett University and says Corbyn’s election is part of a deeper malaise to do with power, politics and capitalism in general.

“Most people agree the political system we have at the moment is no longer functioning in the way people would like it to. There’s a growing desire for us to rethink politics. This helps us to understand how Corbyn came about. It’s not the case he just appeared, it’s more symptomatic.

“Corbyn has always been there, what’s changed is time and the context. Tony Blair was very much a ‘top down’ politician, his approach worked in his time but times have now changed. People criticise Corbyn for being different but part of his appeal was that he doesn’t look like a normal politician, so when he doesn’t act like a normal politician, it’s part of the same package.”

Dr Shaw may be partisan - she has been asked to chair what could be the first of many Labour-tied academic only think-tanks in the country and it will meet later this month - but there’s no denying the topic has currency.

Fellow academic Dr Andrew Lawson, reader in American literature, will also be looking at how the political left is finding new ways of challenging “the neoliberal discourse of ‘public bad/private good,’.”

Dr Lawson, the author of several books, including Downwardly Mobile: The Changing Fortunes of American Realism and Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle, said: “Capitalism’s legitimacy has been damaged by the financial crisis and by the long recession from which we are struggling to emerge. Our talk aims to understand what has gone wrong with capitalism and to imagine alternatives to it.”

Dr Susan Watkins, director of The Centre for Culture and the Arts at the University, added: “This event was planned long before the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party, but in an environment where we are arguably witnessing some challenges to the neoliberal discourse of ‘public bad/private good’, Dr Lawson and Dr Shaw will be looking at the future of capitalism and considering the strategies, opportunities and innovations that might lead towards a fairer, more equal society.”

‘Retaking the Commons: culture, politics, and the public realm’ on Wednesday November 11 at The Sullivan Room, Leeds Town Hall. Places are limited and can be booked at http://bit.ly/1WdOwTI

Full list of forthcoming lectures below

1. Wednesday 11 November 2015. Retaking the Commons: culture, politics, and the public realm. - Dr Andrew Lawson, Reader in American Literature and Dr KatyShaw, Principal Lecturer in English Literature. Time: 12.30, Sullivan Room, Leeds Town Hall.

2. Wednesday 9 December 2015. Doing urban history in an urban world - Dr Shane Ewen, Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural History. Time: 12.30, Sullivan Room, Leeds Town Hall.

3. Wednesday 13 January 2016. The real Fagin: the life and crimes of William Sheen - Dr Heather Shore, Reader in History. Time: 12.30, Albert Room, Leeds Town Hall.

4. Wednesday 10 February 2016. Pride of place: LGBTQ histories and heritage - Professor Alison Oram, Professor of Social and Cultural History. Time: 12.30, Albert Room, Leeds Town Hall.

5. Wednesday 9 March 2016. Women, visibility and playful acts - Dr Liz Stirling, Dr Casey Orr, Jo Hassall, Laura Robinson. Time: 12.30, Albert Room, Leeds Town Hall.

6. Wednesday 13 April 2016 Cooking without a clock: women, domesticity and timekeeping in nineteenth century Europe. - Dr Rachel Rich, Senior Lecturer in European History. Time: 12.30, Denny Room, Leeds City Museum.

7. Wednesday 11 May 2016 Eastern European ‘show trials’ of the 1950s: the Slansky case - Dr Kelly Hignett, Senior Lecturer in History. Time: 12.30, Court Room, Leeds Town Hall.

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