First Person: 'China could do with a man like Jeremy Corbyn'

Posted by ap507 at Aug 27, 2015 03:25 PM |
Dr Simon Bennett suggests that China needs someone who could question the status quo
First Person: 'China could do with a man like Jeremy Corbyn'

Source: Leicester Mercury; The aftermath of the explosion in China's Tianjin municipality

Think: Leicester does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Leicester - it expresses the independent views and opinions of the academic who has authored the piece. If you do not agree with the opinions expressed, and you are a doctoral student/academic at the University of Leicester, you may write a counter opinion for Think: Leicester and send to

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn, in my opinion a disaster for Labour in electoral terms, is good for democracy. Until Corbyn, electors had little real choice at the polls, with the two main parties offering broadly similar policies. Think of Harriet Harman as David Cameron in a dress.

If Corbyn becomes Labour leader, electors will once again have a choice, albeit a choice they will probably reject – Corbynism does not resonate with Mondeo Man. But at least in Jeremy Corbyn we have someone who questions an unquestioning pro-business political consensus.

To be truly democratic (and safe) societies must foster debate. Debate and inquiry keep arrogant, self-interested authority figures on their toes. Vehicles for debate include schools, universities, interest groups, the internet and the media. In my view a free press is a prerequisite for a free society (which is why I do all I can to help maintain press freedom).

Free, democratic societies are safer than totalitarian societies. Why? Because democratic pluralism fosters accountability, while democratic conservatism fosters collusion.

China provides us with ample evidence of the folly of democratic conservatism. For all its gloss and noise (the 2008 Olympics and Shenzhou space programme, for example), China remains a repressive, totalitarian state. One consequence of China's democratic conservatism is political corruption. Local party officials supplement their meagre salaries by colluding with big business. The result? Weak health and safety legislation and limited compliance.

China's corrupt, laissez-faire culture has produced numerous disasters. In just a few weeks in 2008, China saw:

  • A mudslide resulting from the collapse of a wall holding back mining waste that killed 268 people;
  • A fire at an unlicensed nightclub that killed 43 people;
  • A fire at a coalmine that killed 37 people;
  • A food contamination episode in which contaminated milk powder killed several babies and gave thousands more kidney stones.
  • Recently, a series of explosions in Tianjin killed at least 115 people (many of them firefighters) and likely spread chemical contamination over a wide area.

Viewed through a systems-thinking lens, the disaster resulted from a lethal cocktail of human error, lax zoning laws, weak safety legislation and political collusion with Tianjin's powerful business lobby (the port city is an important industrial centre).

China needs a Jeremy Corbyn. It needs someone who is prepared to question the status quo – regardless of the career consequences. Sadly, in China, as in Britain, such people are few and far between. Whatever you may think of his policies, at least Corbyn is sincere.

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