Countering Spin: The Savage-Corbyn Phenomenon



The hitherto little known and seemingly uncool Jeremy Corbyn has become a serious contender for the leadership of the British Labour Party. He seems to be a genuine ‘people person’; old enough and calm enough to speak to people directly, unaided by the spin doctors who use the media to mould our thoughts and coach our politicians.

Unsurprisingly, Corbyn is subject to a tirade of negative spin, especially comparisons to the hapless Michael Foot (in the early 1980s) whose main political sin was a naive inappreciation of the forces that were massed against him.

Times are different now, and it’s the transparent niceness of the man that’s attracting a much broader level of support than that of the left of the Labour Party.

The obvious comparison for me is that of Michael Joseph (Mickey) Savage, immigrant from Australia at age 35, and New Zealand prime minister after the 1930s’ great depression. Savage was an avuncular pragmatist with a deep and transparent commitment to social and economic justice. He was by no means the only person who could have become Labour leader after the ‘timely’ passing of Harry Holland. But he had that ability – through his personal sincerity – to reach out to people who were becoming disillusioned with the capacity of democracy to bring about change for the victims of economic malaise. Then, as Corbyn does now, Savage emerged to the fore in an era of poverty amidst plenty; an era of so much need (demand), so much capacity (supply), and so little money actually circulating.

Savage saw that the problem of poor indebted farmers had much in common with that of the income-starved urban working-class, and could reach out to both groups. Not a hint of the divide-and-rule politics which is the staple fare of the political right. Further, inheriting a Reserve Bank and a ‘brains trust’ from the pragmatic Gordon Coates (Finance Minister 1933-35), Savage was able to implement a programme that united the country sufficiently to give Labour an overwhelming second mandate in 1938.

There was no lack of newspaper spin in 1934 and 1935, as it became increasingly likely that Savage would become more than an unlikely Leader of the Opposition. Eventually, in desperation, the frustrated anti-Savage spinners jammed the airwaves, to block Colin Scrimgeour’s Friendly Road broadcasts. Also, thanks to Coates, extreme right-wingers split from the Reform-United ruling coalition, starting their own Democrat Party. It was the split conservative vote, along with the increasingly ham-fisted anti-Savage spin, that handed the 1935 election to Labour.

Savage was 61 when he became Labour’s leader. Unlike Harry Holland, he was no firebrand socialist. He was just a principled man capable of imagining public prosperity, a one-time ‘rationalist’ seeking to apply Christianity in the ways that the poor understood their faith. Jeremy Corbyn comes across to me as a very similar sort of person, with precisely the same kind of broad appeal. The more the spin doctors of fear try to undermine him, the better he looks, at least to the bottom 60 percent. Especially to the young who were turned off by the insincerity of the spin machine.

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The spinners’ tactic is to say this or that “will happen” if Corbyn wins. This or that almost never happens. In hindsight, the spinners’ predictions about what would happen if the people of Greece voted ‘no’ in their recent referendum look quite foolish. Ordinary people are learning to not believe the spinners, to move away from the conservative politics of fear. Young people are starting to see an older man whose politics are those of compassion, not of individual aspiration. And they are seeing that the wisdom of age might count for more than ambition for power. (I don’t think I’m old, but, of major world leaders, only Dilma Rousseff is more than a year older than me. I reckon that good leaders are in their prime when in their late 60s. We need more older leaders, though I’m not convinced that Hillary Clinton quite has the Savage touch. Give me Bernie Sanders or the reluctant Elizabeth Warren any day.)

On TVNZ’s Q+A last week (Farming economy tightening its belt, 16 August 2015) I noted that dairy farmers are saying that each dollar they spend is re-spent “in the local economy eight times”, and that therefore if dairy farming is allowed to retrench, whole provincial economies will be devastated. While the ‘eight times’ may be an exaggeration, nobody refuted the general principle; a principle that applies equally to the government. Each dollar of government spending also recycles up to eight times. Just considering GST only – ignoring income tax – eight spendings at 15% per spending tallies to 120 percent of the initial government spend. It means that governments can reduce fiscal deficits by spending more (not less), especially when the farmers are spending less. And it means that reduced government spending makes the deficit bigger, not smaller.

People like Jeremy Corbyn – and Mickey Savage eighty years ago – can appreciate this simple Keynesian insight in ways that our media-cautious political aspirants cannot. Thanks in large part to ‘fiscal consolidation’ in the United Kingdom – meaning government austerity – British government debt has doubled (relative to GDP) since 2008.

Corbyn is and Savage was austere, but in a modest, personal and unassuming way; clearly not men motivated by making money for themselves. Their simple austerity may be interpreted as a lack of ambition. But Corbyn is (and Savage was) ambitious in a much more important sense than we observe in ego-driven office seekers. Hence our ongoing appreciation of Mickey Savage’s contribution to our collective welfare; revisionist historians have yet to dent his mana. And hence the British establishment’s fear of Jeremy Corbyn.


  1. Jeremy Corbyn : ‘ End Austerity Now ‘ . June 20th . 2015.

    You Tube.


    Jeremy Corbyn : Labour Leadership Interview . NewsNight .

    You Tube.


    Yes,….I remember when in my 20’s …I had suspicions of the rise of all these ‘ youngest PM’S…and MP’s…during the 1980’s…

    Many seemed simply aggressively ambitious – almost precocious – in their quest for position and power. And in this country that proved to be the case – particularly with the 1984 Labour govt. The heralds of the new ‘neo liberal reforms’.

    A bigger bunch of subversives we could never have seen.

    And the same was to be said of the National party who carried on the agenda.

    Part of the reason was because both Labour and National had as their Finance Ministers sitting members of the Mont Pelerin Society board – it didn’t matter which party you voted for the outcome and agenda would be the same.

    Both Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson at that time were members of this Mont Pelerin Society . Thieu names and country can clearly be seen if one looks up Mont Pelerin board members.

    This is why we have endured 35 years of neo liberalism . It was a hijacking , essentially. One which was never fully disclosed to the public through fear of them being scrutinized – then possibly questioned on treason charges – or at the very least – discredited and publicly disowned.

    I posted some time ago I love to see older people with thier grey locks in parliament…partly because of accumulated life experience, partly because they represent not just the passing stages of the young. They know and have seen many negative outcomes through the years and have that wisdom to draw on.

    Partly this explains the enthusiasm given by some and the begrudging respect given by others to such as Winston Peters .

    In fact there was a time when Roger Douglas requested Norman Kirk implement those very neo liberal policy’s back in the 1970’s. To which Norman Kirk rounded on Douglas and said ”If you ever mention those policy’s again I will have you removed from the party ”.

    But it is the resounding compassion of both Jeremy Corbyn and Mickey Savage that captures peoples imaginations and wins their hearts. Similar to Norman Kirk.

    People are drawn to values such as these. They are values that never change. The quest for a well shepherded and wealthy , healthy society….

    Which naturally contrasts and creates a stark and negative back drop to the completely selfish, ugly and divisive monetarist policys of the anti democratic and subversive neo liberal.

    Men and women like Corbyn , Savage ….Kirk…had as their ambition these values – and to see those values incorporated into legislation – that would in turn enable and empower all sectors of society to live decent and prosperous lives – and this is the real reason why such individuals will always find themselves opposed by those ambitious only for their own personal wealth – and the power that wealth gives them over others.

    • L0L..

      Good point but lets be honest…in true neo liberal fashion they hate having to pay for anything such as taxes …so its just following suit they scrooged on footing the bill for the poor website developer most probably.

      Nothing out of the ordinary there .

      Unless they find a way to make the workers pay for it I guess we are stuck with that second rate effort.

  2. People like Jeremy Corbyn – and Mickey Savage eighty years ago – can appreciate this simple Keynesian insight in ways that our media-cautious political aspirants cannot. Thanks in large part to ‘fiscal consolidation’ in the United Kingdom – meaning government austerity – British government debt has doubled (relative to GDP) since 2008.

    Government creating money to spend into the economy and then taxing it back out does one thing and it is this one thing that is the real problem that the right has about it.

    It removes the need for the rich.

    We wouldn’t no longer need the rich to pay (Not that they do) for anything. We would no longer need savings and, most importantly, no one would have to forced into poverty, as they are now, so that they have to work to make the rich richer.

    The real fear that the right-wing have is that the rich would be seen for what they are – parasites.

  3. According to your own logic those nations with the biggest amount of government spending compared with their GDP should have the smallest budget deficits. Do you have any evidence supporting this view?

    • Read up on the original Keynesian policys and how they pulled Europe, Japan and even 6 months later the USA out of the Great Depression in 6 months flat – after years of extreme hardship caused by the USA based Laissez Faire economic theory…which was based on the earlier Hynek Austrian school of economics.

      The same sort of of failed and discredited system as neo liberalism is today – of which neo liberalism is simply just a new variant on the theme.

      Until you have a good read and do that – please don’t come back here with such a leading question .

      Its quite easy to see right through your motives , old son.

      Why ?

      Because if you really wanted to know you could have researched this topic for yourself.

      AND simply observed the destruction that neo liberalism has had on this country for the last 35 years.

      • The same sort of of failed and discredited system as neo liberalism is today – of which neo liberalism is simply just a new variant on the theme.

        Yep. Same policies that caused the Great Depression also caused the GFC and yet the RWNJs keep saying that we need to do more of them.

    • No. The extra income means more GDP. The denominator increases more than the numerator. The situation is applicable to any economy which is to some extent depressed, or would become depressed in the absence of compensating government spending.

      To avoid depressed conditions, the offsetting government spending should be equal in magnitude to the lost private spending. In the USA in the 1930s, the extra government spending only became large enough after WW2 began.

    • By the same token, one might have thought that not indexing debt contracts has only a distributive impact. The lenders gain (in the face of a negative shock) and the borrowers lose, and these effects too would just cancel. But they do not.

  4. The people who belong to the Mont Perelin Society are whacky right wing zealots who have never done a hard days work in their lives. Most probably belong to the 1% percenters.

    People like Roger Douglas, Ruth Richardson, Alan Gibbs and John Key are atypical examples of right wing ideologists who have never actually got their hands dirty working in the real world.

    New Zealands nett equity position has shrunk dramatically since the 1980’s through the fire sale of State Assets. And more recently Key and English have embarked on a massive offshore borrowing campaign for what purpose?

  5. The internet is public, mostly, what would it gain Mont Pelerin members having their ideas freely and openly available for public analysis? Open source only works if you have nothing to hide.

    • Sure seems like Roger Douglas had something to hide – a huge amount in fact…so much so that Norman Kirk threatened him with expulsion from the party.

      And lets not be naive about this : just because a group has a website DOES NOT mean that the important issues aren’t being discussed and planned outside of the public’s perusal.

      Do I have to mention the furore over the secrecy of behind the closed doors of the TTPA negotiations to drive home the point?

      Or perhaps we should request both the Mont Pelerin Society AND the TTPA negotiators show us the minutes of all their meetings, the documents under discussion etc etc…

      Somehow I think you’d be trying to push shit uphill with a pointed stick before they even considered it.

  6. Wild Katipo you are bang on the money, these secret societies are not going to put their discussions and thoughts on the internet, that would be like shooting oneself in the foot.

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