The passing of the poppy

By Benjamin Massey · November 9th, 2016 · 2 comments

For all that Canadians need to stretch their dollar just to pay rent these days, many of us each year still put a toonie in a box for a small, cheap disc of plastic and fabric. We do it to support those who fought, and remember those who died, for our and all future generations. It is a week of solemnity, when the airport-novel antics of professional controversialists and fear-mongers are put in perspective, when we reflect on our ancestors who looked true totalitarianism in the face and, with struggle and sacrifice, made the despots blink first. It is a time to honour the best of our civilization.

This is as close to solemnity as our secular society gets so, with irritating inevitability, poppy pressure can degrade from social to antisocial. As a symbol the poppy is often declared to be above politics, which is a sure sign that it is anything but. Particularly in Britain, where the Cookie Monster (yes, he) recently appeared on the BBC wearing a poppy. Most rightly considered this ridiculous, some didn’t, there was a fight. The Football Association has an annual battle with FIFA over whether its players may wear a poppy emblem on their uniforms during the Remembrance period. On the Irish island the poppy is a sectarian totem on account of the British Army’s role in the Troubles, though this is subsiding.

Canada’s irrationality is inconsequential by comparison. You can appear on television here without a poppy on your lapel, though a politician or a Peter Mansbridge would be ill-advised to. Tempests stay in teapots. This year’s controversy was Air Canada discouraging flight attendants from wearing poppies on duty for, literally, a few hours on Monday morning before cooler corporate heads had a coffee. This was a news story but not one you’d think people could get het up about: Air Canada reversed course before the ban even became public. Naturally some people got het up anyway, but they were mostly along the lines of “what can you expect from the bastards who lost my luggage fifteen years ago?” Not even The Rebel is revving up their boycott machine.

It takes more than a snub to get Canadians, if you will forgive an on-the-nose metaphor, up in arms. A couple years ago Vancouver saw a brief trend in white “peace poppies” among people who thought, or said they thought, the established Remembrance Day symbology glorified war. People got angry, for a while, until natural obscurity made the debate irrelevant. Some still wear them, and in the course of a Remembrance week you might just manage to see one. Even my alma mater‘s student newspaper, The Martlet, a pretty bolshie rag, has nothing but bad things to say about the white poppy. The installation of theft-proof poppy boxes in some towns, or the theft of Legion colours in others, are different tales but gain more attention than most thefts of flags or small change.

The ebbing of poppy sentiment is by comparison hardly news at all. The Royal Canadian Legion is, if not secretive, at least opaque about their receipts from the poppy drive, but branches who do release numbers tend to report decreases despite technology enabling donations by cell phone and an online Poppy Store. The Legion itself has struggled for years attracting (let alone integrating) the generation of new veterans who have an acknowledged claim to Legionary fellowship yet often prefer not to draw on it. In Ottawa and the big cities Remembrance Day ceremonies still go strong, but suburban and small-town parades are not what they once were.

It would be fun to blame those damned young people who hate our veterans and our history, but wrong. If anything, as respect for mental illness grows and literature becomes more accessible, the veteran’s near-unique traumas attract more sympathy today. One of the crowning infamies of the late Stephen Harper government, a government that successfully distributed a lot of contempt for a lot of people over a lot of years, was that they were reducing veterans’ services and betraying almost the only public trust you’d damned well expect the Conservatives to bear. They knew they’d blown it, too, and made a thousand promises to try and make up lost ground. They failed, but the Trudeau Liberals, despite intense youth popularity, are now feeling the heat for not redressing the balance quickly enough. On a rhetorical level, the shade of Nazi evil is still an easy go-to for every shoddy polemicist eager to rouse the people against his enemy. Then there’s the personal factor, the fact that we just had a war, and most of us know somebody who was in it, and in too many cases somebody who did not return.

The decline in Remembrance Day honours is no simple decline in remembrance, so what is it? Next to the Queen’s face on the money, the poppy and the Remembrance Day ceremony are the strongest cultural links Canada retains to the Old Commonwealth. Perhaps even stronger, for after all, when we pull out a $20 bill and accept our change, we are not taking a moment to acknowledge Her Majesty. Plenty of countries put the head of state on the money, but Remembrance Day is distinctly our own, in a large but antiquated sense of who “us” is.

The Americans do not wear the poppy. They escaped the bloodbaths of Ypres which brought it to prominence, and their memories linger more on the Second World War than the First. British emigres in that country have been known to run for the border and import a Canadian one. Yet even countries for whom there is one Great War and one Western Front have not joined us. The Germans, of course, lost, and that changes everything. French and Belgians know a thing or two about plants watered in sacrificial blood, and the poppy is a symbol they understand. But it is not worn. In France they wear the bleuet, a cornflower; in Belgium nothing at all.

They wear the poppy in Australia and New Zealand, though their most enduring Great War battlefield was not Belgium but Gallipoli, a name whose power in Anzac memory a Canadian can hardly comprehend, Dieppe to the power of Vimy Ridge. And local customs colour every aspect of this Commonwealth tradition, in exactly the way you’d expect: the British poppy is different from ours, the Australian and New Zealand poppies distinct from both and (less so) from each other. Even in lands like India and Hong Kong where the old Empire is long gone, it is by no means a forgotten symbol, though sometimes supplemented by, as an Indian example, the marigold.

No, the poppy is not above politics, not even here, where in addition to what it is designed for it cannot help but symbolize an order that’s dead or dying across the country. This symbolism did not come deliberately, and if any monarchist or pro-Commonwealth group tried to co-opt the poppy its members would be first in line with the tar and the feathers, but intent is never all that matters.

How old-fashioned, even to the friendly eye, it must all seem. A Remembrance Day service is probably the only occasion where an ordinary Canadian hears a public prayer, or sings “God Save the Queen,” or sees his local Canadian Forces unit on parade. In a Legion colour party the Red Ensign comes just behind the Maple Leaf, and it flies over our war memorials from Victoria to Vimy, but where else? Remembrance Day is about the past, the hint is in the name, but it is a past that, notwithstanding our universally-acknowledged, permanent duty to the honoured dead, many Canadians would sooner leave buried.

This is not a call for reform; oh God no. There are still those of us for whom the old flags and the old songs have power, and many are veterans, who have a veto. We will go on as we always have. But the act of memory does not rely on us. Even when the last poppy is laid on a cenotaph, and the last Legionnaires march past, and the last hymn is sung, that memory will remain. Very probably, in decades to come our new society will have a new way to honour it.

Think again on Britain, where the poppy has become such a public point of controversy: the British rage against the dying of the light, as they always have, and in Canada we let that good night come with, sometimes, a note of regret for parts of the day we miss. In each case it reflects a fundamental truth about each nation. This is the country we have chosen, and to rail against non-poppy wearers or to drum people up for ceremonies from the past is to treat a symptom, and ineffectively at that.

Lament for four nations

By Benjamin Massey · June 19th, 2016 · 2 comments

In 1965’s Lament for a Nation, Canadian philosopher George Grant asserted that Canada had functionally lost its independence. Though politically sovereign, it had been swallowed as a “branch-plant economy” of the United States. It was capable of dissent, like any other state of the union, but its domestic identity had been sunk not by malice or treason, but the small-l liberalism of Canada’s elite capitalist and intellectual classes focused on economic growth and individualism. Canada, perhaps unavoidably, became a dependency of its larger, dominant neighbour.

He explicitly did not judge anyone’s intentions. The point was not that William Lyon Mackenzie King or Lester Pearson were anti-Canadian or unnecessarily pro-American. He did not say the Americans were wicked, wasn’t sure the process could be stopped, didn’t even know if it was actually bad. He was sufficiently extreme in asserting that it had, already, happened. The government of John Diefenbaker had represented English Canada’s last chance to save itself, but it had been destroyed by the Conservatives’ own mistakes and the national Establishment in coalition, whose gains would be limited by the sort of old-time conservative nationalism that would have made independence possible1.

Grant wrote in anger, and the past fifty years have not proven him entirely right. Anti-Americanism remains Canada’s national vice, among Liberals as much as anybody. However, that anti-Americanism is often tinted in partisan colours; the NDP making “American-style” a slur while the Republicans are in office then campaigning for Bernie Sanders, that sort of thing. Being anti-American when the Americans don’t vote their way gives them something in common with a lot of American Republicans and Democrats. We stayed out of Iraq, American military adventure though it was, but under both Chrétien and Harper were at pains to “make up for it” in Afghanistan. In short, Grant’s thesis held up for the big stuff2.

Everybody shares the faith in technological (perhaps technocratic) progress which Grant considers automatically homogenizing. The pro-business consensus of the Conservatives and most Liberals has been good for our economy but makes us more culturally and economically dependent on the United States every day. Internationalism, the obsession with so-called progress, and the “emancipation of passions” remain guiding lights of left Liberals and New Democrats, opposing globalized business not with Canadian business but with pious proclamations from no fixed address. The no-hoper hardcore socialists of the Leap Manifesto aren’t the strict cultural and economic Castroist comptroller Grant suggests might have defended the nation, but a fully globalist philosophy exemplifying what Grant called “a doctrine [. . .] too flaccid to provide any basis for independence.”

Under the Grant thesis, Canada’s book has closed, and nothing in half a century has re-opened it. There is not much hope for us, but there may be some for the United Kingdom.

Next week the British vote on whether to remain in the European Union. Very nearly the full Establishment backs the EU. This includes the Prime Minister, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, the leader of the third party in the House of Commons, the leader of the joint fourth party in the House of Commons, the vast majority of the Cabinet, the vast majority of the House, the President of the United States (ah!), the President of China (ah again!), every newspaper representing the British “smart set,” and a list of businesses and international organizations long enough to wrap around the German border. In favour of leaving is bloke Nigel Farage, coked Boris Johnson, joke Michael Gove, some tabloids, and, incidentally, approximately half the British public. There was less unanimity from the Establishment to fight Hitler and if “Leave” somehow wins it will be the upset of the century3.

The essential argument of the Leave movement should sound familiar to readers of Grant: that, having joined Europe for economic reasons, the United Kingdom has forfeited much of its sovereignty. The immediate consequences of this loss differ between 1960s Canada and 2010s Britain, but the principle is identical and the only surprise is that, despite the collapse of British conservative nationalism since the First World War, there is still enough fight left in the Union Jack for this to happen.

In the Grant tradition, the great homogenizers of Remain produce propaganda proving that the British economy would be hurt by leaving the European Union. Investors have grown more nervous with every pro-Leave polling twitch. Barack Obama threatened that the United States would not automatically be interested in free trade with an independent United Kingdom. These arguments aren’t without force, for the original reason for joining the European Common Market (as it was once called) was economic. For the most part, pro-Leave commentators have tried to dispute that conclusion but there aren’t many grounds to do so.

For if Grant was right then it is that economic interdependence which ultimately forfeited Britain’s nationhood. Surely you cannot call the City of London, among the world’s financial centres, part of a “branch-plant economy” like Canada. However, though the buildings may be in Britain, the world of international commerce amounts to foreign billionaires funding foreign projects, bringing Beemers to British accountants and lawyers but actually making as much in the country as any ’50s branch plant while tying the country’s elite all the more closely to the internationalist mega-economy. Of the Sunday Times Rich List’s top 20, thirteen are non-British4 and, as Grant said in the case of Quebec, English blood is irrelevant if it’s in their interest to obviate Englishness. Britain boasts a far richer culture in 2016 than Canada on its best day but it mirrors conditions more than it drives them. The BBC moved from a voice of authority to a bastion of knee-jerk internationalism and liberalism just as the rest of society’s elites did. Indeed, for Canada Grant’s book hardly treated such concerns in more than passing.

The alternatives Grant recognized were not beds of roses. He listed only two: a program of Castroist socialism, impossible in Canada and intolerable anywhere, and Charles de Gaulle’s “third way,” “to harness the nationalist spirit to technological planning and insist internationally that there are limits to the western ‘alliance.'” As Grant predicted, the Gaullist approach is passé even in France, now facing the same threat to its nationality as Britain. The French economy and quality of life fell behind its immense potential as de Gaulle and his heirs expended effort and treasure to preserve the nation as a real thing, while more straightforwardly global-capitalist regimes enjoyed relative prosperity. It was a trade-off for France, and they paid for it, and in the long run it may not have worked. But it was an attempt to preserve the country, and French national spirit remains a weakened but living force.

The United Kingdom Conservative Party is forever the party of the City and a sort of laissez-faire, not that this translates into any degree of financial responsibility, any independent policy beyond reflexive and meaningless brushbacks against Washington and Brussels, any sort of useful national defense, any moral principles at all, any meaning to the formerly prominent word “Unionist,” or basically anything that the word “conservative” once meant. New Labour was the same, more so in some categories and less so in others, and fond though I am of a party campaigning on what it wants to do Corbynite Labour is the NDP in one of its dilettantist phases.

The Grant equation fits the United Kingdom, right down to Remain forces insisting that the British have not lost their nation at all. Complaints about Europe are universal but actual opposition is portrayed as parochial at best and the work of evil old doctrine at worst. The Scottish independence movement bears a close relation to that of Quebec in the decades after Grant’s tract, and neither Diefenbaker’s Tories nor Farage’s UKIP could work productively with their nation-within-a-nation despite very similar homogenizing pressure.

The final question Grant asked of 1965 Canada was: is this good? The British economy remains competitive. The root cause of the immigration crisis that exercises many Brits is that the United Kingdom is a desirable place to live. And maybe any form of nationalism is, in the twenty-first century, obsolete when it did such great harm to Europe in the twentieth. Grant couldn’t answer the question, but he began the last paragraph of Lament for a Nation thus:

My lament is not based on philosophy but on tradition. If one cannot be sure about the answer to the most important questions, then tradition is the best basis for the practical life. Those who loved the older traditions of Canada may be allowed to lament what has been lost, even though they do not know whether or not that loss will lead to some greater political good. But lamentation falls easily into the vice of self-pity. To live with courage is a virtue, whatever one may think of the dominant assumptions of one’s age. Multitudes of human beings through the course of history have had to live when their only political allegiance was irretrievably lost.

That seems apt for Britain as well.

Ensigns in red always die first

By Benjamin Massey · February 15th, 2016 · 1 comment

Today marks the fifty-first anniversary of the current Canadian flag. For almost a century after Confederation Canada’s flag existed in a nebulous æther, defined by tradition and politics rather than statute. Depending on who you asked, and when you asked them, and how you were using it, the flag might be either the British Union Flag or the Canadian Red Ensign. Even the phrase “Canadian Red Ensign,” today unambiguously associated with the image at the top of this page, could mean any of several designs. A Canadian born at Confederation could live to see a half-dozen Red Ensigns flying from official or semi-official flagstaffs in his lifetime, plus the Union Flag, each more-or-less as valid as the other. This was, let’s be candid, insane.

Many Canadian prime ministers wanted to sort this out, notably William Lyon Mackenzie King, but like good Canadians they saw that, however mad the status quo was, change meant actual decision. So they kicked the can, and in 1963 it fell at the feet of Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson.

This was all very well. The Fathers should have thought this through at Charlottetown but better late than never. Alas Pearson, who won his spurs playing middle-man for Eisenhower against Britain, France, and Israel in the Suez, was the first but by no means the last Liberal PM who used public policy to overwrite Canadian heritage. From the beginning, Pearson made it clear he planned not to iron out ambiguity, but to give the country a completely new symbol devoid of the British influence that had created the country and still mattered to many millions of Canadians. Despite a to-the-knife battle from John Diefenbaker, the last conservative Prime Minister, in favour of the Red Ensign, Pearson and the Liberals prevailed, as they have on every such occasion since.

For die-hard traditionalists the flag affair will always be bitter, but “bitter” does not mean “illegitimate.” Pearson ran an election and formed a government on a platform that included new, distinct Canadian flag as a major plank. There was no referendum, but as we’ve discussed Canada is a Westminster democracy so there shouldn’t have been. While his rhetoric had a bit of “because it’s 1963” about it he sought out hostile audiences, looked them in the eye, and made his case. The final decision on the design came from a genuine all-party parliamentary committee with real power and influence from the opposition. There was the inevitable swarm of mediocre (or worse) choices but in the end the MPs made what was, if change was a necessity, the best possible choice1. Today’s Maple Leaf was picked almost accidentally by a botched Conservative political manœuvre, but there’s nothing un-Canadian about that. Any subsequent Conservative majority could have made the Red Ensign official if they wanted to expend the political capital Pearson did, and none had the conviction.

The flag itself? Once you know how many points the maple leaf has it’s easy to draw. It’s simple but distinctive. The immortal “world’s flags given letter grades” site awards Canada one of only thirteen A-level marks. The trouble is that leaf, since the maple tree is rarely seen in much of the country, but that was a Canadian symbol long before the flag fracas and our country is kind of big. If Canada had sprung from whole cloth the flag would have been very good indeed, and in the fifty-one years since it has aged well. Say what you will about the message it gave, but the flag itself is above reproach.

So no matter how long I harrumph at Pearson and the Liberal Party, today’s Canadian flag is attractive, appropriate, and was adopted fair and square. The current New Zealand flag debate shows things could be a lot worse.

Next month New Zealanders will cram ballots into mailboxes for their second vote on the government’s desire to replace their own flag, derived from the British Blue Ensign. In Canada, we reserve postal referendums for things like transit taxes the government doesn’t really want, but our sister Dominion has decided they are suitable for changing a nation’s face as well. The first referendum, conducted last December, chose between five options for a new flag, and the second in March will pair the winner off against the current one, like a heavyweight championship for vexillology.

New Zealand prime minister John Key, ostensibly a conservative, has been on the record supporting a new flag for years. However, previous efforts have been stillborn due to colossal public uninterest. Lacking the nerve to campaign on the issue and win a mandate, and hoping to gain legitimacy by direct democracy, his coalition government has worked to ensure the pro-novelty campaign has the best chance of victory while being able to wash their hands of the results.

The referendum was promised in Key’s election platform. A panel of elites was carefully chosen to represent the politicians’ trendiest identity groups, and graced a few citizen-submitted designs with their “inclusive,” “community-driven” imprimatur in a manner “consistent with the Crown’s Treaty Obligations.”2 The government propaganda has consistently highlighted the many great options available for change, with the occasional “oh you can vote for that British flag if you want” thrown in to feign fairness. For example, “word clouds” released by the government were filtered to hide the fact that the most common feedback by far opposed changing the flag, and one panelist worked for a government body that promotes the “fern” logo at home and abroad.

The official infographic comparing the two possible flags writes about the current one exclusively in the past tense, with its Britishness being the most important feature in of itself. The new flag, on the other hand, is in the present tense, alive and vibrant, associated with cultural tolerance and not being Australia. We are even told that “all New Zealanders having a say in this decision honours the rights and freedoms that have been fought for” is a point in favour of change. The electorate knows how the government wants them to vote, without a doubt.

Fortunately, the people of New Zealand are wise. All four (later five) designs on the new flag shortlist were pretty ghastly, overcomplicated try-too-hard rubbish better suited for an IT consultancy than an important Pacific country. A fraud-packed petition added the “red peak,” which looks like the icon of a Fascist party, to the ballot, but the voters managed to choose the least-bad option, it and its colour-swapped brother combining for over 80% of the vote. Not that such a strong preference means they actually like it. With weeks to go polling shows a heavy majority against change. The new-flag forces have been reduced to saying a 20-point deficit shows they have momentum. An Australian betting website will pay 5-to-1 on a victory for the new flag.

Commonwealth citizens are getting used to seemingly-safe leads in the polls evaporating by election day, but it seldom happens as overnight as all that. Nothing is certain in a democracy but this is just about as close as you’re going to get.

Is this an endorsement of direct democracy? In a sense, but remember that New Zealand no longer has a true Westminster system. They use mixed-member proportional voting in their unicameral House of Representatives, rendering the “mandate” possibly extinct. No party has won a majority since MMP was introduced for the 1996 election, and the rule has been ad-hoc coalitions of temporary allies that make a party platform nearly meaningless. Last election Key’s National Party actually came within a seat of a majority3, but he did so without the guts to put a flag change in his platform. What New Zealand’s got is a bastardized non-system that’s preoccupied the media beyond weariness, cost over $20 million, and regardless of the result is guaranteed to offend both winners and losers. The public has enjoyed crooked propaganda and the self-appointed elites who infest these quangos offering a menu of garbage and calling it modern. Even a rejection as decisive as the one New Zealanders seem set to give is hardly justice for enduring such a fundamentally crappy process. Imagine if a real House had a real mandate for change, picked out a simple flag the MPs could compromise on, passed the bill, and ran it up the pole! Or campaigned for such a mandate, failed to get it, and shelved the proposal! But that’s crazy talk.

No, right now the ol’ Pearson Pennant doesn’t look bad at all.

Corbynsanity

By Benjamin Massey · August 26th, 2015 · No comments

Jeremy Corbyn is an old-school democratic socialist who wants the state to do everything except oppose foreign dictatorships and is currently within an ace of leading the United Kingdom’s Labour Party. His campaign, with a wave of young idealists getting behind an 66-year-old career politician, has the momentum of a runaway, shoddily-built, nationalized train. If you know anything about me you will have guessed that I do not support his platform. Naturally, what follows is a sincere, completely non-ironic, and completely non-partisan advocacy for his cause.

Not for his views. God no. Nor am I a Conservative Party lover who prays for Corbyn to lead Labour into electoral oblivion. Firstly, the UK Conservatives are rotten through and through. Secondly, the demise of Labour would be good news for the Scottish Nationalists, much more odious a kettle of fish. Thirdly, the idea that a party should refuse to run a man of principle because they’re afraid of an electoral disadvantage is, broadly, the main problem with every single Westminster democracy of which I have any knowledge.

Every time someone says “Corbyn can’t win”, every time a pundit invokes the spectre of the Conservatives rubbing their hands in glee, that person is putting power for its own sake ahead of principle. What matters is not how you think you can make your country great, nor which policies are most moral. What matters is winning elections, the end that justifies the means.

From professional pundits to Labour-loving comedians, Britain is packed with opinionated lefties urging Labour members not to vote for a lefty because he’s straightforward about his leftism, framed in terms of winning elections or “what David Cameron wants.” A man like Robert Webb can rail against the bankers and big business and underfunding the NHS and the Tory dystopia, then spend two days on Twitter telling people Corbyn is unelectable. MPs like Andy Burnham threaten to resign over Corbynism after years of pretending to hate the million lies they told. These commentators and Corbyn don’t disagree on all the issues, that’s not the point. The point is that, while all or most of the Corbyn program might be desirable, the people won’t vote for it and therefore… the program should be shelved? Or a more media-friendly face should finesse the program through without the bother of convincing people to support it?

This would be the usual left-wing People’s-Front-of-Judea infighting, but the disease Corbyn fights is endemic to British (and Canadian) politics. It’s easy to make promises in opposition, and Jeremy Corbyn is nothing if not a permanent oppositionist, but on every occasion to date in a 40-year political career Corbyn has managed to put his principles ahead of his interests. When the UK Conservatives went from opposition to government they showed for the umpteenth time since Churchill how much they need a Corbyn of their own.

Jeremy Corbyn wishes to remove the United Kingdom from NATO. The David Cameron Conservatives have seriously neglected British national defense. Both have the same result, weakening Britain’s ability to combat its enemies, but at least Corbyn’s policy doesn’t involve writing cheques Britain can’t possibly honour, or counting on the United States to advance your interests for you. Corbyn is against Trident, the British nuclear deterrent; the Conservatives kick the can down the line as the existing system grows unfit for purpose. Cameron, because his party has the word “Conservative” in its name, may run permanent deficits and his opponents will helpfully howl against any perceived attempt to approach a balanced budget (or “austerity”, as the eurosocialists call it). Corbyn attends rallies against the very concept. Corbyn attacks Israeli “occupation”, Cameron blunders through north Africa and the Middle East without conviction and seemingly without a real policy. Corbyn is a republican and Cameron, representing what was once the party of the King and the old ways, festoons his citizen’s office with more presidential trappings every year. Cameron and Corbyn won’t take you to such different destinations, the difference is Corbyn tells you where you’re going. A bad policy honestly enacted beats a bad policy cloaked in lies any day, for any rational voter.

Were I a genuine small-c conservative in the United Kingdom I might prefer Corbyn to Cameron. If Corbyn lives up to his promise we would see that you can have a career staying true to the ideals for which you joined politics, run a campaign on those ideals, and succeed. This is a lesson that, if anything, the Tories need worse than Labour does.

Of course it’s possible that Corbyn would be corrupted by proximity to power, and a man who once divorced rather than send his child to a grammar school would become a triangulating sleazebag whose campaign promises are dull fictions like everyone else. It’s no use getting too idealistic; the fate of the consummate outsider turned centre of power is not always a happy one. However, even the very wise cannot foresee all ends. Churchill was, in a way Corbyn absolutely is not, a careerist and a self-promoter, but he was also an eccentric, outspoken outsider who nobody would be stupid enough to trust with the reins of power again, until they did. Just because the story can end badly doesn’t mean it must, and it’s certainly no excuse to resist change to a disastrous status quo.

So if Corbyn succeeds, what lessons and hopes can we Canadians take? None. Canadian politics cannot produce a Jeremy Corbyn, the lone-wolf backbench MP fighting his own party’s platform for decades, never attaining high or even moderate office, but building up a personal profile that eventually propels him to an unimaginable height. British MPs, if they have any personality whatsoever, can keep busy appearing on political panels, or debating before the university unions, or writing and speechmaking and trying to change the world. There are plenty of MPs in the United Kingdom whose political achievements might be very modest and party loyalty incredibly dubious, but are assured of a place in the corridors of power because they’re too formidable to ignore. Who was the last Canadian backbencher you could call “formidable” even as a joke?

Canadian MPs are, more often, counters that determine who has power. They deliver a maiden speech to the House, they may introduce a private member’s bill, and every few years at the all-candidates debate in their riding they repeat their talking points. It’s trendy to blame overpowerful political leaders for this but the intellectual life of the Canadian MP is so far below the British that you wonder whether leaders leaning on their caucuses is cause or effect. A New Democrat MP reciting bromides at the Pride Parade doesn’t quite compare to Corbyn debating Tory MP John Redwood at the Oxford Union before hundreds of enthusiastic people there to listen and be persuaded. Our feeble imitations of the party rebel, the Sheila Coppses and the Joe Clarks, pale so completely that one feels embarrassed by the comparison. The best-case scenario is a Brent Rathgeber, riding his single policy hobby horse through the Valley of Death.

Outside the elite handful who hold the levers of power, we demand of our MPs the ability to give a speech opening a hockey rink and possibly handle a minor cabinet post when obliged to by some demographic quota without completely filling their pants. A political theorist and debate-loving firebrand, even one like Corbyn whose ideas are mired in 1946? The very idea is laughable. It’s not merely that Canada lacks a Question Time or a serious debating culture or a Have I Got News For You?, it’s that our MPs are the last people you’d want to see in such venues even if we had them.