SQUINT, and the People’s History Museum in Manchester could be a church. Vast trade-union banners rich with symbols—masonic eyes, spanners, linked hands—hang like ecclesiastical tapestries from the walls and ceilings. Bibelots nestle in their showcases like saints’ bones in their reliquaries: a handkerchief commemorating the Peterloo massacre, an Edwardian membership certificate for the old dyers’ union (motto: “We dye to live”), a docker’s hook belonging to a protagonist of the London port strike of 1972. The galleries echo to sermons by tribunes of the left: Nye Bevan hailing universal health care, Earnest Jones urging the crowds in Manchester to reject the “gospel of the rich”. The light is low—the better to preserve the treasures of this, Britain’s only museum to the struggles of the common folk.That's not the only thing it has in common with churches; it's usually empty of people. They are out and about, drinking in the pubs, shopping in furniture showrooms and elsewhere.
According to Geert Hofstede, a Dutch psychologist who has devised a means of quantifying such things, Britain is the most individualistic country in Europe; a place of “rampant consumerism” where “the route to happiness is through personal fulfilment” rather than collective endeavour. Polling by Ipsos MORI supports his claim, showing that each successive generation is more sceptical of organised religion, the welfare state and government in general.And Labour's leadership election is about to select a good ol' boy of museum piece quality. Jeremy Corbyn.
With the notable exceptions of their sports, pets and royals, Britons tend to spurn great displays of sincerity, too: from politics to popular television, Britain’s public life is striking for its sardonicism. This is not to say that it is a reactionary country. But recent decades suggest that the Conservatives are mostly best at harnessing this aversion, one eyebrow near-permanently raised, to pharaonic political visions.
[The Labour Party] is careening towards a leader who, more than any in its recent history, misreads (or worse, does not like) modern Britain and its instincts. The result, unless Labour’s moderates can reclaim the party, will be electoral oblivion. Shown footage of Mr Corbyn by Ipsos MORI last month, swing voters in Croydon and Nuneaton seemed bemused: “He’s got all the policies straight out of the Sixties,” said one, adding: “He’s a bit of a hippy.”And a bit like his American counterpart, Bernie Sanders.