A View from the Right
by Sean Gabb
27th August 2018
Seen from my point of view, on the libertarian right, there are at least three ways of looking at the alleged or real anti-semitism of Jeremy Corbyn. The first is that it is very, very funny. Since the 1970s, he and his friends have been whining about the horrors of racial prejudice. Now, every time he opens his mouth, he says something that upsets Jews – and that may legitimately be of concern to them. You tell me it is uncharitable if I fail to keep a straight face. The second is that the scandal is a distraction from the real issue in British politics. Next March, we are supposed to leave the European Union. Whether we shall or ought to leave with some kind of agreement is arguably more important than with whom Mr Corbyn shared a platform at the Conway Hall in 1987. These first two being noted, I will focus on the third, which is what impact he will have on the so far arrested realignment of English politics.
Part of Mr Corbyn’s general appeal lies in the belief that he is Old Labour. If we define this as the opinions and policies of Keir Hardie, of the Webbs, and of Clement Attlee and Aneurin Bevan – that is, as the consensus that described the Labour Party into the 1960s – he is not Old Labour. This was a movement probably sincere in its concern for the welfare of the British working classes, though mistaken in its chosen means for advancing that welfare. Mr Corbyn is a creature of the “rainbow coalition” – a coalition within which white heterosexual working class men have at best an auxiliary place. The points of difference between him and New Labour are important, but small. He has no objection to a politically correct police state, none to omnipresent surveillance and regulation, none to the war on both liberty and tradition waged by the Blair and Brown Governments. His dissent from New Labour lies in his desire for a greater direct economic management by the State, and his dislike of the military-economic complex and of the wars that legitimise and fund it. This latter seems to explain his alleged anti-semitism. When someone on the right denounces Zionism, he is almost certainly talking about Jews, but worried about our police state laws. When Mr Corbyn does, I have no doubt he is thinking about white colonialists who are giving a hard time to brown people. I say again – the look on his face when he is called another Hitler is very, very funny.
Now, what does all this mean for the realignment I have mentioned? I believe, or hope, that there is room in our politics for something like the coalition that Donald Trump has put together in America. This is not something libertarian in any purist sense. It allows for a large and generous welfare state. It is rather conservative in areas where I am a decided liberal. At the same time, it is hostile to the more intrusive and frightening arms of our police state. It is hostile to the dominance of the big financial and corporate interests. It is hostile to a foreign policy that does nothing to advance the legitimate interests of our country. In short, it wants a return to something like the England of 1960, though without the illusions that dominated the English right of 1960, and without the influence of a decayed nobility and gentry.
This coalition cannot emerge in the face of a Labour Party continually on the edge of a return to government. We are trapped in a system that requires support for a Conservative Party that is just slightly better than Labour. Fighting the Conservative Establishment is rather like fighting a duel in a car balanced on the edge of a cliff – too much movement, and everyone tips into the void. Oh, there was the political space between 1997 and 2005. New Labour was supreme. Whether the Conservative Party did nothing, or was torn apart and remodelled, had no bearing on that supremacy in the short term. The problem here – something I failed to see at the time – was that the coalition I was cheering on did not yet exist. I was one of its more advanced theorists, and I had a limited audience. Too many other people were still grappling with the apparent contradiction that Tony Blair was The Enemy but not a socialist. We were too close to the early 1980s for the assumptions that had made sense then to be dissolved. The political space existed, but could not be filled. The moment passed. Since 2005, the Conservatives have been a credible and just slightly better party of government, and hermetically sealed off from me and my friends.
This is the present state of affairs. A year of hysterical denunciation from the media, and the Labour Party is – or was the last time I looked – about three points behind in the opinion polls. Given our odd voting system, and given Theresa May’s known campaign skills, an election this year might easily bring Labour back into government. This would probably wreck our departure from the European Union, and would certainly be terrible in other ways. Every so often, I announce on Facebook that I will not vote Conservative at the next election. Of course, come the day, and given the choice between any Conservative Government and a Labour Government, I will almost certainly vote Conservative.
But I come back to my question. What does Jeremy Corbyn mean for the realignment? Plainly, calling him an anti-semite has failed. He has kept some odd company. But I doubt even the Editor of The Jewish Chronicle really believes he would open a British version of Auschwitz. Even so, he is an Anglophobe. Except he is a socialist, he holds all the opinions that eventually made New Labour so hated. For the past year, he has traded on his cheery, bearded face and his refreshing personal honesty. Sooner or later, word will get round that what he is offering amounts to Venezuela plus social workers. Give us an election this year, and he might win. Next year, and the year after, it may be different.
Until then, therefore, the Conservatives need to stagger on well as they presently do. I incline increasingly to leaving the European Union without any deal. This might involve some inconvenience, though I do not see how the sky would fall on us. But let us suppose Theresa May manages to get the Europeans to agree to her stupid Chequers Plan. This might make us a satrapy of Brussels in the short term. But there is a difference between an unfair and unpopular leaving treaty and an ever-closer union that involves an organic linkage of legal and administrative systems. Getting out from the latter required forty years of agitation. Stepping away from the former needs a single declaration published in The London Gazette. Theresa May is an awful Prime Minister. But she has no obvious replacement. All the possible replacements are equally though differently awful, and any one of them might split the Party, or be stupid enough to call another early election.
Yes, the Conservatives need to stagger on past next March. By then, we should be formally out of the European Union. By then, the Corbyn surge ought, if I am right, to be ebbing. By then, despite Mrs May’s best efforts, the Conservative Party might find itself as completely supreme electorally as Tony Blair was until the Iraq War. Indeed, it might find itself electorally supreme without any meaningful challenge from the left.
Unless I have misunderstood the workings of the Labour Party, Mr Corbyn is irremovable by the Blairites. He has the Party membership firmly on his side. If every Jew in the country, plus the entire Conservative membership, joined the Labour Party, the actual or potential Corbynite membership would have the numbers to fight off a challenge. Mr Corbyn is irremovable regardless of how low his party sinks in the opinion polls, or how badly it does in the next election. He seems to have made irreversible changes within the Labour Party. After the next election, the reselection of candidates will have purged the Blairites from Parliament. If he steps down, he will be replaced by another leftist who is likely to be far less attractive.
Or, let us suppose what is presently canvassed in the media – that the existing Parliamentary Labour Party jumps before it is pushed, and defects en bloc to form a latter-day version of the Social Democratic Party. The first version failed because not enough Labour MPs defected, and because it failed to establish itself sufficiently before the 1983 election, and because Margaret Thatcher won the Falklands War, and then scooped the pool of working class moderates. This version would have greater numbers, and we can assume it would have unlimited funding, and perhaps a long time to go before the next election. Still, probably, it would not succeed. David Owen bordered on the charismatic, and no one had a bad word for his performance as Foreign Secretary. Roy Jenkins had at least the public’s affectionate contempt. Keir Starmer, the most likely leader of a new party, is a wooden apparatchik. He wears a suit, and can reel off facts and statistics. But a new party needs more than a line of middle-aged faces who did well under Gordon Brown.
Besides, even if they found themselves down to a dozen Members of Parliament, the Corbynites would keep the existing structures of the Labour Party. They would keep the brand, and that means a lot. And, if they lost all their remaining white working class support, they would keep the non-whites and the public sector vote. Even Mrs May would have trouble losing in these circumstances.
But the idea is not to look forward to electoral supremacy for the Conservative Party, and then to bask in its glow for the next generation. The idea is to take advantage of the new political space thereby opened to split the Conservative Party, or, if possible, to seize control of the Party. At the 2016 Party Conference, Mrs May delivered first one speech, and then another. Both excited me, so far as they seemed to promise the sort of realignment I had been calling for. If only she had followed through, and if only she had not dissipated the vast political capital gained by calling an election she had no fitness to win, we would not be in our present mess. The fact remains that the approach she outlined in those speeches is the only one that can restore both liberty and tradition in a stable equilibrium.
My conclusion, then, is to hope that I am right, and that Mr Corbyn is a diminishing asset to his followers. If I am right, the hope should be for him to survive these anti-semitism claims, and ensure that the Labour Party really is irreversibly taken by the leftists. That means a lost election and a small Parliamentary Labour Party purged of anyone who has never been photographed wearing a donkey jacket covered in badges. Give us this, and the realignment can begin. Beside this, the rival ambitions of little men like Jacob Rees Mogg and Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are very little things – little things best restrained until someone better emerges.