CORBYN-19: the dystopia we avoided



Jeremy Corbyn believes that the Government’s response to COVID-19, to underwrite salaries and the entire economy from a magic money tree, has vindicated his own policy approach. He believes Corbynomics won the election in 2019, an expression of that most peculiar quality of his, delusion and denial, when in fact he led the Labour Party into the worst electoral defeat in almost a century.

And yet Corbyn may be correct in some respsects. I emerged from my self-isolation last week to find some groceries, when I stumbled across the queue for Sainsbury’s stretching for two blocks down a central London street. I returned home with nothing.

With queues for supermarkets, shelves empty of produce, schools only open to children of public sector workers, the General Public turning out on their doorsteps to applaud the state run healthcare system, with mass layoffs and companies going out of business, with airlines going bankrupt and requiring nationalisation, with streets of cities, towns and villages deserted, with police berating anyone for exercising for more than one hour or sending up surveillance drones in the national parks, neighbours being asked to spy on other neighbours, this is certainly a vision of what Corbyn’s Britain would have looked like. Except that Corbyn would not have needed a global pandemic to achieve it. The only thing missing from the picture is John McDonnell’s “best of our movement” seizing Tories for their day of reckoning in kangaroo courts, and grim prospects for the Jewish community.

As a teenager, I went on a school trip to Moscow and Leningrad during the age of Glasnost under Gorbachev. It was the year McDonald’s opened in Moscow – we queued for 4 hours. Apart from being deeply depressing, the standout memories were the dilapidated architecture, and the overriding smell of plum everywhere – plum jam, plum dessert, plum floor cleaner, plum air fragrances. We joked, or were told, that there had been a bumper harvest of plums that year and the regime were keen for everyone to know it. It appeared to be the only thing bumper that year though. We went to the GUM stores and it was all as miserable as they say a communist regime is, with little choice on the bare shelves. It was in stark contrast to the trip to Reagan’s Florida I had been to the year or so before, where capitalism allowed from freedom, abundance, and choice.

Similarly, when I went to Havana as an adult I was struck by how miserable life was for anyone living there. I say struck, it was more we were told, by a couple of different street vendors. One told us, as he joined us on our outdoor table at a pizza restaurant with plastic moulded umbrellas on concrete seats, that “life was great for a tourist in Cuba” (it wasn’t), but, and taking a look over each shoulder to check who was listening, turned back to us and produced a raspberry sound to denote the word ‘shit’, “if you lived here.” He went on to say “The only choice for work here is to be a prostitute if you’re a woman… or to pimp your sister out if you’re a man.” Even in the Hotel Nacional or the Club Tropicana, the food offered was meagre. Though the rum, of course, was very good.

These anecdotal observations of a tourist are corroborated by decades of evidence. Countries with state-run economies are always horrible. Slim food choice on the shelves of supermarkets, no opportunity to economic abundance, dilapidated housing, neighbourhood spies, surveillance by an overmighty state, and mass deaths. Millions of people dying.

There is slim doubt that Corbyn’s plans to traduce the economy by nationalising any productive part of the country, to close down private home ownership, to re-educate on Palestine, to abolish school choice, to radically redistribute wealth via the magic money tree; to have fundamentally destroyed democracy by removing the decision of the electorate over Brexit; and to have introduced an overmighty and no doubt deeply incompetent state to run everything, would have bought about the dystopian nightmare that the policies required to tackle COVID-19 only begin to hint at.

The huge difference between our current reality and what might have been, is that the response to COVID-19 is an urgent one to a national crisis aimed at shoring up the functioning of a healthy society and the free market – measures in place are to ensure the whole of society works together to protect the most vulnerable and to provide as much stability to a complex economy that will allow us to continue to thrive as and when this plague passes. For this reason, we gladly accept temporary restrictions and willingly, voluntarily applaud our health service.

Corbyn’s goals would have ensured this would be Britain’s permanent state – and one far less able to fend off a global pandemic. In that reality, we would all have had to applaud his final solution every Thursday at 8pm for the rest of our short, miserable lives.

Chris Bullivant is a freelance writer who has led two Westminster think tanks and worked on K Street in Washington DC. Follow him on Twitter: @chrisbullivant