Corbyn is scared of an election – because the electorate is rightly scared of Corbyn
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BY JAMES BICKERTON
There is perhaps no group in the world who know more about losing elections than British liberals. For them the past few years have seen a cacophony of defeats, interspaced only with the occasional viral social media campaign. Since the Liberal Party collapse in the post-WWI era British liberalism has lacked its own credible party of Government. This has been a curse, but also a blessing. By the mid noughties, the era of ‘all politicians are the same’, liberalism was arguably the dominant force in both the Conservative and Labour parties.
More recently of course this has shot into reverse. In 2015 the hard-left seized control of the Labour party for the first time in its history. This was followed by the 2016 Brexit vote, Jeremy Corbyn’s victory over a leadership challenge from the centre-left, a Conservative Government returned to office in 2017 and the Brexit Party triumph at this year’s European Parliament elections. Its noticeable that many of the victory’s liberals have managed to pull off, especially regarding Brexit, have come via the courts rather than the ballot box.
Alas I fear British liberalism could have much to fear about the future. For many, indeed almost certainly most, self-defined liberals the current priority is fighting Brexit. They don’t entirely trust the Corbynites to be sure, but still view them as potential partners in overturning the 2016 referendum result. If John McDonnell can deliver a ‘people’s vote’ his history of celebrating political violence and terror, his 2013 statement that “elections aren’t working for us”, can be forgiven and forgotten.
This is a grave error. A Corbyn Government could be worse for British liberalism than just about any Brexit outcome. It would hand supreme power to authoritarians, some of whose commitment to basic liberal-democratic norms is in question, whilst simultaneously creating near perfect conditions for the far-right to re-emerge as a serious political force in the UK.
One of the few things that can be said in defence of the Corbynites is they have at times been honest. They’ve let the mask slip and shown the world exactly what they are, even if some prefer not to see it. Should Corbyn become Prime Minister the British economy will be run by a man who described the brutal Bolshevik dictator Lenin, along with fellow communists Trotsky and Marx, as his “most significant” influences. On May day I watched McDonnell deliver a speech from Trafalgar Square alongside banners depicting Stalin and Mao, placed so prominently its hard to imagine he’d missed them.
The ultra-authoritarian impulses of any Corbyn led Government are already clear. Labour has pledged to abolish public schools, with their “investments and properties” redistributed, in a blatant attack on both the institution of private property and parents’ rights to secure an education outside of the state. Similarly Labour has suggested landlords could be forced to sell their properties to tenants, potentially at a below market price, in a move that would wreck the UK rental market.
Authoritarian attitudes have permeated the Labour membership to a terrifying extent. A YouGov poll conducted last month found 69% of Labour members believe it would be “legitimate” for trade unions to “hold a general strike to try and remove a Conservative Government’, with only 18% in disagreement. This puts the Labour membership in the worrying position of backing a transfer of power by the street whilst its MPs block the Government’s calls for a general election. There are also worrying attitudes towards media independence, with a majority of members wanting a Labour Government to both take “greater control of broadcast media” and pass “new laws limiting who can own national newspapers”.
But it isn’t just the innate authoritarianism of the far-left that should terrify liberals about a potential Corbyn Government. They should also be fearful of the likely backlash. Corbyn has previously described terror groups as his “friends”, campaigned for looser immigration restrictions and referred to British ISIS fighters “right of return” to the UK. McDonnell has called for MI5 and armed police units to be abolished.
Whilst I doubt any of these specific policies would be implemented they do show the direction of travel. Its hard to imagine more perfect conditions for the far-right to emerge as a credible political force, whether via the streets or the ballot box. Should they make a breakthrough it may prove hard to reverse, even if the Corbynites are removed. Quite simply if you want a British Donald Trump your best bet is to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister.
Much of the British liberal movement is currently fixated on Brexit. This focus means it is failing to see, and in some cases may even enable, the bigger Corbynite threat. This is a historic mistake. Should Corbyn become Prime Minister he will lead a Government whose innate authoritarianism would be unmatched in modern British history. It’s this, and how the backlash against it is likely to develop, that should be giving liberals sleepless nights.
James Bickerton is a writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter: @JBickertonUK