Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for South-East England, is surely one of Britain’s most influential Eurosceptics. He may not be one of the most recognisable figures from the 2016 referendum campaign, but few can match his long-term influence on the movement which won it. A Eurosceptic campaigner for decades, and a Tory MEP since 1999, The Guardian have termed him “The man who brought you Brexit”. With Brexit negotiations reaching a crucial, perhaps decisive, point I interviewed Hannan for the Daily Express Online. The three pieces I wrote as a result can be found at the bottom of this blog. But I also wanted to give the interview a longer treatment, to ensure nothing was left out, hence this article.
I’m not going to start, as the above paragraph may have led you to assume, with Brexit. Indeed I’m barely going to touch on it at all, that having been done in many places by far more able writers. Instead I’m going to focus on Jeremy Corbyn, the first person since WWII to have a decent shot at becoming Prime Minister who has violated several core liberal-democratic norms. Hannan argues that unlike previous Labour leaders Corbyn, and many of those around him, have a conditional attachment to Parliamentary democracy. He argues: “Nothing in Jeremy Corbyn’s career suggests that he regards General Elections as the ultimate mandate. I think he regards the various kind-of revolutionary movements that he’s been involved with as somehow speaking for the people more accurately than their elected representatives. He sees them as being more authentic and nothing in his career to date makes me think that he is comfortable with the idea of a sovereign parliament.”
This suspicious attitude towards one of the most fundamental components of a liberal-democratic, or ‘Western’ society, is ideological according to Hannan. He claimed: “I think John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have been taught by their doctrines to regard Parliament as a sort of bourgeois front. The far-left of the Labour Party has never liked the idea of parliamentary democracy…shortly after the election John McDonnell called for everyone to take to the streets to overturn the election result. That is not the behaviour of someone who is an enthusiast for parliamentary supremacy. This is the same guy who says we should create a situation where no Tory can show his face in public because of direct action. These are not people who are within the mainstream Labour tradition of using parliament as a way of delivering for their voters. They’ve never really liked the system at all and this is I think a huge change for the Labour Party.”
Hannan goes on to speak, somewhat wistfully, about a lost era of British moderation. A time when we thought ourselves immune to the wild ideological wolves which have torn apart so many other nations. Hannan noted that historically: “We’ve been lucky in this country compared to a lot of places in the temperament of our main left of centre party, the Labour movement in Britain was a long way away from the blood thirsty revolutionary movements which were common on the continent. The Labour movement here was about brass bands and working men’s libraries – it was about extending opportunity, it wasn’t about tearing things down…I’ve always thought as a conservative that if you’re going to have a left-wing party its much better to have one in that mold, that is fundamentally democratic and peaceful.”
By contrast: “The tradition that Corbyn and McDonnell come from is a completely different one. It’s an alien overseas Marxist tradition. And it has very little time for parliamentary supremacy…We’ve never in Britain voted for an extreme party, something which makes us very very different from a lot of countries in the area. We’ve never had any kind of fascist or communist movement here of any significant size. We’ve never until now had anti-Semites infiltrating one of our main political parties and I think this creates a certain responsibility for everybody else to say is this the road we want to go down? After all these hundreds of years of moderation, relative to other countries, do we want to go down the road towards anger, this emphasis on extra-parliamentary action, this sense of revolution? It just seems to me quite un-British.”
Hannan notes that the danger of a far-left Labour Government is coinciding with Brexit potentially giving the UK Government more freedom of action, for better or worse. He says: “Well the point about Brexit is it gives you freedom. How you choose to use that freedom is up to you. We could become a global trading nation, we could become a Hong Kong or a New Zealand, or we could become a Venezuela. With Corbyn I think we would be much closer to Venezuela than to New Zealand.”
Currently Brexit is, quite understandably, dominating discussion in British politics. But we’d be foolish to let it totally cloud out other questions. Should the UK elect a Labour Party led, for the first time in its history, by the radical left we can be sure the impact on our politics will be significant. We’ve never, in anything like recent time, been governed by people who until very recently were openly ambivalent about both parliamentary democracy and the morality of political violence. Should this change I’m confident it will be a dramatic blow for decency in our political culture, and of course for the country itself.
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