It’s entirely possible that Jeremy Corbyn is our next Prime Minister. A month ago that statement would have sounded absurd, but then in 2017 a month is a veritable era in politics. According to YouGov Labour enjoys an eight point lead over the Tories, enough for an absolute majority, whilst Corbyn’s position within his party has gone from precarious to virtually unassailable. As such it’s time for conservatives to consider the previously unthinkable. How should we respond in the event that Corbyn becomes Prime Minister?
Let’s first acknowledge the issue. There will be nothing ‘normal’ about a Corbyn Premiership. In the modern era neither the far-left nor the far-right have managed to produce a British Prime Minister. In contrast with many of our European neighbours we’ve resisted the allure of those who lace their politics with Marxism or Fascism. Well if Corbyn becomes PM this example of British exceptionalism will be at an end. Corbyn, and those around him, have spent their political careers sympathising with various dictatorial states and terrorist groups with all the enthusiasm of a collector going after stamps. Following the 1984 bombing of the Conservative Party conference in Brighton the Labour Briefing, a left-wing publication which had Corbyn on its editorial board, praised the ‘audacity’ of the attack and printed a letter asking ‘What do you call four dead Tories? A start’. John McDonnell, not content with lauding the ‘bombs and bullets of the IRA’ described rioters who attacked the Conservative Party headquarters in 2010 as the ‘best of our movement’.
Jeremy Corbyn with his election campaign chief Andrew Murray, a former Communist Party of Britain member who had urged ‘solidarity’ with the government of North Korea.
Corbyn has befriended a range of authoritarian regimes, including taking £20,000 to work for an Iranian propaganda channel, whilst during the General Election one of his key aides was an apologist for the North Korean regime who had only recently left the Communist Party of Britain. In short possibly Corbyn, and certainly several of those around him, come from a section of the hard-left whose commitment to democracy is at best conditional. Potentially useful for coming to power for sure – but beyond that? To put it bluntly I’m not sure whether the likes of John McDonnell, Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray are democrats in anything like the conventional sense.
So, to quote Lenin (surely appropriate) ‘What is to be done?’ How should conservatives respond to an administration which, for the first time in our Parliament’s modern history, has a questionable commitment to basic democratic values? Well firstly we must accept that Governments legitimacy. Even if, like Trump, they win the election despite losing the popular vote. Anything else would be prizing open the gates of hell. In 2015 a ‘senior serving General’ suggested the army could ‘mutiny’ if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister. But Britain isn’t Turkey and this sort of talk, even if it is just foolish bravado, should be utterly rejected.
But whilst respecting the Government’s mandate we shouldn’t treat politics as business as usual. Corbyn simply isn’t a Miliband, Callaghan or Attlee (or even a Michael Foot or Tony Benn). Given their histories he, and especially his team, will need to be watched like a hawk for any signs that they are violating democratic norms. Of course this is most likely, at least initially, on a relatively small scale. Right-wing publications, especially the tabloids, being slapped with a new round of libel laws. Momentum activists intimidating Tory and moderate Labour MP’s ahead of key votes, whilst pressuring publically funded institutions (think the BBC and universities) to remove those they regard as overly critical of Corbyn.
If Corbyn and his supporters behave in this way then conservatives need to be ready to respond. In particular we may need to mimic the tactics of the left, and oppose Government policy via mass street protests and non-violent direct action. This is perhaps the best way of demonstrating that we won’t stand for the erosion of our basic democratic freedoms. A relevant example would be the resistance of Polish civil society groups to the attempt by the country’s authoritarian Government, this time of the hard-right, to undermine the Supreme Court’s independence.
Left-wing protest against the Tory-DUP agreement in London last month.
More broadly we should aim to create a mass grassroots conservative movement independent from, but supportive of, the official Conservative Party. At present the left has a whole plethora of small grassroots organisations (campaigning groups, student associations, protest organisations) which can apply pressure from a myriad of different directions. These small groups compete for members, in an almost capitalist fashion, producing a potent level of energy and activity. The right, alas, doesn’t have anything remotely comparable. Beyond the Conservative Party, who’s branding at times feels quasi-corporate, there are admittedly a range of think tanks and small conservative associations. But whilst many do good work they are completely outgunned in terms of action, energy and militancy by the left. At present the Conservative Party doesn’t even have an official youth wing. Creating a strong conservative civil society would be advantageous at any time, but especially if we’re confronted by a Government led by the authoritarian socialist Jeremy Corbyn.
Finally we’ll need to knock certain electoral barnacles off our hull. Considering the economic and social damage a Corbyn Government is likely to cause, we need to electorally defeat it as soon as possible. This means, and I hope you’ll excuse the phrase, we need to stop pissing around with certain highly unpopular and completely unnecessary policies. Scrap plans to reintroduce fox hunting. Don’t fiddle around with social care (the ‘Dementia Tax’). Focus on popular, sensible policies aimed at middle-Britain; and perhaps seal the deal with a dose of populism of our own (on say law and order).
Truthfully I can’t think of a Government in modern British history that I’d hate to live under. That had crossed certain moral lines, regarding the use of violence as a political tool and general authoritarianism, which I regard as beyond the pale. Even the earlier Labour men, the likes of Ramsay Macdonald, kept consistently on the right side of these issues. But I would hate to live under Corbyn, and I don’t think the conservative movement can respond to him becoming Prime Minister as though he’s a normal Labour leader. Maybe I sound paranoid. Quite possible I am. But when I look at the history of Corbyn and those closest to him I simply don’t trust them to uphold the norms and values of our Parliamentary democracy. As such if Corbyn becomes PM conservatives should be prepared to mount a powerful and vigorous defence of our most prized institutions.