The attempted defenestration of Labour’s Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, is a telling pointer to the future shape of the country were Retro-Labour to win an election.
It was a plausibly deniable coup, undertaken in support of the leadership yet not seemingly at its behest, by an avant-garde testing the ice. It was conceptually audacious, pursuing Stalinist norms of making people non-persons by keeping in post while whittling the wood – a concept to be fair that is hardly modern: Lepidus would have found it familiar. But doctrinally, Moscow would be proud.
Just as tellingly, it was both ingeniously arranged and ineptly staged; as ruthlessly inefficient as an alcoholic Siberian seal clubber.
Welcome, then, to Jeremy Corbyn’s Britain. A foggy land where power is diffuse, and deniable. Where decisions can be made and unmade without anyone knowing. A land fit for expert bureaunauts.
The scene this week of Politburo intrigue on the eve of the gathering of the Supreme Soviet – sorry, Labour Party Conference – is so visibly ticking retro boxes, I’m half expecting Cliff Michelmore ‘s voice to pop up on commentary. Rampant republicanism, state interventionism, colonial-era guilt, four-day weeks (but without pledging the coal strikes first), the seizure of private property, spending demands that can only be fulfilled by red hot Bank of England printing presses, not to mention the poison and bile poured on enemies of the ‘Cause’ – such are the once-historic fifth column Marxist-Leninist cuckoo madnesses curtailed only after decades of internal party strife.
Historically, the flawed and jagged economic edge of British Socialism was always tempered by the humanity of its founders’ aspirations: hardly surprising, given the Labour Party famously owed more to Methodism rather than to Marx. In turn, as Benn père was himself wont to recall, its expression lay rooted in the deeply-sown seeds of Stuart non-conformism and Civil War idealism.
Its core message thus contradicts the ideological nihilism and corrosion of Marxist pseudo-scientific dialectics, whose cold absolutism makes for a perilous combination with the theological certainty of many of its acolytes. The result tends towards a high turnover of superfluous allies and expendable cadres. There are a lot of perceived Mensheviks in Labour’s ranks, waiting to be discarded into the “dustbin of history”. Some MPs already have been.
All of which was predictable. So when putting together my handbook to what the country could look like if a Hard Left party came into power, I only needed to take as a baseline past policies and current statements. Correspondingly, in Land of the Superwoke: A Travel Guide to Corbyn’s Britain we can track three ineluctable threads to their ultimate conclusions.
The first is what happens to the economy if the Chancellor genuinely is a Marxist and seeks to apply those failed doctrines. Anyone even making a bad joke of brandishing a copy of mass murderer Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book at Treasury Questions has obviously got some hinterland.
The second is what happens if the Prime Minister also really does believe in all the radical causes he has (rather helpfully, openly) espoused over the years. Anyone caught on social media apparently making a pilgrimage to Trotsky’s home in Mexico also probably has some hinterland; not to mention that of any friends with a penchant for hammers and sickles, or balaclavas in their wardrobes.
The third is, alarmingly, highlighted by events over the weekend, but already marked up more seriously long before – what happens if a leader cannot or will not get a grip on fringe activists when he then finds himself in power? Revolutionary far left doctrine encourages vanguards to push and break the law to undermine trust in the state, as a necessary precursor to radical change – possibly even to encourage a repressive backlash to foster recruitment. Whatever his motives, Corbyn’s failure to properly grip the extremists in his party is an act, by default, of encouragement.
The very, very least that could be predicted is that fringe lobbies that do not hold mainstream views will feel emboldened to push their views on the majority, which may peculiarly even include the majority of the minority which they pretend to represent. The least worst scenario here then is of a society where political correctness really has gone mad – hence the reference to the “superwoke” in the book title.
It would have been tremendously easy to have written a dark tome, even if one deletes three quarters of the precedents from the 1970s and from Corbynistas’ global idols, on the grounds that many policies would somehow get blocked. Such an eventuality would of course depend on people like the Deputy Leader still having a job.
But even the putative quarter of repeated follies that would then remain makes for a dismal horizon. For instance, as a foreign businessman thinking (briefly) of investing here in the Sick Man of Europe, you might need to be aware of the re-emergence of a raft of erstwhile quangos such as the Iron and Steel Arbitration Panel, or the Tate and Lyle Customer Safeguards Committee, though the three pages listing the restrictive practices that are being restored by empowered and uncompromising unions may be more immediately useful.
The story is much wider, and we have some fun with the inherent absurdities. Perhaps you might be interested in the lot of Welsh Male Voice choirs, now considered sexist inside the Principality but a protected designated group outside it. Or you might want to consider censorship and what’s on in the West End; or where to go for underground comedy clubs; what the rules are on gender toilets; or what placard slogans you can expect to see from your traffic jam as a protest clogs up the city centre. And all the while picking up the correct jargon so you don’t get reported for hate speech.
Comrades, the book might only be fiction, and with some occasional light leg-pulling at that. But judging by this week’s conference speeches, it sure beats the prospect of living through it.
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