28 November 2015

Calamity Corbyn presents the Conservatives with an historic opportunity


This is the weekly newsletter from Iain Martin, editor of CapX. To receive it by email every Friday, along with a short daily email of our top five stories, please subscribe here.

Is the British Labour party doing it to win a bet? That is one possible explanation for the unfolding carnage under the calamitous leadership of the far left Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps the wager is this: can the Labour party destroy itself by Christmas? Corbyn and his allies certainly look as though they are giving it a jolly good go.

Each day of the Corbyn leadership is worse than the last. Normally, when a political party gets into serious trouble, the developments are at least properly spaced out, and there are days when calamity does not dominate the political news agenda. At Westminster, the inmates are finding it difficult to keep up, so frenzied is the farce. Labour disasters are now coming at the rate of one every 90 minutes.

Was it only on Wednesday that the Shadow Chancellor brandished Mao’s Little Red Book and read from it at the Commons despatch box before throwing it to Chancellor George Osborne? No sooner had that registered than Labour was on to full-blown civil war in the shadow cabinet over British forces bombing ISIS in Syria. Corbyn is opposed, as he is to all military action not undertaken by Russians, while half of his colleagues want to back David Cameron’s call for limited intervention.

So frenetic is the Labour story that it is even becoming difficult to commission for websites and newspapers. Gerald Warner wrote a terrific piece for CapX (see the top five stories below) explaining to a new generation why Mao is the biggest mass murdering maniac in history rather than a cuddly poster-child for revolution who got a little carried away. But even by the time Gerald had filed, Labour had raced on and was already embroiled in fresh calamity.

On Thursday evening, former London Mayor Red Ken Livingstone declared on the BBC that the 7/7 suicide bombers of 2005 had “given their lives” in protest at Tony Blair’s foreign policy, thus undermining the last remaining shred of credibility Livingstone has, which rests on his uplifting response to that bombing when he was Mayor of London. Meanwhile, news was breaking of supportive comments the shadow chancellor John McDonnell had made in the 1980s about the IRA bombing campaign of Britain.

The Corbynites are opposed to bombing ISIS in Syria, but in favour of bombing Britain, quipped one wag.

If Corbyn was a better leader, if he was any kind of leader, he would be able to make something of being sceptical about intervention. Post-Iraq, many Westerners are doubtful, and even some hawks are concerned that a campaign which is overwhelmingly about bombing alone, with ground troops ruled out, is cosmetic at best and dangerously flawed at worst. But Corbyn is hopeless; the man is a total dud as a Labour leader, the worst figure to occupy the position since the naive pacifist George Lansbury in the 1930s thought it was a good idea to oppose rearmament in the face of the rise of Hitler.

The Corbyn leadership is amusing for journalists, on one level, but deadly serious in another. It is not good for British democracy, because the government is not being scrutinised properly by the opposition, which portends arrogance and the potential for more policy cock-ups down the line by the Tories.

But, Corbyn’s leadership does gift the British Conservatives an historic opportunity. Not one of those “they might they win the next general election” opportunities, but the chance to capitalise on Labour’s existential crisis and create a broad-based coalition of interests that dominates the coming decades and turns the UK into an even more dynamic, market-based, technologically advanced, prosperous society.

Labour, it seems, is incapable of responding adequately. Indeed, the Labour party’s very reasons to exist are being, one by one, vapourised. It is finished as a force in Scotland, from where it once drew a considerable part of its strength and its pro-Union identity.

For all his flaws, Tony Blair understood the dire predicament of a class based party in a consumerist society in which ties of loyalty were weakening. Blair’s response was to organise a rescue and create a new centrist force, New Labour, that accepted markets and reform. The trade unionists could either get aboard – and some did – or grumble to journalists.

Blair’s mission failed, despite three election victories. I don’t say that to take a pot-shot at Blairite friends. The identity of the current Labour leader is proof enough that New Labour’s triumph was short-lived. But the roots of the constitutional upheaval that threatens the survival of the UK, and the economic mismanagement that left Britain so disproportionately badly exposed when the crisis hit, and the current problems in British foreign policy, lie in the Blair era.

Will the Tories capitalise beyond enjoying themselves with short-term tactical wheezes? The evidence from George Osborne’s Autumn Statement was not hugely encouraging. He u-turned on changes to tax credits, in a clever manner that managed to make many of his fans forget that they had applauded him equally loudly when he announced the opposite just four months ago.

For me, the rest of it was all a bit too much of an unconvincing punt on optimistic figures, in the way that Gordon Brown used to project forward and announce how brilliant he was. As well as that, the overseas aid budget continues to rocket, which seems perverse considering the UK’s deficit. And the Tory leadership still talks about Britain “paying down its debts.” So far it is doing no such thing. The deficit is projected to fall, but the national debt is still on course for £1.5 trillion. The tax system also remains too complex.

There is plenty the Tories have done since 2010 that is worthy of praise, in the field of education for example. But if the Tories do want to dominate the next quarter of a century, in a country which lacks a mainstream left alternative, they, and the rest of Britain’s voters, can ill afford the UK being caught having been over optimistic about the public finances when the next downturn comes, as it always does.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX