It is a pretty good rule of thumb that if you are seeking to become a leader of a country you should like it quite a bit. Of course, in the case of the UK you may be motivated to correct great unfairness, as in the case of Attlee, or reverse decline, in the case of Thatcher, but when it comes down to it you should think that the place has rather a lot to commend it. That basic assumption applies to all the Prime Ministers and leaders of the opposition of my lifetime. It certainly applies to Jim Callaghan, Tony Blair, John Major, Neil Kinnock, IDS, John Smith, William Hague, Michael Howard, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.
Even the charge against Michael Foot – author of that terribly smug book in the 1940s about Appeasement – is not that he backed Britain’s enemies. Of course he didn’t. He was a patriot, but the concern was that his policies were naive and would see the UK weakened in the face of Communist tyranny. But there is no doubt that Footie liked Britain, and its books, and its literary heritage and its workers. He supported the Falklands War too.
For the first time I can remember, I seriously doubt whether the leader of the opposition actually likes Britain at all in any meaningful sense. The most that can be said is that he likes the lowest paid workers, but even that seems to be largely a function of how terrible he thinks the country is. In the Corbyn worldview their public service symbolises oppression by the “boss class” and the awfulness of the UK.
Beyond that, in Corbynland Britain is always in the wrong. Always, always, always. During the Cold War, obviously. Against Islamo-fascists, too (we started it). Even when the UK was up against a Fascist junta in the case of the Falklands, it was Britain that Corbynites thought was in the wrong. Now Corbyn says he wants to explore joint ownership with Argentina. What possible argument is there for this? Almost everyone on the Falklands wants the islands to maintain their current status. Blood was shed. They are not going to be handed over, and God help any political party that goes into an election advocating what amounts to surrender.
On subject after subject – relations with Russia, the IRA, the need to kill that scumbag Emwazi – Corbyn struggles to make even vaguely pro-British noises. The roots of this on the far left are deep. Its origins may lie in some democratic socialists in the 1920s identifying with the Russian Revolution and the sense in the 1930s that one had to choose one tyranny – socialism – in order to defeat another – national socialism or Nazism. This led some traitorous twits to betray their country as spies, but among a larger group that would never have gone that far it left a residual contempt for Britain. Everything the UK did could be seen through the prism of imperial decline, decadent fading grandeur, American aggression, capitalist oppression and the class system (even though some of those who hate Britain then and now went to leading schools and are appalling snobs.)
It must be maddening for the Corbynistas that the UK has actually recovered rather well from the traumas of the mid-20th century. It has shed an empire, while offering protection to the Falklands, in a remarkably well-ordered way compared to what happened when the empires of other nations collapsed. There are plenty of problems, in terms of social mobility and community breakdown, but the record in the last quarter of a century of tackling this in education (in England, and best of all in London) is outstanding. There is a lot going right. The UK’s universities are booming; it is good at technology; it is miles ahead of Europe in e-commerce; it makes a lot of cars; its ports are successful; it has become good at architecture again; the beer is much better than it was; there has been a foodie and restaurant revolution in expectations and quality; the UK excels at finance and services; the (dread phrase) creative industries are thriving; and millions of people think the place is so good that they are trying to get in.
Even there, on migration, Corbyn gets it wrong. He went to Calais and demands that everyone there should get in to the UK, thus legitimising the people smugglers and sending the message that getting to Calais bestows the automatic right to entry. While he was there did he spend any time with the British lorry drivers who run the gauntlet every day at Calais? He might have got a different perspective if he had. But then he has no need of a different perspective. Corbyn knows what he knows and his views have not adjusted at all in over thirty years, which is weird in itself. He knows that Britain is always in the wrong.
Voters, as they proved in the last couple of years, are not stupid. They have a pretty good sense of what’s what. When they tune in and work out that Jeremy Corbyn is actively anti-British, Labour will be extremely lucky to get 25% of the vote at the next general election.