19 December 2017

Prime Minister Corbyn would pave the way for a British Trump

By James Bickerton

Britain doesn’t do far-right politics. A comforting illusion that we’ve been telling ourselves for so long that I fear we’ve started to believe it. Not so long ago our American friends used to make a similar claim, often couched in the language of Anglophone exceptionalism. Then Donald Trump happened.

I honestly don’t know how to defeat the British hard Right, nor resolve the socio-economic and cultural tensions on which it feeds. But I do know, with a good deal of confidence, how you could transform it from a low-level nuisance into a serious political force: make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister. Corbynistas should realise that their dream could pave the way to a nightmare.

Corbyn’s relatively strong performance at the 2017 General Election, which made it clear that he could one day be Prime Minister, has transformed him from something of a joke to a mortal threat. Gordon Brown went from Stalin to Mr Bean; Corbyn has completed the same journey in reverse. Conservatives have realised, quite correctly, that Corbyn isn’t just another Labour leader.

Part of this is about just how much they disagree with Corbyn on policy. But much of it is down to something else entirely: Corbyn’s past sympathy with all manner of terror groups and authoritarian regimes which have presented themselves as Britain’s enemies.

Most politicians would condemn unequivocally an attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister, such as the IRA’s 1984 Brighton bombing, as an attack on the very essence of British democracy. Not so Corbyn, who instead invited convicted IRA men to Parliament two weeks after the attack and was later arrested at a rally to show “solidarity” with one of the accused bombers. Corbyn, and many of those around him including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, came dangerously close to breaking the taboo against legitimising violence as an acceptable tool in domestic British politics. Leftists shouldn’t underestimate just how morally appalled conservatives are by this behaviour.

Moreover, Corbyn has surrounded himself with radical leftists, including several who’s commitment to Parliamentary democracy itself appears dubious. Take Andrew Fisher, one of Corbyn’s senior policy advisors who during the 2015 General Election backed a candidate from the anarchist Class War Party, an organisation most renowned for approvingly publishing photos of “hospitalised coppers” in its newspaper, over the Labour Party candidate. Or Andrew Murray, a man who’s 40 years of Communist Party membership and calls for “solidarity” with the North Korean regime didn’t stop him being seconded to Corbyn’s office during the 2017 General Election.

There is a definite possibility that, should Corbyn be elected Prime Minister on a populist platform – and it’s worth noting that some of his economic policies do have considerable public support – there will be a radicalisation of the British Right in response. Conservatives will both loathe the Government to an unprecedented extent and conclude that populism works, a dangerous combination.

Radicalised Tories may sound like an absurd idea, but it’s a prospect worth taking seriously. We already saw a possible foretaste this summer with Moggmentum, a right-wing movement whose emergence has shocked the commentariat. Angry and frightened conservatives, defined broadly to include UKIP supporters as well as Conservatives, could prove fertile recruits for a new authoritarian politics of the Right. It’s no secret that right-wing authoritarianism often arises when the middle-class think it necessary to protect them from its far-left counterpart.

Not only could a Corbyn Premiership radicalise the Right, it could also create the conditions for that Right to flourish politically. Truthfully the British far-right has long been the lion which, in contrast to its European counterparts, has failed to roar. But the conditions for its emergence already exist. For the past couple of decades polling has shown that the public are uncomfortable with the level of immigration allowed by Labour and Tory Government’s alike. Over 70 per cent think immigration has been too high over the past 10 years.

An interesting, if uncomfortable, case study is the public reaction to the travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries which Trump introduced on 27 January. The policy was rejected by British politicians from across the spectrum. All the main parties, and almost all media commentators, condemned the move and thousands protested outside Downing Street. But the perception of unanimous condemnation is, sadly, misleading. A Chatham House survey found that 47 per cent of the British public agreed with the statement “all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped”, a more extreme policy than the one Trump implemented. Just 23 per cent opposed the statement.

Should Corbyn become Prime Minister the divide between public and Government opinion on a number of key issues, most explosively immigration but also law and order and defence, would be wider than ever before. And should his statist economic program prove damaging, experience tells us it will, the conditions for a hard-right movement will be near perfect.

Moderate leftists would do well to bear this warning in mind. George Orwell once wrote that in Britain “so much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot”. I fear he may be proven right.

James Bickerton is Political Editor of the Backbencher