4 August 2015

Socialist Corbyn supporters are living in an anti-capitalist fantasy world


If you want to know what Labour party members really think about the four leadership contenders, you could do a lot worse than ask readers of the Guardian newspaper.

That’s precisely what the Guardian did, carrying out a survey of its “core” readership, asking them who they support out of Jeremy Corbyn, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. That poll found an extraordinary 51 per cent of those committed, long term readers chose Corbyn as their preferred candidate. The next highest scorer was Yvette Cooper with a measly seven per cent.

This is perhaps not staggering news – it is the Guardian, after all – but it does tell us something else about many Left-wing Labour supporters: they have taken leave of their senses.

I say that not because Jeremy Corbyn is a bad, stupid or incompetent man. He is none of those things. On the contrary, he is highly intelligent and very nice indeed.

But he is completely and utterly wrong about one thing and, unfortunately for his party and for the rest of the country, it’s rather a crucial thing: he is a socialist.

By that, I don’t mean that he wants more regulation of capitalism and more taxing of profits. I mean that he genuinely believes that a socialist economic system, with state control of the means of production, would deliver a fairer, more equal, richer and happier society that the existing capitalist system. And huge swathes of Labour supporters – Guardian readers and others – agree with him. A Corbyn victory on September 12 would represent not just a defeat for Blairism but the mass rejection of capitalism by large swathes of the Labour party.

This is not about the wide scale infiltration of the party by the Hard Left. Those claims simply don’t add up since, if you exclude the Greens and the SNP (and there’s no evidence their supporters are paying their £3 Labour joining fee in any large numbers), only a small number of people voted for the array of parties to the left of Labour.

There were 1,229 votes for the Communist Party – across the entire country – while the Socialist Labour Party managed 3,481 votes and Class War got 526. TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, managed to drum up 36,368 votes. But that still only makes a total of 40,504 votes for the Hard Left in May; 0.0008 per cent of a the 46 million-strong electorate.

Is there a secret crowd of Hard Left devotees living in Britain who have never bothered to vote before but have now been so moved by the prospect of a Corbyn victory that they are signing up to join the Labour party en masse in order to vote for him as the next Labour leader?

No, the votes for Jeremy Corbyn aren’t coming from trouble-makers outside the Labour party, they are coming from existing members. And that suggests something far more worrying: there are still many thousands of Labour party members who are fully signed up to the vision of a socialist utopia. Thousands of perfectly sensible, educated people holding down often well paid, responsible jobs, who genuinely believe that capitalism is the great evil of our time and that the answer to all of our country’s ills is socialism.

Thousands of Guardian-reading middle class professionals who think that capitalism – the only economic system humans have ever come up with which is proven to deliver wealth to the masses – has failed. They aren’t voting for Corbyn as a joke, or because they don’t care if he wins or not, they are voting for him as a kind of “revolution by proxy” from their smart homes in Islington and Hampstead or from their quaint holiday homes in Tuscany.

The Labour leadership contest has revealed that, in 21st century Britain, as elsewhere in Europe, there are plenty of apparently sane people who genuinely believe – despite all the evidence to the contrary – that capitalism is bad.

Forget that capitalism has brought a rise in living standards for the majority of people on this planet over the past century that goes far beyond the wildest dreams of the most evangelical Victorian benefactor. Forget that not a single state where socialism has been attempted has managed to deliver anything but abject poverty and misery to their people.

And forget too that not a single socialist country has managed to bring even a semblance of real equality to its people. Indeed, ignore the fact that the people of these socialist utopias are so ecstatically happy with socialism that they are forbidden from voting for any alternative and are often forcibly prevented from leaving.

Proper socialism was tried in Russia, in Eastern Europe, in China, in Yugoslavia, and in Cuba. And it failed.

Regardless of all that, the prospect of electing a committed socialist to the leadership of the Labour Party is clearly too good a prospect for some to ignore.

This Labour leadership contest, then, is not so much a battle between the left and right of the Labour party, but a battle between socialism and capitalism or, as it should more accurately be termed: fantasy and reality. In the end, reality will be the victor. Because, whether the Guardian readers who are voting for Corbyn like it or not, most of us in Britain don’t want to live in a socialist utopia. We prefer to live in the real world.

Julia Hartley-Brewer is a journalist and broadcaster. A former political editor and LBC Radio presenter, she is a regular on TV shows such as Question Time and Have I Got News For You, and on Radio 4’s Any Questions.