Much has been written – not least on CapX – about Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy positions. His admiration for Venezuela, his friendships with Hamas and Hezbollah, his boundless sympathy for the IRA even as they bombed and murdered.
But as Britons prepare to cast their votes tomorrow, there is a more fundamental case to be made against him.
To win an election in Britain, a political party needs two things: to be trusted to run the economy, and to have a leader the public respect. No party has ever won while being behind on both – and for good reason. These, to the voters, are the things that really matter.
In terms of his poll ratings, Corbyn has had a good campaign. That should not be surprising. Expectations were, to put it politely, rock-bottom. And there are few people with more experience addressing campaign rallies – or better yet, protests. To Corbyn, expressions of moral outrage at social injustice come as naturally as breathing.
But as a leader? His own MPs voted, 172-40, to kick him out. That wasn’t due to a Blairite plot. It was because even those who initially gave him the benefit of the doubt came to realise that Corbyn and his team were fundamentally not up to it. His shadow Cabinet is a wasteland of talent not because the talented would not serve, but because those who did rapidly reached the limits of their patience. Even Corbyn’s own staffers admit that the operation was and is a shambles (£).
It’s not just Corbyn. John McDonnell is the man to whom, under Labour, the economy would be entrusted. The last time he held a remotely equivalent position was as finance chair of the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. It was there that McDonnell and other hard-left activists hatched a plan to bring down the Thatcher government by setting illegal budgets in the councils they controlled. They did not care that this would destroy the public services on which voters depended: indeed, that was the entire point. The public would rise up alongside the miners, and bring the Tories down.
There was just one problem: because the GLC was swimming in cash, McDonnell’s budget was actually legal. His response, when told this, was: “I hear what you say. Shred the documents.” His position was so extreme that even Livingstone quailed, booting him out and being labelled “a Kinnock” by McDonnell for doing so.
It is on this question of economic management that the case against Corbyn ultimately rests. The fundamental problem is that the Labour leader and those around him – McDonnell, Seumas Milne, Andrew Fisher, Andrew Murray, the whole shabby bunch of them – do not understand where prosperity comes from.
During their long decades in opposition to their own party, Corbyn and McDonnell learned nothing and forgot nothing. (It was strange, during the election debates, to hear the Labour leader say one of his great skills is listening, since there is no evidence of any new information seeping through.)
In 1985, McDonnell stood for the Labour NEC on a platform of “democratically controlling and planning our economy on the basis of social need rather than the pursuit of profit”. In 2010, he published a “manifesto for 21st-century socialism” which advocated “support for the government and people of Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and other countries pursuing policies that create alternatives to the market economy and the control of [trans-national corporations], the WTO and IMF”.
The following year, as I pointed out on CapX recently, Corbyn was writing that “free market capitalism cannot provide for everyone, or sustain the natural world. Its very imperative is of ever hastening exploitation of all resources including people, and it needs armies and weapons to secure those supplies. The political appeal, unchallenged in the 1990s, of this concept is fast fading by a combination of Islamic opposition and the radical popular movements of landless and poor peoples in many poor countries.”
What has changed since? McDonnell and Corbyn now make vague gestures in the direction of fiscal rectitude – perhaps the most fantastic of the many fantastic promises in their manifesto is to close the deficit while splurging on spending.
But their basic economic case has not altered. Capitalism is greedy and destructive. Wealth is to be taken and redistributed, not to be increased. Firms should be controlled by workers, not shareholders – or by the state.
Corbyn and McDonnell, indeed, were two of the only people to oppose the European Union not because it interfered too much in the British economy, but too little: McDonnell’s 2010 manifesto, for example, called for “opposition to an undemocratic EU dominated by corporate interests and a campaign for an alternative European model based on social equality, the redistribution of wealth and democratic rights”. With the two of them in charge of the Brexit negotiations, Britain might end up more open to immigration – but it would certainly be closed to business.
One of the cliches of this election campaign is that there is no magic money tree. Yet it is a cliche for a reason. We can only pay for the NHS, and schools, and pensions, if we have a growing economy: one that rewards wealth-creators and wealth creation. Raising taxes to their highest levels since the Second World War, as Labour proposes, is a long-term (or even short-term) route to penury. As for the party’s latest position paper on “Alternative Models of Ownership”, it is, as Tim Knox and Daniel Mahoney point out on CapX today, a blueprint for economic vandalism.
The essential point, in other words, is that Corbyn and his clique are not social democrats: they are hardcore socialists. Yes, the same was said about Ed Miliband – not least by “Red Ed” himself. But Miliband was, in truth, part of the mainstream in a way that they simply are not. Like Theresa May – and Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Tony Crosland, Kenneth Baker, and every other grown-up politician of the past half-century – he accepted the market, with modifications.
But Corbyn and co cannot, and will not. They came into politics to oppose capitalism and America, and have seen little reason to change their tune – even as the economic forces they despise have lifted billions out of poverty.
And this is why, when you stand in the polling booth, there is only one way to vote: against Labour. Whatever the merits of your individual MP, whatever your feelings about Brexit or Tim Farron or Theresa May, there is a higher principle here: the need to drive the hard Left back to the fringes of politics. As Chris Deerin argued some weeks ago, Corbyn must not just be kept out of Downing Street, but removed from the Labour leadership – and, in particular, prevented from selecting a new generation of candidates in his image.
Corbyn should not, and most probably will not, win the election. But we at CapX urge you to make sure he and his ideas are not just beaten, but crushed.
This article also appeared in a special election edition of CapX’s Daily Briefing email. Sign up here to get your daily digest of the day’s best stories.