29 September 2015

Vague “British values” won’t get Corbyn elected


So, now we know what Jeremy Corbyn stands for.

In his first speech to party conference as Labour leader, Mr Corbyn has told hundreds of delegates, as well as millions of potential voters across Britain, why he wants to be Prime Minister.

And what he had to say was this: “I believe in motherhood and apple pie, so vote for me.”

Those weren’t the words he actually spoke, of course, but that was about the thrust of his message from the conference podium.

That message – as his spindoctors spun ahead of the speech – was that Mr Corbyn, the man, is synonymous with Britain and its core values.

He told us that the “shared majority British values” are what he stands for and also the reason why he loves “this country and its people”.

So what are those values that he shares so passionately along with the rest of us?

“Fair play for all, solidarity and not walking by on the other side of the street when people are in trouble,” Mr Corbyn explained. “Respect for other’s point of view. It is this sense of fair play, these shared majority British values, that are the fundamental reason why I love this country and its people.”

Which left the country with a warm fuzzy feeling. But then the Labour leader made another, rather more ambitious, claim.

He told the conference hall: “These are the values that I was elected on: a kinder politics and a more caring society. They are Labour values and our country’s values. We are going to put these values back into the heart of politics in this country.”

That is quite a claim.

If Mr Corbyn was elected to represent those values, it presumably means that, in stark contrast, other political parties and their leaders (and indeed, his three rivals for the leadership) don’t. He is, after all, supposed to be offering an alternative to the electorate, isn’t he?

But is there really anyone – in any political party – who would campaign in favour of unfair play, social division, deserting people in their hour of need, disrespecting other people’s point of views, or for a less caring society? If so, I’ve yet to meet them.

Mr Corbyn also likes to talk about wanting to live in a “decent society” as if there is anyone who doesn’t want to live in a decent society and, interestingly, as if most people in Britain don’t think they live in a pretty decent society already.

The one value that Jeremy Corbyn holds more dearly than any other is actually the one he didn’t mention in his speech: his belief in socialism. Yet this is one rather crucial value that the overwhelming majority of British people don’t share at all, having rejected it en masse at every election for decades.

Telling the British people that he share their values is all very well, but Mr Corbyn failed to tell us anything about how he proposes to run the country to put those values into practice.

Whether it’s a devotion to apple pie or fair play, voters want to hear more than mere heart-warming words.

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.