If there’s one aspect of British public life that’s impossible to overstate, it’s Jeremy Corbyn’s uselessness and unfitness for public office. This poses a dilemma for voters on the moderate Left. Here’s the best advice I can give, and it’s not very good.
Early in Corbyn’s parliamentary career a Guardian leader noted that he was a fool and a further three decades have done nothing to bolster his reputation for acuity. As Labour leader, in title if nothing else, his deficiencies are daily revealed in the platitudes he offers in lieu of policies and in his tenuous grasp of detail.
His inability to think on his feet is cruelly exposed in the habit of doggedly sticking to a script (including on one occasion reading out the stage directions) in parliamentary exchanges or from platforms. In television interviews he rapidly loses his temper owing to the immovable constraint that he doesn’t know anything about anything. The lack of respect he inspires among Conservatives is as nothing to the derision with which he’s treated on his own side.
I stress Corbyn’s personal deficiencies because they explain why he’s managed to confound pundits’ expectations since being elected leader in 2015. Instead of steering the party to the far left, he’s driven it into the ground. Rather than having bad ideas, he has no ideas at all and scarcely a thought in his head. Labour has no policies on the economy and gives no indication of what it regards as the appropriate level for the budget deficit and public debt.
And it has nothing to say on Brexit, the biggest policy question facing Britain in a generation. Having spent a political lifetime talking only with people who agree with him, Corbyn has imbibed instincts (it would be stretching it to describe them as views) that range from dim to disgusting. On the far end of that spectrum, he’s denied the war crimes of Slobodan Milosevic and allied with revolutionary Venezuela, Hamas, Hezbollah and Provisional Sinn Fein.
In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Karl Marx famously remarked that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce”. Corbyn’s leadership operates the other way round. His leadership is initially risible and ultimately a tragedy for the quality of British political life.
I’ve usually voted Labour, on the grounds that, for all its historic errors and failings, the party has immense achievements to its name. These include founding the NHS, which is an efficient and equitable model of health provision; playing a leading role in creating Nato, which defeated Soviet totalitarianism; and presiding over social reforms, like civil partnerships, a minimum wage and the abolition of capital punishment, that have made Britain a freer and more civilised place.
I even voted Labour in 2015, under the obviously untalented Ed Miliband, primarily because of the European issue.
Corbyn is a case apart. He’s ensured that Labour will get hammered on 8 June. The party amply deserves that fate and politics will be better for it. Britain has fragmented in ways that appear for the moment to guarantee political stasis: Tory dominance in England and an SNP monolith in Scotland.
It would work better if there were rational, moderate parties of centre-left and centre-right that seriously challenged and competed with each other. But we are where we are.
We have a dogmatic Conservative government determined to leave the Single Market whether or not it has a plan to do so. Like almost all economists and economic commentators, I believe this will damage Britain by constraining flows of goods, services, investment and labour. It also risks making this country a less vibrant and tolerant place. Immigration has benefited Britain economically and culturally and we need more of it.
In addition to its hardline stance against the single market, the government feels so little pressure that it can advance divisive policies like grammar schools.
For those who want this stopped, and Britain to be more equal and internationalist, there are no good options. But the best answer so far comes from Tony Blair. He’s said that voters should pick candidates from whichever party is prepared to hold the government to account over Brexit. He did not explicitly add – but it’s implied by the very fact that he didn’t urge a Labour vote – that Corbyn deserves no residual loyalty at all from Labour voters. On the contrary, Corbyn needs to be bloodied and indelibly associated with the coming disaster.
As it happens, my MP, Meg Hillier (Hackney South & Shoreditch) is a more outspoken critic of Brexit than most. She was among the 47 Labour MPs who voted against triggering Article 50.
As the party is careering to electoral catastrophe, I’d prefer its capable and moderate representatives to still be in place and prepared to fight for this country’s place in Europe. If Ms Hillier hadn’t voted that way, I’d be backing the Lib Dems.
Ironically, the only reputable argument for a Labour vote in a case like this – that the cause is so doomed that it can do no damage – positively requires that Corbyn suffer crushing humiliation.
I take no pleasure in hoping that he does and knowing that he will, and even less pleasure in being unable to record a Labour vote with the explicit caveat of “contempt for Corbyn”.