In the General Election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn presents what we’ve become used, in our modern metaphorical age, to describing as a “target-rich environment”. His sympathy for terrorists, his opposition to nuclear weapons, his refusal to submit to the Monarch through kneeling or singing the National Anthem, his desire to abolish the army – all this and more would make his election unconscionable to over 90 per cent of Britons. His utter inability to carry his party with him, having lost a confidence motion 172 votes to 40 but refusing to resign, and demanding his colleagues obey the Labour whip which he himself defied for 30 years, plus his cynical abandonment of his allegedly sacred “principles”, u-turning over issues such as Brexit just for internal party appearances will merely be grist to the mill. I don’t believe current opinion polls showing an implausibly high 25-29 per cent of voters intending to vote Labour. The British public have more sense and moral backbone than that.
I was, however, somewhat disturbed to receive some input from my university-age son – one of those in the sole, 18-24 age demographic where Corbyn is ahead with voters. His view was that Corbyn’s opinions on foreign policy, constitutional issues, security and so on are obviously utterly unacceptable, but he thought them so bad that it simply wasn’t plausible that Corbyn would be allowed to do any of that. Someone – Labour MPs, the courts, the civil service, the men in grey suits, the fairies at the bottom of the garden – would intervene to stop him doing all that stuff. Then we’d be left with the things my son found attractive – all the economic policies. His sheer haplessness is a comfort that gives voters license to take a risk on him for some economic goodies.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, my son was a bit vague as to what these nice economic policies might be. But they were something to do with reducing inequality. Which has been going up. Hasn’t it – correct me if I’m wrong? (Well, he was wrong, in point of fact. Inequality hasn’t risen for 20 years and has actually fallen slightly in recent years. But let’s not even go there…)
My impression is that the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s unquestionably awful foreign policy and security plus his general competence (or lack thereof) have been so loud and relentless that they have drowned out any concrete sense of how unrelentingly awful and destructive and misconceived his economic beliefs are as well.
So let’s remind ourselves of a few of them. In January 2017 Corbyn declared himself in favour of a maximum wage (miraculously “somewhat higher” than the £138,000 he himself earns). His shadow chancellor John McDonnell wants to raise taxes on those earning above £70,000 (miraculously just above his personal salary…). As well as nationalising the railways, he wants “democratic socialist” input into the energy market (i.e. he’ll nationalise the power companies as well) and to nationalise local sports facilities. He regards a key problem with the EU that it restricted the ability of governments to provide “state aid” to failing enterprises (i.e. bail out useless, value-destroying companies with taxpayer money). We all know he’d eventually end up nationalising and conquering the “commanding heights” of industry – since he opposed Tony Blair’s reforms to the Labour party’s constitution that took away the commitment to do just that.
He favours “people’s QE” – i.e. printing money to fund government spending (a key driver of the 20 per cent plus inflation of the mid to late 1970s). He also favours extending collective bargaining rights to many new sectors of the economy – returning the grip of the unions (led by his personal pals), along with the strikes for pay and politically-motivated strikes that went with them. He wants new wealth taxes. To enforce those, he would eventually have to introduce capital controls (otherwise those with wealth would take it elsewhere).
We’ve seen this movie before, and we know the ending. There’ll be a huge deficit, high inflation, workers on strike across the economy, rising unemployment, capital controls, high taxes on income and wealth, and mass nationalisation. There’ll also be class war as different groups in society all try to blame each other for what went wrong – was it the Brexiteers, or the rich, or the unions, or the foreigners, or the uncooperative local government officials or the businesses, or the overly-keen young socialist MPs who “just went a bit too far”, or the EU, or the Americans, or the Russians? Whoever it was, it wasn’t the fault of Jeremy Corbyn and his team for failing to learn the lessons of history and so repeating them.
Let’s not do that. May’s economic policy is… all right. It not spectacular. It’s not great. It’s not imaginative. It just dully okay. “Stuff’s okay. Things could be a lot worse – e.g. if they were in charge” tends not to be a cry to stir the blood. But it is the cry that has won Conservative parties re-election throughout history. Even if Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign and security policies were immaculate, even if his policies on Brexit were spot on, electing him would still be a catastrophe on the basis of his economic policies alone. He has no redeeming features on the economic side. Hopefully the spotlight will illuminate that clearly over the next few weeks.