Conservative commentators are making much of the Labour Party conference – as well they might – and Business (with a capital ‘B’) is likewise undergoing a panic attack. This conference was a 21st-century re-enactment of old-time socialism, Red in tooth and claw. It presented set-piece scenes that might have been filmed in grainy sepia by Sergei Eisenstein, though the “anti-Zionist” elephant in the room was perhaps more suited to the talents of Leni Riefenstahl.
Not for decades has Labour wallowed in such old-time religion. Nationalisation, appropriation, contempt for private property rights – no longer in coded language coming from a marginalized fringe, but upfront, in-your-face socialism, proclaimed in the keynote speeches of the shadow Prime Minister and Chancellor. Electoral suicide? Don’t you believe it. Labour is no longer putting idealism before practicalities: it is power-hungry and knows exactly what it is doing.
There were just two areas where the decencies of coded language were retained. The re-tread professions of hatred for Margaret Thatcher, who left office before many Momentum activists were born, was exceeded by loathing of Tony Blair. The Corbynistas are not insincere in their aspiration to restore Britain to pre-Thatcher collectivism, but their immediate priority is to reclaim their party from Blairism.
The second area, in this otherwise stridently outspoken forum, where intentions were fudged was on the issue of Brexit. This is the one issue on which Corbyn’s enforcers have failed to impose their orthodoxy. Jeremy Corbyn is an old-style Bennite Eurosceptic, while John McDonnell knows that the EU would not permit a Labour government to implement many of the policies they unveiled during the conference and would deliver ten times more forcefully if they were elected to office.
This has produced a curious mirror-image political scenario in which Labour is an anti-Brexit party with a pro-Brexit leadership, while the Conservatives are a pro-Brexit party with an anti-Brexit leadership. That will contribute significantly to the meltdown of the two-party system, briefly restored post-EU referendum, as its credibility erodes day by day with the disillusioned public.
First, though, since public opinion moves slowly, if implacably, there is no psephological law that says Labour will not have its day in the sun before eventual dissolution. The Conservative Party which, over the past two decades, has lived largely on its illusions – and has formed a majority government for just two years of that period – has visibly been heartened by the perceived extravagance of Labour’s conference antics. Now, it believes, a vast middle-class counter-insurgency, provoked by the threat to its interests and led by Business, will rise up to defeat the Revolution.
Further reassurance is provided by the Tories’ six-point lead in the opinion polls. That is hardly reassuring when one recalls they had a 22-point lead at the last election and failed to win. Just as military men acknowledge as a lesson from history the universal maxim “Never invade Russia”, one would have thought the Conservatives might have imbibed the axiom “Don’t trust opinion polls”.
The Conservative Party has not behaved wisely during the past two decades; beyond that, it has not even behaved sanely. It remains the sole political party in history to have set itself the objective of shedding members: “Lose 25 per cent to gain 50 per cent” – remember that exhortation from the asylum, in the days when Francis Maude and the “modernisers” set out to purge the Conservative Party of social conservatives. Theresa May was an early prophet of that lunacy (cf. her 2002 and 2005 conference speeches).
Today the Conservative Party is an empty shell, a mint with a hole where the activists used to be. The leadership’s hostility to real conservatism, paralleled in all other European ‘right-of-centre’ (i.e. liberal) parties, has deprived it of principle, conviction and grassroots popularity. History unexpectedly handed it a miraculous lifeline: the opportunity to keep faith once again with the voters by delivering enthusiastically, transparently and patriotically, a clean Brexit. The sense of entitlement and elitist solidarity with globalist ideology of its MPs destroyed that opportunity.
So, it would not have mattered if Labour’s conference had been dominated by giant images of Marx and Lenin, or if the delegates had concluded the proceedings by singing the Internationale. The party would have remained electable because voters do not pay much attention to oppositions: on the other hand, they experience governments. They have watched Theresa May and her Conservatives-In-Name-Only making our country a laughing stock globally and they are resolved to punish that humiliation.
Why would they fear the Corbyn/McDonnell programme? Rail nationalisation? So far that is just talk from Labour, but the Tories have nationalised one company already. Totalitarian repression? Look at the Tories’ record on suppressing freedom of speech and enforcing PC dogma. There will not be much left for the Labour Stasi to do. Housing policy? The Tories are ahead of Labour in reversing Margaret Thatcher’s home-owning democracy and prioritizing ‘social housing’.
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Law and order? There have been 100 murders in London this year, a figure not truly indicative of the scale of violence because of improvements in surgery. Meanwhile, 900 Metropolitan Police officers are sitting in front of computer screens trying to detect ‘hate’ crime. Immigration has risen relentlessly since David Cameron’s pledge to cut it to “tens of thousands”. Does this look like an idyllic Tory polity in danger of being destroyed by Corbynista revolutionaries?
Plenty of middle-class people nourish a loathing of banks and the crony capitalism that has been the reality behind Conservative free-market rhetoric. To many people, especially the young, Labour’s downright proclamation of an ideology that has been discredited, at a cost of more than 100 million lives, looks like political honesty. Do not write off Red Labour’s prospects of power.
Meantime, expect the emergence of a new, equally openly right-wing political movement to challenge the legacy parties. It might be a re-galvanized UKIP, but that looks unlikely. More probable is the fast ascent of a movement, rather than a party, initially pledged to enforce a clean Brexit, later to rebuild a newly independent Britain out of the shambles both Tory and Labour incompetence has created.