The Labour Party conference underlines the ghastly choice that faces British voters: New Labour or Mad Labour. Of course, by New Labour I mean Blue Labour, the Conservative Party, that shambling body of deception and incompetence which is now virtually indistinguishable from Tony Blair’s political vehicle.
Mad Labour has had a lovely time in Liverpool this week, a sort of chimps’ tea party version of the Chinese communist central committee. Vast state plans unveiled, tax grabs and sky-high borrowing, nationalising, re-nationalising and workers’ ownership of production, all Labour’s scratched old records were played and a few new platters too. Free child care, defenestrated executives and all sorts. Alice in the People’s Republic of Wonderland stuff. I half expected someone to get carried away and start waxing lyrical about the cultural revolution, the famines, the show trials and prison camps. Perhaps I exaggerate. Then again, Mr Corbyn’s lord and master Anthony Wedgwood ‘Tony’ Benn, the former Second Viscount Stansgate, opined in his diaries that Chairman Mao – whose totalitarian regime was responsible for up to 70million deaths – was ‘man of the 20th century’. He added: ‘Mao made mistakes, but we all make mistakes.’
I suppose we must think ourselves lucky that Benn never achieved more powerful offices than Postmaster General and cabinet minister.
Mr Corbyn, we are told, is seeking to get away from the festering problem of anti-Semitism in his party. What’s the best way to do that, Jeremy? Well, hundreds of delegates unfurling Palestinian flags and chanting ‘Free Palestine!’ may not be it. Speeches about ending the blockade of Gaza won’t distract attention from Labour’s problem with Jews and Israel either.
Lord only knows what has been said on the subject at conference fringe events. I wouldn’t like to think. But never mind the anti-Semitism, Mr Corbyn seemed to say, feel the green credentials. Clearly someone has told him that the way to middle-class Lefties’ hearts is eco-lunacy. That should bring the man-buns and yummy mummies back onside, and I dare say it will. Why worry about Holocaust equivocation and Jewish MPs needing police guards when Jeremy (they always call him Jeremy) is going to borrow £250billion – yes, you read that right – and spend it on wind farms (which don’t work) and solar panels on ‘every viable roof’?
That ‘every viable roof’ gives me a little shudder: anyone who has seen what councils have done to streets with their mania for wheelie bins will know what Mr Corbyn’s Britain will end up looking like. I can see the bumptious letters from the council now; I can see the armies of people hired on taxpayers’ money who will come round with a tape measure to see if your roof is ‘viable’.
Emily Thornberry quite rightly denounced fascism before imploring delegates to kick fascism out of the Labour Party. That was almost funny. The question of how it got into the Labour Party in the first place appeared to go unexplored.
Of course, the Labour star I was waiting for was Diane Abbott. It’s like waiting for Groucho to come on in a Marx Brothers film. ‘We are here to discuss the safety and security of the whole country,’ she said. ‘And like so many social issues that is a collective endeavour.’
I sometimes wonder what it would be like if Ms Abbott were Home Secretary. Then I have a stiff drink. She went on to say that most victims of crime are ethnic minorities, and that she would lead the fight against crime via ‘community policing’. I imagine this will be the sort of policing that sees officers parading around in the insignia of gay rights activists and the like. Ms Abbott sees crime as just another branch of socialism: if the police are not given enough public money then crime will go up and vice versa. The idea that crime and terrorism may be driven by many of the shibboleths and hobby-horses of the Left – weak sentencing, weak police policy, weak drugs policy, multicultural ghettos, fatherlessness, benefits culture – would outrage Ms Abbott. She spoke of hiring more border guards and boosting budgets for them before denouncing ‘toxic rhetoric about immigration and protecting borders’. This was almost New Labour doublethink. War is Peace! Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Strength!
She appeared to blame the Grenfell Tower disaster on the Tories. Of course, the inquiry into the fire is still going on but it seems to me that if the cladding had not been placed on the building, at a cost of £9million, to make it more energy-efficient (green lunacy) then the fire might not have spread with such lethal speed. It reminded me about Mr Corbyn’s conference promise of large-scale public spending to insulate homes to make every household energy-efficient within 30 years. Idealism can have unfortunate outcomes.
Of course, if Labour ever got in power it would all go wrong, and very rapidly. Money and investment would slip out of the country under a Corbyn government and you can be sure that contingency planning for this is well under way. As Britain borrows more and becomes economically less active and competitive (a sure outcome of heavy taxation) it is not hard to see the country’s debt rating being downgraded, thereby pushing up the cost of borrowing. The spectre of inflation will reappear. An old, bad cycle will recommence.
For someone of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s views that will not be a problem: the long march to destroying the cash and assets of the ordinary people will have begun and if it means the ruination of enterprise and the imposition of a command economy, so much the better. I can just see John flying off to the IMF with the begging bowl, just as his intellectually more illustrious forebear Denis Healey had to in 1976 with inflation in double figures. And what would happen now if the terms of the loan were as they were then – swingeing cuts to public services? Outside supervision of government policy? Will Momentum riot? Will they march on Parliament? Who can say?
None of this farrago in Liverpool should give Theresa May anything to feel smug about. Many of Britain’s young are more or less locked out of the chance of home ownership, and too many jobs now are badly paid; you do not need to be a Marxist to see that.
Corbynism may seem attractive for those hard-up and under 40 who feel that capitalism is not working for them. If they tilt a general election in his direction then we will all pay heavily for the decades of poor leadership that preceded his supposedly ‘kinder, gentler politics’.