News that Paddy Power, a leading bookmaker, is paying out now on a Jeremy Corbyn victory in the Labour leadership contest, even before the votes are counted next month, means that the party’s worst nightmare is about to come true.
It is not just that a Labour Party led by Comrade Corbyn will be unelectable. It is that the inevitable civil war that will break out in the Party’s ranks will do such damage to its reputation that it could be out of power for a generation.
Corbyn is an extremist even by the standards of the 1970s and 1980s. His economic policies – mass nationalisation of industry, the revival of union power, printing money for idiotic “investment” by the state, punitive taxation – went out of fashion with the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago. They have failed spectacularly wherever they have been tried and they represent a hammer blow against Western ideas of freedom, the rule of law, free expression and property rights.
Just as bad, Corbyn has flirted, or worse, with almost every terrorist group of modern times, from the IRA to Islamic extremists. Only yesterday The Daily Mail was gleefully reporting his hosting of a debate in Parliament with a Muslim firebrand who said that the death of every British soldier in Iraq was a ‘victory”. And this is before Corbyn, the epitome of fringe, agit-prop student politics for 30 years and a figure once safely consigned to the loony left, becomes the anointed one.
Just imagine what will be dug up on him and hurled at him in the press and across the despatch box in the Commons in the months to come.
How will Labour MPs react when they have to take their place in the Commons behind a man who is a walking repudiation of everything that has happened in their party for 30 years? Truly, we are going back to the future. Out of the ashes of Michael Foot’s spectacular election defeat in 1983, slowly rose the New Labour project. First under Kinnock, then under John Smith, finally reaching its fruition under Blair and Brown in the mid-1990s.
Has it all been for nought? Has all that long slog of detaching Labour from its mouldering socialist roots been a dreadful waste of time? Has all that bloodletting – the extinction of the Militant Tendency, the banishment of the flying pickets, the end of Clause 4 – been in vain? Remember all that guff about traditional values in a modern setting (ie. the market economy is here to stay). Was that just so much hot air? Blair may have dragged his Party into the 20th Century. Corbyn wants to take it back to the Dark Ages.
It will certainly seem like that on September 12 when the diffident revolutionary emerges blinking into the savage limelight of modern politics. If you thought Kinnock got a rough time, you have seen nothing yet.
And who will serve in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet (or should we call it Politburo?). The aristocratic Tristram Hunt? The metrosexual Chuka Umunna? Michael Meacher cannot do every job. Who will be Shadow Chancellor? Dennis Skinner? Who will have the unenviable job of explaining that after the success of Francois Hollande’s tax raid on the rich, Britain under Labour will follow the same course. It is not just the Calais migrants scrabbling to get out of France and into the UK. It is the French middle and upper classes.
At one level, it is hard to take a Corbyn ascendancy seriously. A cartoon leftist of the most uncompromising hue, he will find his parliamentary party in a state of perpetual turmoil if he tries to implement a fraction of his supposed beliefs and policies. Some kind of Blairite breakaway group seems inevitable. And if he doesn’t, the ragtag army of Twitterati who have elected him will be the first to scream foul.
The smart money (if there is any left among Labourites) is on a swift coup and the deposition of Comrade Corbyn. It will have to be quick or the next Labour hierarchy will have to explain why all the things they said last year are now inoperative and Clause 4 was a thoroughly bad idea after all. As Enoch Powell used to say, it is enough to make a cat laugh.
And as for David Cameron. Isn’t he the luckiest Tory general ever? Napoleon would be proud.