How the blithering flip did it happen?
I know we have seen some surprising election results over the past year, but this one is off the scale.
Two in five British people have voted for an unrepentant Communist, a man who has consistently sided with the West’s enemies, a man who regrets the outcome of the Cold War.
I realize that these are big claims and, in a political climate where hyperbole is normal, you might think I’m exaggerating. I am not. But Jeremy Corbyn is not simply a left-wing populist in the mould of say, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders is, as P.J. O’Rourke might put it, wrong within the normal parameters of wrong. Corbyn’s politics do not resemble those of the old Vermont senator, so much as one of those early 20th-century American Communists: John Reed, say, or Eugene Dennis.
The bedrock of Corbyn’s ideology is that the West is always and everywhere wrong. This belief has led him into some strange alliances. He supported the IRA when it was seeking to bomb Northern Ireland into submission. He backed Hamas and Hezbollah. He was a cheerleader for Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. He wouldn’t even condemn the fascist Argentine junta that invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, because hey, they couldn’t be all bad if they were against us.
Asked whether there was a single conflict in which he would take the side of Britain against its enemies, Corbyn eventually came up with just one example: World War II. Yeah, right, Jeremy: after Stalin had swapped sides in 1941, maybe.
And yet, to repeat, 40 percent of British voters backed Labour candidates on Thursday. What was going through their minds?
It’s true that the Conservative campaign could have been better, but that is true of every campaign in history. The prime minister, Theresa May, was criticized for calling an unnecessary election and then refusing to participate in the televised debates. But that doesn’t come close to explaining how Labour rose from 30 to 40 percent support during the campaign.
No, I’m afraid we’re down to the simplest and most depressing explanation. Quite a few voters will support any party that seems to be offering them free stuff.
Labour’s manifesto was a ridiculous list of public handouts. More money was promised for healthcare, schools, the police, public sector pay rises, pensions and free university tuition. All the extra cash was vaguely supposed to come from “big business” and “the rich.” In the event, an awful lot of people liked the sound of goodies that someone else would pay for.
The Labour vote came disproportionately from people under the age of 25, who turned out in unprecedented numbers, confounding every opinion poll. Few of voters of that generation know about the IRA bombing campaign in the 1970s and 1980s, which far surpassed today’s Islamist terror in its scale. They do not remember the Cold War. They do not even recall, except in the vaguest sense, the last Labour government which, in 2010, left Britain with a deficit higher than Greece’s.
On polling day, a Labour activist tweeted a photograph of students queuing outside a polling station. It was, she said, a sign of the political upheaval that was taking place. But my immediate thought was: “If your guy implements the socialism he wants, we’ll all have to get used to queuing.”
We are losing the intellectual argument, we who believe in the market system. We know that socialism has ended the same way everywhere it has been tried, from Cuba to Czechoslovakia, from Vietnam to Venezuela. But we have failed to convince those who knew nothing of the 20th century’s ideological battles.
Labour, like almost all leftist parties nowadays, promised “growth, not austerity.” If it were that easy, you’d think someone might have tried it by now. But a chunk of the electorate persists in seeing austerity as an act of deliberate sadism, rather than simply as what happens when you have spent all the money.
We Conservatives went along too readily with these assumptions. We promised to spend as much as we could afford. We suggested that budgets would rise as soon as the national finances improved. We never properly argued that state spending distorts the market and stunts growth.
Perhaps we thought we had won those arguments definitively under former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Or perhaps, conversely, we never truly believed they could be won at all. But, if we don’t start winning them now, we are in deep trouble. So, more to the point, is Britain.
A version of this piece also appeared on http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/