Rethinking Europe

Corbyn the Moderate

Is the Labour Party’s new leader a secret moderate?

Credit: David Martyn Hunt - www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • Corbyn isn’t proposing any new measures that correspond to his reputation as the most left-wing MP.
  • Corbyn will campaign to keep Britain in NATO and the EU – two institutions he never supported before.
  • Corbyn remains a moralist, a one-man home of lost causes and a person of unfailing courtesy.
  • Corbyn now resembles Pope Francis in his speeches about the market economy and social justice.

After the Liberation of Paris in 1944, when Churchill travelled to Paris to meet General de Gaulle, he noticed the iron discipline of French Communists who were loyally — and across vast ideological divides — carrying out the general’s orders.

“Where are your left-wing revolutionaries?” asked the British premier. His astonishment was not surprising.

After all, Churchill had spent 25 years railing against Bolsheviks as the most evil menace ever devised to threaten the good running of affairs.

Today, the same Churchillian question is being asked about the new leadership of the UK’s Labour Party. The leadership is astonishing itself and everyone else by its moderation and boringly dull, if do-gooding rhetoric.

With the election of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party seems to have become vegetarian, not to say vegan. Corbyn is oozing polite agreements with anybody and everybody. And he makes eloquent appeals to past moments of reform in long-distant British history.

What Corbyn is not doing is actually proposing any specific new measures that correspond to his past three decades in the House of Commons as its most left-wing MP.

Being politically correct

He now says he will campaign to keep Britain in NATO, and also in the European Union – two institutions he never found kind words for as a socialist orator.

Corbyn also disapproves of wars and the use of military force. Even so, under his leadership, the Labour Party will not oppose the Royal Air Force dropping bombs in Syria.

This, provided Prime Minister David Cameron seeks the Parliament’s permission to follow France’s President Hollande in authorizing air attacks on Islamist militants in the Middle East.

There was a flurry of excitement when he told the BBC that he would not press the button to launch nuclear strikes. Labour pro-nuke MP’s criticized him, but since nuclear war isn’t round the corner, he can survive this reminder of his pacifist outlook.

His economic spokesman, the new Labour shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, also exudes moderation. He is not promising to raise taxes or “soak the rich until the pips squeak.”

That is much unlike what one of his predecessors, Denis Healey, a major Labour figure in the 1960s and 1970s, did when he addressed the Labour Party conference as shadow chancellor in 1973 on the eve of the old Labour Party taking power in 1974.

The new team

Healey was considered to be on the hard right of Labour in his time, but he sounds far more radical and redistributive than the new Corbyn team.

McDonnell promised to run his ideas by the Bank of England and announced a line up of mildly Keynesian economists like Nobel Laureate Joe Stiglitz and the fashionable Paris economist Thomas Piketty, to serve on a panel of outside advisors.

These men may not be heroes of Wall Street and the City, but they are emerging as mainstream, old-fashioned reformists who would have been treated as running dogs of capitalism by the Communist or Trotskyist left during the era when Corbyn and McDonnell began their life as left-wing political activists.

Grand old Blairites like Peter Mandelson were much in evidence at the party conference, drawing in crowds as if they were still part of the Labour establishment.

Corbyn has appointed competent shadow ministers who were given real government jobs by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

He thus disappointed right-wing London tabloids, such as The Daily Mail, The Sun and Express that were hoping for a line-up of “mad Marxists” they could take pleasure in trashing.

Corbyn remains a moralist, a one-man home of lost causes, a person of unfailing courtesy, a Methodist-style preacher using similar language and metaphors about the market economy’s failings and the need for the state to ensure social justice.

In that, he resembles Pope Francis in many of his recent speeches.

Whether this persuades voters that the Corbynised Labour Party is now their choice for government remains to be seen.

What’s in store?

Next May, four major elections will be held in the UK on the same day. Voters will elect a new Scottish Parliament (where Labour was wiped out in the general election this year).

They will also choose a new Mayor of London, after eight years of rambunctious Tory rule by Boris Johnson. He will now focus his energy as an MP on being chosen as the successor to David Cameron.

Voters in Wales will have to choose a new assembly — and then there will be municipal elections in all big English cities and towns.

If Labour candidates under Corbyn win in Scotland, London and the big cities, the choice of Corbyn as leader will be seen as vindicated.

If Labour fails to make a breakthrough after six years of the David Cameron premiership in next May’s super-Thursday of mid-term elections, then questions will be asked.

But so far, there are no alternatives. After 30 years of moderate social democratic, pro-business Labour Party leadership, there is now a real man of the left in charge.

So far, however, he is proving to be very moderate. Will that last or is Corbyn, like Alexis Tsipras in Greece, finding out that you can campaign in slogans, but once in charge, serious reality kicks in?

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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