When I heard the Tories were cutting a deal with a party of bigots and terrorist-sympathisers, I thought, ‘would a national unity government really work?’
It turns out Theresa May is tapping up the DUP rather than the Labour Party. PMQs is accused of ‘yah-boo politics’ as it is; wait till the questions are asked and answered from behind balaclavas. Arlene Foster’s party doesn’t have the extensive paramilitary history of the Progressive Unionist Party, or Sinn Fein/IRA for that matter, but while Mrs Foster has forcefully rejected violence (she and her family were victims of terrorism during the Troubles) the DUP’s past is murky to say the least.
Still, Labour politicians excoriating Theresa May for treating with such a party are rank merchants of humbug and chutzpah. It’s a wonder they can see their way to the Sky News studios with the beam in their eyes. For Labour now treads the same territory as Ulster reactionaries, Stop the West Stalinists, and ultra-nationalists.
Jeremy Corbyn increased Labour’s vote share and number of seats. I never imagined such a thing. I was wrong. He denied the Tories victory. I had expected a 50-seat Tory majority, not a 50-seat plurality. I was wrong. The day before the election, I wrote on Coffee House:
‘If Jeremy Corbyn wins on Thursday, it would mean that our memories of the IRA have faded alongside smoke-fugged offices and Human League B-sides. It would mean that a nation that updates its Facebook profile to mourn Westminster, then Manchester, then London Bridge no longer grieves for the dead of Birmingham, Enniskillen, and Omagh. It would make Britain a lesser country, a nation of hypocrites and moral cowards.
‘We would have sketched out a new set of values, one in which we and our allies are forever at fault, marauders and murderers around the world, asking for it when our children are blown up and gunned down. We would be elevating a man who cannot even plead that he merely looks the other way when confronted by bigotry and extremism. He studies it closely and decides the cause du jour is worth it. We would be be telling Jews that their fears mean nothing to us, that we are unmoved by prejudice and violence directed at them. You people bring it on yourselves. If Jeremy Corbyn wins, British soldiers would come under the direction of a man who supported the killers of their fallen comrades.’
Corbyn didn’t win but he came close. He offered a protest vote to those angry about everything from Brexit and Scottish independence to austerity and a Prime Minister we gave the benefit of the doubt, only to have her run and hide at the first sign of trouble. And his politics of yesterday chimed with the Middle Britain of tomorrow, entitled millennials who can correctly identify the gender pronoun of each Kardashian but think the IRA were a rough-around-the-edges Amnesty International. The values of Britain have indeed changed; if the past is a foreign country, the future is another world.
But voters look to leaders to set a course for the nation, not merely pander with promises of goodies like free university education. This is part of the case Labour moderates should be making in the fightback against Corbyn’s almost-victory. Except there is no fightback. Craven centrists have abandoned their opposition at the first whiff of power. This they cloak in rhetoric about party unity and resisting the wicked Tories, but they shame the cause they once led. By embracing Corbyn, they normalise Corbynism; they tacitly agree that championing terrorist murderers and consorting with rancid anti-Semites is acceptable in a leader of the Labour Party. These born again Corbynistas are impatient with such arguments; they want a Labour government at all costs. They don’t agree with Corbyn personally. They’ve fought anti-Semitism all their lives. Some of their best friends…
When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President, a phalanx of principled Republicans (centrists and conservatives alike) formed the Never Trump movement to oppose him. When he won the nomination, most stayed on board and still opposed him. And when he shocked the world and made it to the White House, the best of the Never Trumpers vowed to fight on. Labour ‘moderates’ could learn a lot from Bill Kristol, Jennifer Rubin, and Bret Stephens, staunch right-wingers who continue to hound Trump even though he is ‘their’ president.
They will emerge from the Trump moment with their integrity intact. The late arrivals in the Corbyn Kool-Aid queue will not. They own Corbyn now and, if he does become Prime Minister, they own what happens. And what will remain of the Labour Party at the end of it all? A shell, one tainted forever by prejudice and extremism. The Labour Party cannot very well complain about coalition talks with the DUP nor can it campaign with any legitimacy against prejudice in the future. Labour’s working definition of racism now comes with an asterisk where the Jews ought to be.
David Cameron passed on his mother’s advice to Jeremy Corbyn at one PMQs: ‘Put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.’ For all the moderates’ posturing and prating, in the end a trip to M&S and a hung parliament was all they were looking for.
This is no truce. This is surrender.