For Labour moderates agonising over whether they can vote for the party led by Jeremy Corbyn, an answer to their dilemma comes from a surprising quarter. The quandary of party or principles comes down to whether you agree with Margaret Thatcher or Enoch Powell. Early in her premiership, Mrs T paid a visit to the Conservative Philosophy Group and got into an unexpected row with the original tribune of the New Right. Posed a problem — whether one owed first loyalty to country or values — the divergence of Thatcherism and Powellism was stark. Powell said:
‘I would fight for this country even if it had a Communist government.’
Thatcher was horrified:
‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.’
But the Tory nationalist was to have the last word over the Gladstonian Liberal:
‘No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.’
Recounting the exchange years later in the Spectator, John Casey remarked: ‘Mrs Thatcher looked utterly baffled. She had just been presented with the difference between Toryism and American Republicanism.’
This is the torment Labour supporters have wrestled with ever since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as their leader two years ago. Do lifelong Labour voters, who remember the wilderness years of the 1980s and the D:Ream-scored elation of 1997, vote their tribe or their conscience?
Although Corbynism is dismissed by critics as idealism run amok, in truth the Corbynistas are the true pragmatists. Sticking with Corbyn and putting on a united front will allow Labour to hold onto many of their seats, and might even bring them a few extra percentage points in vote share. Besides, the Tories have callously imposed austerity on the most vulnerable for seven years and a Labour Prime Minister, any Labour Prime Minister, has to be better than Theresa May. This line of reasoning, the tribalist case for Corbyn, has been deployed lately by some who were once implacable detractors of Labour’s farthest-Left leader.
After two years, and the Labour Party substantially Corbynised, the idealists are now those centre-left members who have resolved to stick with their conscience. The decision was not easy; more than once they will have been tempted by appeals to unity. Unlike their opposite numbers, the idealists cannot look beyond Corbyn’s questionable track record. Like the pragmatists they want a Labour government but they recognise that one is not on offer.
In many ways, this stand-off of values represents a broader divide across the nation. Do those who want a new government throw in their lot with Corbyn? Or do they draw a line and divide legitimate leftism from the reactionary anti-Westernism that the Labour leader and his cohort have espoused their entire lives?
The polls point to a Tory victory, if with a more modest majority than forecast at the outset of hostilities. Still, after Brexit and Trump, only a fool or a YouGov pollster would predict an election outcome with any confidence. And if Jeremy Corbyn does win this General Election, we must be prepared to concede not only a vote but a shift in Britain’s political and moral compass. A Corbyn victory would not change the UK much — for a radical, his manifesto is wan — but would confirm that the UK has changed. It would denote a generational shift from the Children of Thatcher and the Heirs to Blair to the millennials; the political topography would have morphed beyond recognition.
The most significant change would be in values. 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.
And what would we get in exchange? A £10-an-hour minimum wage? A noble cause; sign me up — let’s make it £15. A reversal of the cruellest cuts to benefits and services? I’m right there with you. A socially conscious Brexit in place of the march of the Little Englanders? Yes, please. Don’t let David Davis wreck our economy just because he gets a bit misty every time he reads the Bruges speech.
However, none of this is enough to justify a vote for Jeremy Corbyn; nothing could ever justify a vote for him. He is the repudiation of everything Labour is supposed to stand for and everything Britain is supposed to be. I’m with Maggie on this one. Labour values and British values are too precious to put this Labour Party in charge of Britain.
Stephen Daisley is a columnist for the Scottish Daily Mail