The Threat of Red Britain
By Rich Lowry
It’s hard to exaggerate the threat represented by Corbyn and Co. taking control of our most important ally.
Tory prime minister Boris Johnson has, to his credit, seized the initiative in the battle over whether Britain will truly exit the EU, and on what terms. But no one can know how this high-stakes gamble will turn out. Johnson just lost his slender parliamentary majority, and the prospect of a new election looms. If things break the wrong way, the winner could be opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, a throwback leftist redolent of the bad old days of Britain’s self-imposed stagnation.
It’s hard to exaggerate the threat represented by Corbyn and Co. taking control of our most important ally. In U.S. terms, Corbyn is a mashup of Bernie Sanders and the Squad, mixing orthodox socialist economics with a hostility to U.S. foreign policy and Israel.
He is a lefty caricature. George Orwell once complained of “the smell of crankishness” in the socialist movement, and wished he could send every vegetarian and teetotaler home “to do his yoga exercises quietly.”
Corbyn is, indeed, a vegetarian who rarely drinks. One British newspaper relates that his favorite restaurant is a spot “where he likes to eat hummus after taking part in demonstrations in Trafalgar Square.” His first wife reports that he never took her out to dinner, preferring to eat beans straight from a can to save time.
He is a figure that time is supposed to have forgotten. He inveighed from the back benches against Labour’s turn away from the old-time religion under moderate prime minister Tony Blair. When he mounted an unlikely leadership bid in 2015, he found an audience, much as Bernie Sanders did in 2016. Now the old-time religion is a few lucky breaks away from power.
Corbyn’s past, and present, is littered with valentines to left-wing thugs. He cozied up to the IRA in the 1980s when it was trying to decapitate the British government by bombing. He wrote for a pro-Soviet newspaper during the Cold War. He called the Russian invasion of Ukraine “not unprovoked.” He’s said warm things about Hamas and Hezbollah, and can’t bear to condemn Islamic terrorism without also criticizing the West.
It’s no accident that his Labour party has become lousy with anti-Semites.
His left-hand man, John McDonnell, shadow chancellor of the exchequer, is fond of implicit threats of violence. To wit, “Any institution or any individual that attacks our class, we will come for you with direct action.” He has called Tory MPs “social criminals.” This from the man in line to become, in our terms, secretary of the treasury of one of the great banking centers on the planet.
If McDonnell’s style of rhetoric has a grim revolutionary cast, it’s for good reason. In an interview with — no joke — the Trotskyist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty years ago, he said that the most important influences on him were “Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, basically.” Corbyn has expressed similar sentiments, for example calling Karl Marx “a fascinating figure,” one “from whom we can learn a great deal.”
At least they don’t leave any doubt where they are coming from. If Corbyn had his way, it would be as if Margaret Thatcher had never happened (indeed, McDonnell has mused about going back to the 1980s to assassinate her — you know, the way many people do about Adolf Hitler).
Corbyn’s program would renationalize sectors of the economy, punish shareholders and landlords, and impose stiff new taxes. If his campaign against capital crashed the pound, he’d surely be inclined to respond with capital controls, truly taking Britain back to the 1970s.
Every election in a democratic society is important. But Britain in the coming weeks will be faced with unquestionably momentous choices: Whether to take back its full sovereignty from the EU, and whether to throw in with a dangerous radical. Its modern history, and perhaps that of the West, is in the balance.
RICH LOWRY is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. @richlowry