“Keeping Jeremy Corbyn away from No. 10 is an essential national endeavour” the Daily Telegraph thunders. The reliably Conservative newspaper took some time off from trumpeting Brexit to once again attack the Labour leader. These attacks are becoming more hyperbolic by the day. The Telegraph is trying to convince its readers that stopping Corbyn is like fighting Hitler during the Blitz – essential for national survival.
This derangement about Corbyn’s Labour is emerging everywhere on the right. Theresa May warned her MPs that refusing to back the Chequers agreement could lead to a Labour government with Corbyn as prime minister. Scottish Tory Ruth Davidson has warned of ‘the catastrophe of Jeremy Corbyn.’
What is this catastrophe, exactly? In the minds of the Tory-supporting right, and especially Brexiteers, a Corbyn government will be a Communist dystopia. Private property will be abolished. The red flag will fly over Buckingham Pace. There’ll be gulags in Somerset.
This is nothing new. Just before the 1992 general election, the Sun ran its famous headline claiming a victory for Neil Kinnock would be the end of Britain. Kinnock, too, was painted as a dangerous socialist fool. There was no alternative, the Conservatives and their press allies said, to Thatcherism. Privatisation, underfunded public services and a deeply unpopular government had to be tolerated to prevent the Red Terror. Does any of this sound familiar?
There are two major differences between 1992 and 2018. Firstly, the Tory government is much more divided and much weaker. Theresa May is far less personable and effective than John Major was. Secondly, the concerted campaign against Labour’s supposed radical socialist doesn’t seem to be working. Recent polls suggest Labour is pulling ahead of the Conservatives in the polls and the Labour Party is preparing to enter government by drawing up a Queen’s speech, among other measures. The right-wing hysteria isn’t paying off.
The obvious question is: Why are the Conservatives so worried? While the Tories were forced to bribe the DUP into supporting their minority government after last year’s snap election, they still hold 57 more seats than Labour. Corbyn is currently embroiled in an ugly controversy over Antisemitism, with his own MPs launching attacks on him. His performances at Prime Minister’s Questions are generally mediocre, much to the chagrin of many voters who want him to nail Theresa May on her own incompetence. Corbyn’s Labour is not a strong opposition. Yet the Tories and the right-wing press have stepped up their vitriolic attacks. There is an explanation for this seemingly odd behaviour.
It isn’t Corbyn’s Labour that’s threatening the future of the UK. It’s the Conservative government. Warnings about empty supermarket shelves and grounded aeroplanes are no longer fanciful, they are the real dangers of a no deal Brexit. A second referendum on Scottish independence is certain if Britain crashes out of the EU – and a hard Brexit could push a majority of Scots into the SNP’s arms. The Irish border question is now further from being solved than it was last year, with May having gone back on her own word. And the party inflicting all this harm is itself split into factions that are moving ever further apart and are increasingly willing to denounce each other in public. Why wouldn’t people vote for Labour? What do they have to lose?
There is a sickness in British politics and its name is Brexit. It is now a real threat to the nation’s future. Desperate to cling on to power and manic about delivering the undeliverable, the British right will continue to claim Corbyn is the real threat. Jacob Rees-Mogg is willing to wait 50 years to see if Brexit is a success, and it looks like Brexiteers are willing to inflict 50 years of misery to stop Labour setting foot in No.10. If Jeremy Corbyn is as fearsome as the Tories say he is, he must be doing something right.