‘Ah yes, but wouldn’t Corbyn have been worse?’ This from people who have begun to acknowledge the incompetence, corruption and sheer malevolence (viz. Rees-Mogg – attacking Unicef for feeding starving children!) of the present government’s record with respect to both of the great existential crises of our times, and who can only find this way of excusing their having voted for it. Here’s an answer to that, from the London Economic: a ‘liberal and pro-business’ online newspaper (so hardly particularly Leftie).
So, a Corbyn government would probably have handled the pandemic better; and would certainly have been more successful when it came to Brexit. Corbyn, remember, favoured a compromise between pro-Europeans and Brexiters, whereby Britain left the political Union but remained within the single market; which would have satisfied reasonable people in both camps, and given rise to none of the problems that the Conservatives’ ‘harder’ Brexit is currently creating over the Irish border. For that he was vilified for ‘sitting on the fence’. But we can see now, in retrospect, that he was right.
The sting, however, is in the tail of that London Economic piece. The fact is that the press wouldn’t have let him get away with this; and indeed would probably have found fault with most of the measures Johnson’s government has taken in response to the pandemic, if these had been done in Corbyn’s name. In that case they would have been taken as proof of Corbyn’s ‘communist’ leanings, and might even provoked a right-wing coup in response: as nearly happened during Harold Wilson’s time. (We’ve just been watching The Crown’s take on that. For a fuller account, see Ramsay and Dorril’s Smear, 1992.) The Right doesn’t need the Left to be very left in order to demonise and try to destroy it. Social democracy is threat enough.
From which it follows that a Corbyn government probably would have failed, or at least have been seen to have failed; but not because there was anything wrong with its policies. Look at Gordon Brown’s ill-fated government. Corbyn’s would have failed because the Right wanted to present it as a failure; and to bring down any progressive politics in its train.
Which could be said to make it fortunate, from a Left perspective, that Corbyn lost the last election, leaving the Tories to sort out the mess and display their incompetence. The further that incompetence goes, the less credible will it become that anyone could have done worse; and the more people may remember Jeremy’s wisdom in the past. Then, together with the material inconvenience and damage that will come to light as a result of the Tories’ ‘hard’ Brexit, and of their reactionary policies in other fields, folk might turn against cuddly Boris, and towards Labour – or whoever is the front progressive runner by then. That’s the light at the end of my own very dark tunnel just now; but a flickering one, I must admit.
In truth I can’t really see this coming about without electoral and press reform. Murdoch and the other controllers of opinion in Britain are far too powerful to allow sweet reason to shine through; and FPTP – with all its advantages – wouldn’t reflect that reason in any case.