Theresa May is learning some hard lessons. It’s not smart to schedule a snap election for seven weeks after you reach the absolute zenith of your acclaim, especially when the expectations for your chief political rival could not possibly be lower. Nor is it smart to stake your political fortunes on a mystery that could not possibly be maintained over two months of constant media attention, inquiry, and contemplation of a government completely dominated by one party.
In short, the ongoing campaign has given people time to come up with alternative answers to questions about May. Was her discomfort in interviews a sign that she wasn’t a “slick” salesman à la Tony Blair and David Cameron, or was she simply unable to play the role? Was her relative media shyness a proof that she wisely played her hand when the turn presented itself or a sign that she was indecisive?
That’s a long and windy way of saying that the Jeremy Corbyn moment is here. He made it official on Tuesday by turning up for the televised leader’s debate that he and May had declined to join. Everyone who follows politics obsessively knew Jeremy Corbyn as a hopeless radical, an IRA enthusiast, a manwho got testy under questioning and alienated most of the leadership of his party. He had botched Labour’s pro-Remain campaign, possibly because his heart wasn’t really invested in the “neoliberal” European Union. Perhaps he was so inept and tin-eared he would destroy the Labour party once and for all.
Turns out he’s taken a few pointers on his demeanor, learned how to brush off uncomfortable questions about his less defensible past sympathies, and turned his own dyed-red politics into a form of lonely integrity. He has also benefited from the fact that May called the election, the latest in what seems like a long series of national agitations in the U.K.: The Scottish independence referendum, a general election, Brexit.
Corbyn’s integrity is of the same type you find in the red-faced idealists who issue an endless list of rules to keep their commune’s refrigerator properly democratic.
May might have made political missteps on fox-hunting, or how to collect revenue for social care. And she voted for the now-unpopular Iraq War in 2003. But Corbyn spent the better part of two decades siding with Irish radicals who were trying to assassinate his prime minister, and who succeeded in assassinating members of the Royal family and innocent Brits across the country. There has been no road-to-Damascus moment here. Corbyn has merely lied about the extent of his support for the IRA, and said he regretted calling Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends.”
This election will have incredible consequences for the U.K.’s near-term future. The next government will lead negotiations on Brexit. It will have to rewrite hundreds of pages of law when the Brussels code is junked. It will have to quickly negotiate trade agreements with Europe and other nations. It will have to manage a new border in neighboring Ireland. This is an incredible opportunity for the U.K., but it’s also fraught with danger.
So it would be stupid to let the media-expectations game determine the election. Theresa May is not as popular as she was six weeks ago, and it is fun to tear down people who are on top when they take the hubristic stance that wanting a personal mandate to rule is a good-enough reason to call an election. But Corbyn is the type of man who, when not rallying to the side of Gerry Adams or the latest third-world Marxist movement, has always pined uselessly for a government policy to help every child in the U.K. learn to play a musical instrument. He’d be great fun to debate at a pub, or in a college. But he is morally and politically unfit to lead his party, let alone a great country such as the United Kingdom. His bid to surf a wave of manufactured drama to 10 Downing Street should be rejected so forcefully that the Labour party discards him for good.
— Michael Brendan Dougherty is a senior writer at National Review Online.