The Corner

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Corbyn, Trump, and Power

Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers his keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, England, September 26, 2018. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

Britain’s general election campaign trundles along, with the Conservatives still comfortably ahead in the polls, although I continue to think that the Tories are far more vulnerable than is generally understood — and, of course, as was entirely predictable (and indeed was predicted), the contest is turning out to be ‘about’ much more than Brexit.

Meanwhile, over at The Atlantic, Tom McTague makes some intriguing comparisons between Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, and Donald Trump, a comparison that will enrage supporters of both. If nothing else, however, it reflects the reality that ours is an age of rising populism on the left as well as the right. I have long wondered what the 2016 result would have been had the Democrats run Sanders, not Clinton.

While there’s plenty to disagree with in McTague’s piece, this strikes a chord:

Take away Brexit, and Johnson is a run-of-the-mill conservative whose policy agenda, instincts, and world view, as opposed to his personality, verge on the dull; a member and defender of the establishment whose wish is to climb atop it, not rip it down. Corbyn is the opposite: a populist who believes in the inherent corruption of the established order, at home and abroad; a man who sees conspiracy and injustice everywhere. Only one of these descriptions comes close to the U.S. president…

Most interesting of all, however, are some of the observations contained in McTague’s analysis of Corbyn, and, in particular, this:

This individual and others close to Corbyn who spoke to me were clear that the grassroots Corbynite campaigning organization, Momentum, is not merely a pressure group to win power. It is meant to act as the Labour leader’s sword and shield once in power, specifically to ensure that the party’s project is not watered down after it is put through the institutionally conservative bureaucratic machine in Westminster. Indeed, according to one recent report, Labour are already thinking about how to stop this from happening, examining ways to force the civil service to deliver manifesto commitments. This should not be a surprise—such thinking has long formed a central tenet of the radical left in the U.K., and was set out by Corbyn’s political hero, Tony Benn, in his 1993 book, Common Sense, calling for a new constitution for Britain.

This, I think, is key. In the space of just a few years Corbyn’s team have, by installing the right people in the right parts of the Labour Party’s machinery (whether at the local or national level) ensured that Labour will remain a party of the hard left for the foreseeable future, whoever may lead it.

Given the chance, Labour will do the same to Britain. Corbyn may be a mean-spirited dimwit, but, if there’s one thing his infinitely smarter handlers understand very well, it is how power works.

In the course of  an article a couple of years ago on John McDonnell, Corbyn’s clever and capable deputy (and Britain’s finance minister in the event that Labour prevails), I noted this:

In 2016, the left-of-center New Statesman unearthed an interview McDonnell had given to, appropriately enough, the Trotskyist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty ten years before. Asked to name the “most significant” influences on his thought, McDonnell replied: “Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky, basically.

Marx was, for the most part, nothing more than a millenarian crank, but what Trotsky, and, even more so, Lenin understood was power. So just today we hear that:

Labour has promised to give every home and business in the UK free full-fibre broadband by 2030, if it wins the general election.

The party would nationalise part of BT [the former British Telecom] to deliver the policy and introduce a tax on tech giants to help pay for it.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC the “visionary” £20bn plan would “ensure that broadband reaches the whole of the country”.

…A new entity, British Broadband, would run the network, with maintenance – estimated to cost £230m a year – to be covered by the new tax on companies such as Apple and Google.

What could possibly go wrong?

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