Peter Oborne is a journalist of uncommon principle; what he says should be taken seriously and treated with a measure of respect. But Peter Oborne has publicly stated his admiration for Jeremy Corbyn…
This blog has often felt like something of a voice in the conservative wilderness for not viewing Jeremy Corbyn as an unmitigated disaster for British politics.
One does not have to agree with Jeremy Corbyn’s sometimes loopy policies to admire the way his unexpected leadership of the Labour Party has shaken up a dull, lumpen, self-satisfied consensus among the Westminster elite, and put the fear of the voters back into a good many Members of Parliament who were more focused on the smooth progression of their own careers than the trifling concerns of the electorate.
That’s where this blog stands. I’m the first to criticise Jeremy Corbyn for his particularly crazy policies (like building a paper tiger nuclear deterrent with all the expensive submarines minus the all-important warheads) and his naive political operation (as embarrassingly revealed during the so-called Revenge Reshuffle). I’m also willing to give credit where credit is due, such as the holistic way Corbyn looked at education during the Labour leadership contest (and his proposed National Education Service).
What I don’t understand are conservatives who endlessly criticise Jeremy Corbyn because he doesn’t think or say all the same things as David Cameron or Tony Blair (and who could pick those two apart if blindfolded?)
Surely having two party leaders who think and say different things is the point of democracy. The fact that Britain has increasingly been afflicted with party leaders who say and think nearly identical things (once the rhetorical embellishment is stripped away) since Margaret Thatcher left office is the root of our current centrist malaise, and one of the primary reasons why a third of the electorate don’t show up to vote at general elections.
What’s the point in voting if the choice is between Prime Minister Bot A and Prime Minister Bot B, both of whom will automatically praise the NHS without looking more seriously at fixing healthcare, both of whom will tinker around the edges of welfare reform to get the Daily Mail off their backs but without doing anything substantive to fix our broken non-contributory system, both of whom are achingly politically correct at all times (“It’s Daesh, not ISIS! I can’t believe you called it Islamic State!“) and both of whom have so little faith in Britain’s ability to prosper as an independent, globally connected democracy that they strive (overtly or covertly) to keep us yoked to the European Union?
I’m a conservative libertarian. I have enough of a task on my hands trying to push the Conservative Party in a less authoritarian, more pro-liberty direction without worrying about what the Labour Party is doing every minute of the day. And I have enough confidence in my political worldview that I believe conservative principles will win the battle of ideas when promoted and implemented properly (hence my ongoing despair with the current Tories).
But many of my fellow conservatives, particularly those in the media, are in despair at the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the return of real partisan politics. Why? Their professed concern that Britain have a “credible” opposition (meaning one almost identical to the governing party in all respects) stretches belief to breaking point and beyond. I can only think that their fear of Jeremy Corbyn reflects some personal doubt that their own political ideas and philosophies might not be superior after all – that Jeremy Corbyn might actually win people over in large numbers and have a shot at taking power.
I have no such fear. I believe that the principles of individual liberty and limited government beat discredited, statist dogma hands down, every day of the week. And I believe that the rise of Jeremy Corbyn might force conservatives to remember why they hold their views in the first place, and even refine and improve their own ideas through rigorous debate – if only they could get over their collective outrage that a socialist is in charge of the Labour Party.
In this spirit, I share the video of Owen Jones’ recent conversation with former Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne – see above. Oborne is an articulate writer, an unapologetic conservative and a thoughtful journalist of real integrity. That Peter Oborne also finds something to admire in Jeremy Corbyn (despite disagreeing with him politically) is helpful reassurance that I am not alone.
I don’t agree with everything that Oborne says in the video. But on the near-conspiracy of the political class and the media to undermine Corbyn (not to merely disagree with him but to portray his ideas as “unthinkable”) and on foreign policy (castigating our closeness with Saudi Arabia, an odious regime with whom we fawningly do business and lend our diplomatic legitimacy in exchange for oil and intelligence) he is spot on.
And I think that’s what makes Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors so angry. No man can be consistently wrong about everything all the time, and on rare occasions Jeremy Corbyn gets it conspicuously right – such as with his criticism of our closeness with the Saudi regime. People accustomed to either being in power or just one election away from power look at somebody who (whatever other baggage he may have) is unsullied by the continual act of compromise and ideological drift, and it makes them mad. It forces them to ask themselves how many of the compromises, reversals and deals from their own careers were strictly necessary, and how many resulted either from failures of courage or pursuing power for its own sake.
Sometimes, the haters were probably right to do what they did. Governing a diverse nation of 65 million people is not possible without the art of compromise, as Jeremy Corbyn would soon discover if the impossible happened and he became prime minister. But sometimes they were not. And the cumulative effect of all of these small compromises by Labour and the Conservatives over the years were two very slick but ideologically bankrupt political parties that looked and sounded nearly exactly the same on a whole host of issues. Issues (like the EU) which the political class had arrogantly deemed to be settled once and for all, though the voters had other ideas.
I understand this. I sense that Peter Oborne understands this. And if that means there are still only two non-Corbynites in Britain who don’t think that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is an unmitigated disaster – well, at least I’m in good company.
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.
Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.
I recall Oborne similarly paying tribute to Ed Miliband highlighting quite correctly that he was the most politically accomplished MP to have held the Labour leadership post for decades. Not necessarily voter-friendly or openly Prime Ministerial, but politically accomplished in his experience.
Sadly I think it’s possible we look on Oborne’s intervention here because not only is that degree of scrutiny and deliberation becoming effectively extinct, it’s also luminously at variance with the extraordinary and substantive orchestrated anti-Corbyn coordinated campaign in the press and in the Labour Party. (A Campaign which is little more than a follow-on auxiliary of the anti-Miliband Campaign which was equally evident from the same sources).
That major policy variance between two opposing political hemispheres has come to be seen as remarkable – even unique.
I don’t disagree with much of what you write, but I am genuinely concerned about the lack of a competent opposition. It does make them lazy and complacent. I recall reading on ConHome that when Miliband was leader of Labour, they used to try and figure out his responses to their policies, now they just don’t bother. You can see it in PMQT as well I think.
People may be tempted by specifics of Corbyn’s ideas – railway nationalisation is tempting, but would probably be a disaster in practice, but not the whole package. The economics is with the fairies, being apparently dependent on the non-existent £120bn unpaid tax and the idiotic £93bn in “corporate welfare” (which includes things like offsetting investment against future tax payments).
But it’s the system that makes him unelectable ; those who are tempted by his policies are areas that vote Labour anyway ; he will sink without trace in the places he needs to be winning seats ; one thinks of Marcus Jones in Nuneaton as the Basildon of 2015. I’ve only ever really had one vote (Halifax) and I’m over 50. The rest of the time I’ve been in “donkey-in-right-colour-rosette” constituencies. Though I am from Teesside originally, and I’m not convinced Corbyn will go down well there either.
Cruddas’ assessment of why Labour did poorly in GE2015 (rather than the asinine one leaked a day or two back) is probably accurate ; that they didn’t appeal to lower/middle income strivers – the places they need to win votes – like Nuneaton, Gravesend, Swindon, Northampton and so on – this is after applying the SNP effect
He does get a lot of flak, but he does say remarkably stupid things at times – the submarines sans missiles. There is an enormous back catalogue of such. I think that it’s likely that there is a much bigger back catalogue than we’ve currently seen that CCHQ has probably already collected which will be kept for an election campaign.
Corbyn does get some things right, but usually for the wrong reasons. It’s rather like a stopped clock being right twice a day. This is what I felt about the bombing of ISIS in Syria – there was a good argument against, but Corbyn gave the impression he wouldn’t have voted for any action if the ISIS front line had reach Canterbury.
It may long term be a good thing. Labour has now become the Liberal Democrats of 2010 – two almost entirely seperate wings stuck together as a single unit. Perhaps it has to break up and form a real Left wing party (which Corbyn is, if nothing else) and a soft left Social Democratic one (this sounds familiar ….). One way or another, it will have to decide.