We can’t go on like this
I’m just going to come out and say it: given the appallingly weak options available, Jeremy Corbyn probably deserves to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Don’t get me wrong: if his hard-left socialist policies and aspirations were fully enacted, Corbyn would also likely be the last prime minister of the United Kingdom, but that’s another matter.
After all, is not the point of democracy, of elections, to give the people their right to choose political leadership and representation which they want to see take their communities and their country forward? And if so, who during this miserable general election campaign has done more to convince the British public that they are a person of principle and conviction, willing to tell uncomfortable truths as they see them while standing up to entrenched special interests – Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn?
Who produced an election manifesto which represented some of the best traditions (and sincerely held political views) of their party? That would be Jeremy Corbyn. Who huddled together with two unelected aides to produce in secret a manifesto which declared war on her own voters, repudiated Thatcherism, threw the libertarian wing under the bus and pandered to the worst instincts of everybody who thinks that the state should be like a third parent to them? That would be the “conservative” prime minister, Theresa May.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour manifesto, in all its leftist, spendthrift glory: costed. Theresa May’s Coke Zero Conservative manifesto – “coke zero” because like the drink, it has the same branding as the real thing but none of the ideological, calorific ooomph which makes it taste good and perk you up – not so much.
Who has made gaffe after gaffe and exacted numerous self-inflicted political wounds, missteps and humiliating U-turns on her party and campaign? That would be Theresa May, whose claim to unruffled, grown-up leadership looks more and more tarnished by the day. Who seems to have finally stopped his penchant for weekly PR disasters and learned not to intervene when his enemy is making a mistake? That would be the old rube, Jeremy Corbyn, despite the fact that he faces a highly antagonistic press.
Who has behaved like an adult and at least accepted the necessity of a Brexit deal with the European Union (however weak a negotiator he would otherwise likely be) as a precursor for economic stability? That would be Corbyn. Meanwhile, who still publicly entertains the confidence-sapping notion of no deal and a disastrous crash out of the EU? That would be strong ‘n stable Theresa.
And who found the courage to go on national television and articulate their party’s values and vision for Britain in tonight’s BBC election debate? Jeremy Corbyn. Who was frightened and cowered away in Downing Street, risibly sending a surrogate minister to fight her battles? That would be the ever-formidable Theresa May.
Whatever one thinks of Jeremy Corbyn, there is mounting evidence that Theresa May simply does not have what it takes to be a successful British prime minister in the 21st century. Perhaps being a diligent, hardworking, non-telegenic, secretive authoritarian with a tiny circle of close-knit advisers helped Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. Lord knows it allowed her to become prime minister despite the party and the country barely having any idea of her core values or guiding philosophy. But as prime minister in the television and internet age, May’s natural reticence doesn’t play well.
You can say that this is a small and petty criticism, and in some ways it is. And perhaps personality should matter less, but we must deal with the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be. When Theresa May skulks in the back row of G7 summit family photos while Donald Trump gladhands with the boy wonder French president Emmanuel Macron and “leader of the free world” Angela Merkel, one gets the strong impression that she similarly fails to win hearts and minds in the all-important closed door sessions.
For all their arrogance and vapidity, the American political elite positively purr over Emmanuel Macron, bulwark against Evil Brexit and saviour of the “liberal world order”. I would wager that far fewer could even name Theresa May. And this advances British interests with our closest and most important ally how, precisely? Donald Trump is one man, quite possibly soon to be an ex-president if the slow-motion coup against him ultimately succeeds. Meanwhile the vast apparatus of American government remains a juggernaut fully committed to the internationalist status quo, and Theresa May is doing nothing to persuade them that any of their preconceptions about the evilness of Brexit and the EU’s self-evident splendour are wrong. A better, more natural communicator would have a fighting chance.
Two provisos: First, Jeremy Corbyn would do no better in this regard, and quite possibly far worse, given that his worldview is based in no small part on anti-Americanism. But Theresa May only looks vaguely acceptable in this regard because Jeremy Corbyn would be so appalling. That’s not a ringing endorsement or a solid qualification for remaining prime minister.
And second, it is hardly as though the Conservative front benches are brimming over with talent one thinks of as solid alternative prime ministers – Boris Johnson is rightly known in America and around the world as a fool who uses a bumbling persona and a smattering of Latin phrases to mask an insatiable vanity and hunger for the spotlight. Who else to choose? Philip Hammond? Well, at least Theresa May makes him look fiscally responsible by comparison, but he’s no media performer. Amber Rudd? She’s a loyal soldier and did a highly commendable job stepping into Theresa May’s shoes for tonight’s debate, particularly so soon after the death of her elderly father earlier this week, but a potential leader? Who else, then? Seriously, I’m asking? Who?
If you had to design the perfect Tory party leader and prime ministerial candidate for this moment in time specifically, what would they look like? Well, everybody probably has their own preferences, but here would be my take on what would work best both politically in Britain and as a person capable of commanding interest and admiration on the world stage:
Ex armed forces (of either gender), mid to senior rank, with an illustrious overseas deployment history. Someone who exudes unapologetic patriotism yet never lapses into cheap jingoism, and whose commitment to defence, national security and veterans affairs is beyond question.
Followed up by a successful later career, possibly in the third sector or the arts but better still in the private sector, having founded a stonking great big corporation that also gives back to the community by employing ex-offenders or partnering with charities to do meaningful work in society.
A solid and consistent record (at least dating to the start of the EU referendum campaign) on Brexit, able to tell a compelling story about how Brexit – properly done – can be good for our democracy and at least neutral on the economic front.
A person who believes that until somebody comes up with a viable alternative to (or augmentation of) the democratic nation state, this institution remains the best method yet devised of ordering human affairs, and that consequently we should not needlessly undermine and vandalise it by vesting power in antidemocratic supranational organisations or pretending that we can sidle our way into a post-patriotic world by stealth rather than with the consent of the people.
Somebody who will not bargain away our civil liberties chasing the chimera of absolute security from terrorists and madmen – particularly while refusing to face down radical Islamism as an ideology to be confronted and defeated – but who will also stand up to expansionist, nonsensical definitions of human rights and an identity politics / political correctness agenda that values hurt feelings more than freedom of expression.
Somebody with the articulateness, gravitas, sincerity and quickness of thought capable of doing the near impossible in 2017: single-handedly turning the tide away from the vapid, broken politics of me, me, me. Somebody willing to ask – as John F. Kennedy once did – not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Somebody who dares to call us to a higher purpose than merely living in a country with “good public services”, deifying “Our NHS” and having the goddamn trains run on time.
Somebody who chooses for us to go to the moon (or rather its current day equivalent in terms of spectacular human achievement) “and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”. Kennedy again.
Somebody who realise that unless we as a society nurture and maintain some kind of higher common purpose with one another – and we’ve largely done away with organised religion in Britain, while the Left’s commitment to unlimited multiculturalism has made even the suggestion of unifying around non-negotiable core values prima facie evidence of seething intolerance or racism – we are doomed to fracture into separate warring special interest groups and victimhood lobbies jockeying for position. A country so lacking in confidence in its own values that it refuses to proclaim them, let alone insist upon them. A country in name only, led by a conservative in name only.
So where is such a potential transformative, neo-Thatcherite Tory leader? Where is such a potential leader of any political party in Britain? Good luck finding them. Look at the typical calibre of people who now become MPs. Sure, you get some who are diligent constituency MPs or single issue campaigners, but this only highlights the flaw of a system of government which draws the executive from the legislature. Look at the new or new-ish MPs of any party with serious ministerial ambitions and you’ll generally find nothing but focus group-approved platitudes and a yawning chasm where ideology or principle ought to reside. Look at the seven characters who lined up behind podiums to debate the issues on primetime TV.
No such party leader (or surrogate) standing on stage at tonight’s BBC televised election debate in Cambridge lived up to even one of these tests. The seven parties of the Left – Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, Scottish National, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and now Theresa May’s rootless Tories – only know how to campaign by promising people stuff. Lots of stuff, any stuff. More more more. Better, bigger, shinier public services. A welfare state blindly doling out the same universal benefits in disbursements which are laughably small for the wealthy (who don’t need them but are hooked on them because that’s how universal benefits do their dirty work) yet which too often allow the genuinely sick and disabled to barely subsist. Promise after promise. No call to citizenship, to personal responsibility. Just endless promises of safety, security and more stuff, all for free.
Vote for me, I’ll keep you safe from terror. Just gonna need your Facebook password, please. No, vote for me, I’ll keep the economy strong because we all know the only point of a strong economy is to raise more tax to spend on the NHS. Liar! You want to destroy Our Precious NHS! You want people to die in the streets when they get sick, just like they do in America. No, we are now the true party of the NHS! Anything for Our NHS, oh god, anything and everything, my very life for Our Blessed NHS.
Oi! Look over here, free university tuition! Yeah, it’s subsidised by the taxes of other people who never went to university and whose earning power has not been boosted through having a degree, but still. Fairness! Young people are the future! No, no, no, it’s all about the environment. That evil party wants to build an experimental nuclear fusion plant in your grandmother’s basement. But we will bulldoze nasty, Brexit-supporting Stoke-on-Trent and replace it with a massive solar panel field. Much better.
No, look over here! We will bring back British Rail; remember how great British Rail was? Who needs Pret when you’ve got a trusty British Rail egg and cress sandwich? Nice and warm, of course, just like the good old days. Let’s have car-commuting taxpayers in Gainsborough subsidise the travel of London-based city commuters, because fairness. British Rail? Scoff. I’ll see your British Rail and raise you British Leyland! Woohoo – nationalisation, baby! For the Common Good.
All immigrants are a godsend, to the last man. If it weren’t for immigrants, your inflamed appendix would have been dug out by a native-born, chain-smoking school dropout with a can of special brew in his spare hand, and don’t you forget it. No, of course we should have a sensible, measured conversation about immigration. It’s just that I’ll stand here and shriek into the TV cameras that you’re an evil, divisive racist if you disagree with me. But please, go ahead. No no, we should listen patiently to people’s concerns and then carefully explain to them why they are wrong. People love that.
Oh, you? No dear, you don’t have to do anything. We, the politicians, are here to promise you stuff, to pander to your every passing whim. If I’m prime minister, I will make it my overriding personal concern to fix the broken chairs at your GP surgery waiting room – I’ll come round and do it myself, I’ve got some tools in the shed – and make sure that New British Rail adds free wifi to your single-carriage metro train between Stoke and Crewe. Seriously, no worries. I’ll call the boss at 6AM every day until it happens. NATO summit? Geopolitics? Statecraft? Boring! Why be a statesman when I can be a glorified town councillor for 65 million insatiable people? I’m on the case for you, and your every last petty concern. I’ll read foreign policy briefings when I’m on the can, that stuff doesn’t matter.
Heavens no, of course we don’t need to properly empower local politicians to make decisions in the local interest, raising and spending taxes independently of Westminster. For I am running to be Comptroller of British Public Services, and my sole job, my only care in the world is to make your passage through life as easy and painless as possible. You and 65 million of your fellow citizens. The buck stops with me, because public services are everything. After all, Britain didn’t do anything of value or renown on the world stage until we starting implementing the Beveridge Report. Not a damn thing. And now we’ve jacked up the size of the state so much and you have to deal with it so bloody frequently that we’d darn well better make sure you come skipping away happy from every last interaction – too many bad experiences for you are political suicide for us.
All seven of them, yapping away on stage like this as the minutes ticked by and the left-wing Cambridge audience dutifully clapped along to each pledge of More Free Stuff like so many trained seals. But at least Jeremy Corbyn sounded like he meant it, like he was advocating all of these things because they flowed from a sincere and coherent – if utterly misguided – worldview. The rest were just preening, moralising virtue-signalling charlatans. With the exception of Amber Rudd, who did sterling work in the face of her leader’s cowardice, and whom I will not criticise given the circumstances of her appearance.
Now, all of that being said, the prospect (raised by new YouGov polling showing a tightening race) of Jeremy Corbyn overperforming expectations, gaining seats in parliament and entering 10 Downing Street as prime minister backed by a “pwogwessive alliance” of Britain’s childlike left-wing parties, is simply untenable. And so I will vote Conservative on June 8, because my constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn is a tight two-way marginal and the Labour incumbent MP, Tulip Siddiq, was a staunch Corbyn supporter and an unrepentant enemy of Brexit.
So yes, I’ll vote Tory this time. But Lord knows I’ll feel unclean and deeply depressed while doing so, with zero expectation that it will result in anything positive for the country and with considerably more admiration for the man I hope to see defeated than the woman I barely want to win.
Britain, we can do better than this. Probably not much better realistically, at least right now – because as a society we have fallen and been infantilised to such a worrying degree – but still we can do better than these paltry political party leaders. They’re all just so very…small.
Somebody, anybody else, please step up soon. Deep down, as a nation we want more than is being offered to us by Jeremy Corbyn, his provincial Mini Me’s and a confused Tory leader who thinks the path to victory involves dismantling – rather than building upon – the legacy of our greatest post-war prime minister.
Step forward, find the spirit of public service and call us to action, too. Ask us to set our sights beyond our own narrow interests, beyond our bank balances, our bin collections, our next step on the property ladder, the feelings of our intersectional identity groups, the fate of our free mobile roaming calls in Tuscany. Help give us a new purpose, a common purpose, a higher purpose.
Set us a challenge.
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