As this issue of Standpoint goes to press, the Labour leadership election resembles the parable of the Gadarene Swine: an unclean spirit has seemingly possessed the party and is driving it to perdition. Westminster insiders see the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, an obscure, grizzle-bearded backbencher driven by the politics of envy and revenge, in a British context. The Labour Left has always nursed dark fantasies of betrayal — not always unjustified. When Ramsay MacDonald went into coalition with the Tories in 1931, he boasted: “Tomorrow every Duchess in London will be wanting to kiss me!” Churchill dubbed MacDonald “the boneless wonder”, but formed a wartime coalition with Clement Attlee, who was succeeded by the moderate Hugh Gaitskell. The darling of the Left, Nye Bevan, explained his own failure to lead with heavy sarcasm: “The right kind of leader for the Labour Party is a dessicated calculating machine who . . . must talk about a dying child in the same way as he would about the pieces inside an internal combustion engine.” Bevan’s disciple Michael Foot did get to the top, but his tortuous tenure ended with the 1983 manifesto, “the longest suicide note in history”, and ignominious defeat. It was an experiment never to be repeated: every leader from Kinnock to Miliband swore to hold the centre ground.
Until now, that is. Labour’s lunatics have well and truly taken over the asylum, with Mr Corbyn promising to turn his party into a Bed of Procrustes by amputating the Blairite wing and staging a show trial for Tony Blair himself. Yet Corbynmania is merely the latest wave of extremist ideology to sweep across Europe. In Greece, Syriza — a Putinesque leftist party — has excluded the few democrats, who are also squeezed by the neo-Nazis. The Golden Dawn party counts the Spectator columnist Taki Theodoracopulos among its fans: he sees these thugs with their customised swastika and Hitler salute as “good old-fashioned patriotic Greeks”.
Closer to home, the Scottish National Party is turning Edinburgh into the “Athens of the North” — only not in the way that Enlightenment sages intended. The SNP has form on fascism: during the Second World War, like their Irish nationalist counterparts, most leading Scottish nationalists rejected conscription and some harboured pro-Nazi sentiments. Clandestine contacts took place between them and the German embassy in Dublin, but were nipped in the bud by MI6. If a German invasion had taken place in 1940, however, the authorities suspected that such SNP activists as Professor Douglas Young, Arthur Donaldson and Hugh McDiarmid would have been collaborators. At any rate, the SNP has never officially repudiated its shameful past. These days, they have achieved a virtual one-party state by democratic means, but are moving swiftly to silence opposition and to install their placemen in every quango. Cybernats are notorious for persecuting opponents, such as the late Charles Kennedy, but their tactics do not quite explain the absence of criticism. At the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, there appeared to be little serious satire directed at the SNP and its leader. Could the silence of the lampooners be due to fear, complicity, or both?
Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, is evidently untroubled by facts. In her appearance earlier in the summer on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, she boasted that “Scotland almost invented the modern world. Televisions, telephones, penicillin: all of these things were invented in Scotland.” Scots did indeed invent these things — but not in Scotland. Baird and Fleming invented the television and penicillin in London; Bell invented the telephone in Boston. Those cosmopolitan Scots who leave Scotland, or who at least travel widely before returning, have often been far more creative than those who remain. The inward-looking ideology of Scottish Nationalism would have been anathema to almost all the great Scots in history.
Nicola Sturgeon and Jeremy Corbyn are of course bitter rivals but Corbyn has put out feelers to the SNP and they may join forces in Westminster. But they are both riding the crest of a wave of nostalgia for an antediluvian era: the era before the Berlin Wall fell, when it was still possible to fantasise about socialism in one country; before 9/11, when it was easier to blame the West for everything; before the crash of 2008, when nobody worried about where the money was coming from. The Right also throws up grotesques. Donald Trump is gratuitously irresponsible, not least in his readiness to hand the next presidential election to the Democrats if he does not get the Republican nomination by standing as an independent. For all his atavistic views, though, Trump accepts the world as it is, as long as he can make money out of it. The antediluvian Left, by contrast, is in thrall to an idealised socialist past that never existed, while ignoring the terrible reality that did exist and the brutalised, hollowed-out legacy that still does. They hope that a society that never voted for socialism when everyone could see that it did not work will do so now that they only have to pretend that it would have done. They are “useful idiots” for any anti-Western power that cares to cultivate them.
From their different perspectives of Left and Right, Nick Cohen and Nigel Biggar subject both Labour and Scottish Nationalism to critical scrutiny in this issue. Great Britain still belongs to the Western civilisation despised by the Corbyns and Sturgeons — the civilisation of Leonardo da Vinci evoked by David Ekserdjian in these pages. We may no longer aspire to be Renaissance men and women, but we do not need to revert to an antediluvian past.