Can they really be about to do it? As this issue goes to press, the Labour party looks likely to elect as its leader a man who is friends with Hamas and Hezbollah, refuses to condemn the atrocities carried out by the IRA and believes the Guardian to be a right-wing journal. I had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy Corbyn recently when we did BBC Question Time together, and it really was a pleasure. He is a polite, decent and evidently sincere man encumbered by lunatic beliefs. At one point on air he attributed the recent Tunisia beach massacre to Tunisian government “austerity”. I asked him afterwards about “Tories for Corbyn” (Conservative voters signing up as Labour party supporters in order to vote for him) and he dismissed it very lightly. But I suspect that along with various diehard Communists and anti-Semites, Tories for Corbyn now constitute his base.
Willing Corbyn to win the Labour leadership election is slightly misguided. First, because governments need their economic and social policies to be challenged by an opposition which is not simply trying out Karl Marx once more with feeling. But also because it could so easily misfire in some unforeseeable way, and David Cameron hardly presides over a healthy parliamentary majority.
The problem for the other Labour leadership contenders was that they could just as easily fit into the political hierarchy of any other main party. They all talk the same non-oppositional language and aspire to similar policies, so what opposition there is has to be manufactured. This is encapsulated in the one-time front-runner Andy Burnham. In power he experimented with privatisation in parts of the NHS. In opposition the only drum he was able to bang was the false notion that the Conservatives are trying to “sell off” the health service. I suspect that a lot of people can see through, and loathe, this hypocrisy. But the failure of the political class to be honest and admit to what it cannot do as much as what it can always leaves the road open for utopians.
Meeting unlikely people is one of the few joys of going on television. It has been nice to see Derek Hatton crop up again recently. Although the one-time Militant Tendency representative in Liverpool has lately become a property developer, his politics remain slightly to the left of Lenin’s. A few years back we were doing one of those Sunday morning programmes which the BBC puts on to fill its “moral discussions” slot and those of us in the green room comprised a distinctly motley crew. Among others present was a large lesbian vicar wearing a dog-collar and an especially severe crew-cut. I mention the vicar’s sexuality because she was on to discuss this (and, if I remember rightly, to posit her belief that gay parents were not just equal to but better than straight parents). I mention her appearance because it is relevant.
Despite it being early morning, Hatton was bouncing around the green room like a chirpy northerner as played by Eric Idle. It transpired that each morning he goes for a run and takes about 50 pills to keep trim and healthy. When he mentioned this the lesbian vicar said, in an effort at badinage, “Fifty Viagra?” Without missing a beat, and giving the rest of us a wink, Hatton replied, “If I’d just taken 50 Viagra even you’d be at risk.” I may be the only conservative who, whenever he sees Derek Hatton, always comes over with uncontrollable laughter.
Humour may be the first casualty of a society addicted to locating “micro-aggressions”. But ideas suffer next, as we saw this summer. Despite the terrible scenes in the Mediterranean and at Calais, the only meaty discussion in Britain was over whether or not the Prime Minister should have used the “s” word in relation to some of the migrants (the “s” word on this occasion being “swarm”, not “swamped” as in the Labour years). Politicians and bishops castigated the PM and warned about how important language is.
But language hardly matters if it’s not remotely connected to actions. I suspect these faked language games are a way to console ourselves over the fact that here are problems far beyond our control. Yet we have to keep pretending that we are players, must at all times show we care and must absolutely not invite negative reviews.
Just about the only person this summer to make any suggestion of what to do was Paul Collier of Oxford Univeristy. He was subsequently howled down by the left-wing mob as a racist. So I predict there will be no more ideas. More migrants will come to Europe. More migrants will drown or survive for lives of quiet hardship. More and more Europeans will think more and more unthinkable thoughts. But so long as we all mind our language, what harm can such censoring do?