Michael Foot, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s predecessor as Leader of the Labour Party, was not always a great champion of the judiciary. In 1972, in a speech to Scottish Miners’ Gala in Edinburgh, Foot referred to the National Industrial Relations Court and its President, Sir John Donaldson. Foot asked:
“How long will it be before the cry goes up: ‘Let’s kill all the judges’?”
This afternoon in Brighton, we had a rather different tone from Corbyn. Given his record of honouring terrorists it might stretch credulity to champion the rule of law. But he did his best saying:
“The highest court in the land has found that Boris Johnson broke the law when he tried to shut down democratic accountability at a crucial moment for our public life…There was no reason – “let alone a good reason”, the judges concluded, for the Prime Minister to have shut down parliament. Conference, he thought he could do whatever he liked just as he always does. He thinks he’s above us all. He is part of an elite that disdains democracy. He is not fit to be prime minister. Let me quote the Supreme Court’s conclusion: “Unlawful, null and of no effect and should be quashed” – they’ve got the prime minister down to a tee.”
What is the answer?
“This crisis can only be settled with a general election.”
But not quite yet:
“That election needs to take place as soon as this government’s threat of a disastrous No Deal is taken off the table. That condition is what MPs passed into law before Boris Johnson illegally closed down parliament.”
Of course, Labour was offered the chance of an election before October 31st. I suppose there would be still just about time for one to take place before then. On that schedule surely a Labour Government could have averted “no deal” by seeking an extension or negotiating a deal. The only hitch that occurs to some of is that Labour might have had the nagging doubt that it would have faced defeat.
There wasn’t much about Brexit but Corbyn did make clear that his indecision was final:
“We need to get Brexit sorted and do it in a way that doesn’t leave our economy or our democracy broken. The Tories want to crash out without a deal and the Liberal Democrats want to cancel the country’s largest ever democratic vote with a parliamentary stitch-up.
“Labour will end the Brexit crisis by taking the decision back to the people with the choice of a credible leave deal alongside remain. That’s not complicated Labour is a democratic party that trusts the people. After three and a half years of Tory Brexit failure and division, the only way we can settle this issue and bring people back together is by taking the decision out of the hands of politicians and letting the people decide.”
An important part of Corbyn’s appeal in the 2017 General Election was that he was an anti-establishment champion. In the coming General Election that role looks as though it will be snatched by Johnson. It might seem contradictory in normal times to have an anti establishment Prime Minister. But these are not normal times. There can hardly be any more establishment cause than the European Union. Nor any more anti-establishment cause than honouring a referendum result which politicians have thwarted. Corbyn has spotted the risk and said:
“In a shameless bid to turn reality on its head Boris Johnson’s born-to-rule Tories are now claiming to be the voice of the people. A political party that exists to protect the establishment is pretending to be anti-establishment. Johnson and his wealthy friends are not only on the side of the establishment they are the establishment. They will never be on the side of the people when supporting the people might hit them and their super-rich sponsors where it hurts – in their wallets and offshore bank accounts.”
The tried and trusted class war themes were run through. He would take on the vested interests, the powerful and the wealthy. Themes about taxing the rich – carefully limited to the “richest five per cent” – and renationalising the privatised utilities combine enthusing left wing activists while also enjoying broad support from the general public.
There is an ideological challenge for the Conservatives where a genuine grievance is identified and a socialist remedy is offered. For instance in this passage Corbyn says:
“I met Luis Walker, a wonderful nine-year-old boy. Luis is living with cystic fibrosis. Every day he needs at least four hours of treatment and is often in hospital keeping him from school and his friends. Luis’ life could be very different with the aid of a medicine called Orkambi. But Luis is denied the medicine he needs because its manufacturer refuses to sell the drug to the NHS for an affordable price.
Luis, and tens of thousands of others suffering from illnesses such as cystic fibrosis hepatitis C and breast cancer are being denied life-saving medicines by a system that puts profits for shareholders before people’s lives.
Labour will tackle this. We will redesign the system to serve public health – not private wealth – using compulsory licensing to secure generic versions of patented medicines. We’ll tell the drugs companies that if they want public research funding then they’ll have to make their drugs affordable for all. And we will create a new publicly owned generic drugs manufacturer to supply cheaper medicines to our NHS saving our health service money and saving lives. We are the party that created the NHS. Only Labour can be trusted with its future.”
Tim Worstall had a piece on CapX this week which argued that overpriced drugs was a regulatory rather than a market failure. It is a matter of the patents being applied for the right length of time. “The first pill can cost $1 to $2 billion to get through that process. The second can be made for $1 usually enough. If anyone is allowed to make that second pill as they wish then the $2 billion put in to make the first won’t happen.” But sometimes mistakes are made – which is why insulin, which has been around for over a century, is much more expensive in the United States than in Europe.
Anyway, that is a shrewd cause for Corbyn to take up. It is the sort of issue that free market Conservatives need to offer alternative solution. Donald Trump is certainly sensitive to it and keen to get costs down in America
But where Labour surely overreached in their socialist ambition is the policy they passed this week not only to abolish independent schools but to confiscate the property of these institutions. Corbyn didn’t mention it in his speech and he might well feel it was indiscreet to make the demand public even if he agrees with it. Also missing from the speech was any mention of Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader.
With Ed Milband there was a dilemma for the Conservatives as to whether to attack him for being weak or extreme. Yet Corbyn is both more extreme and more weak than his Miliband was. The attempts to deselect his opponents and abolish the post of Deputy Leader suggest an extremist ambition to stamp out dissent to his Marxist cabal. Yet for these efforts to be botched indicate weakness. For all the difficult news this morning for the Conservatives from the Supreme Court this has been a bad weak for Labour. Far from the Conference giving them any “bounce” it is one most Labour MPs will be keen to forget.