Simon Tilbrook is Head of History at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, and is writing here in a personal capacity; he blogs on modern British political history.
I wrote most of this just as the 20th anniversary of Tony Blair’s 1997 victory dawned. I remember that early morning so very well. Oh, how we celebrated; and yes, I was still up for Portillo.
I finished writing this on the 38th anniversary of the most important general election of my lifetime. But I voted Labour in 1979, and I have voted Labour in every general election since. I even voted Labour in 1983 (I was much younger then, though at least Michael Foot was honest and honourable, if misguided).
My father was a Labour man. My grandfather was a TGWU shop steward whose proudest boast was meeting Ernie Bevin: I still have his Labour party badge. I was a member of Labour. Point made?
Ok, more. I am also an arch-Remainer. I still believe we, as a nation, made a very bad mistake last June. I also believe that Theresa May’s talk about freedom to negotiate is pretty irrelevant: the EU holds the aces, the negotiations will be about details (or a car crash). Nor am I a paid up member of the May fan club. The campaign thus far seems to me to show up her weaknesses: the closed circle, the abhorrence of debate and the great unwashed, a pig-headed lack of realism about the process that is to come and what looks very much akin to a Gordon Brown or Ted Heath-like thin skin. Worse still, I believe Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis to be at best deluded, better irresponsible, or worse dishonest and hardly fit to hold public office.
So now you know why I shouldn’t be voting Conservative on the 8th June. Except, I will.
I’m sure no one will be surprised that my reasons are as much negative as anything else. They can also be summed up in two words: Jeremy Corbyn.
What’s so wrong with that nice Mr Corbyn? I like allotments. I like North London. Well, in the first place, as was said about Tsar Nicholas II, he’s not fit to run a village post office – just imagine Diane Abbott doing the figures. But if only it were incompetence alone. Some of Corbyn’s fans are simply naïve, but he, his circle, and some of his followers are genuinely venal. Later, I will summon up other ghosts; for now, let’s remember the delights of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, or the currently all too extant Seumas Milne and John McDonnell. The thought of the great offices of state being occupied by Corbyn, Abbott, Thornberry and McDonnell (who, as Daniel Finklestein pointed out, is worst of all) is one to chill the bones of any sensible analyst.
In part it’s personal. I recall one Corbynista stating that that Labour had, under Blair, won the support of the wrong kind of voter. My Nan was Tory, and my mother voted Tory in 1979; had she not been living in Ireland she would have voted Labour in 1997, but not before: the wrong sort of voter. The Labour left, frankly, patronised – and still patronise – working class voters as dupes, fooled by a Murdoch press into betraying the working class. My mum, or my Tory grandmother and millions like them were never dupes.
That’s only the start. Judge a man by his associates. His fellow residues of the 1970/80s London left are bad enough. But it gets far worse. Hamas? Russian and Iranian TV? IRA apologist? No, worse than that: supporter of terrorism, opponent of real peace. Nuclear deterrent? Stop the War? Sucking up to George Galloway? This is the far left I grew up with in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, with its attachment to the Soviet Union (hello, Seumas Milne), or at least to an idealised version of what it should have been. In Corbyn, it was and is manifested in the idiot savant leftism I learned was so dangerous and futile back in the days of Red Wedge and Billy Bragg. And then did anyone see McDonnell the other day, speaking beneath the Ba’athist and Soviet insignia?
In short, Corbyn et al are unfitted to public office of any sort. All sensible Labour folk know it, but many cannot currently bring themselves to say it outright. I will.
The Conservatives are right to be worried about a Liberal Democrat recovery in some seats, but I don’t live in one of those and, in any case, this is not the time to protest. It’s about a government.
Finally, as so many of my friends would ask me, why vote for the enemy?
There are some positive reasons. I am a heretic about the education system and a long-lived opponent of progressive education (remember Jim Callaghan’s speech?). For a natural Labour voter, the Government’s signs of edging away from dogmatic austerity and simplistic free market economics are encouraging. Ironically, Brexit heralds the departure from the simple free market dogmas of the past 40 years, that the EU often legally compelled.
As for Brexit itself, it seems to me that ship has sailed. Fans of Brexit might not like me for saying this, but the terms of departure will be set by Brussels and not us, unless we really want to hit the rocks. In one sense, it’s a punt: I hope May will, big majority in hand, be sensible.
This is not a Brexit election, even as May has been (less than creditably, and credibly) portraying it. Were this Referendum Mark II, I would vote Remain. It is, instead, a general election: a government is to be decided. In short, Labour as currently led is wholly unfit to govern and unworthy of government, and I cannot support any candidate who offers its current leadership support.
For all its manifold flaws, the current government is the only credible game in town. I also believe that the comfortable majority Theresa May seeks will give her the wriggle room the next few years will require, not least with her own Brexiteers, and I trust she will put the national interest before them, and all else.
If I hear ‘strong and stable government’ once more I will scream: lots of screaming to come, then. The message, though, conveys a truth. The pessimist in me sees May as akin to Brown or Heath. The optimist summons up another political ghost. In 1931, the Labour Party, its credibility destroyed, was almost wiped out (something I don’t think that will happen here). The National Government won a landslide and went on to do something to repair a fractured nation.
It is on that basis that I will break the habit of a lifetime and vote Conservative in a general election for the first time, summoning up the ghost of Stanley Baldwin and trusting with fingers very firmly crossed that his successors will put the national interest first. My vote is loaned: please use it wisely.