Dr Lee Rotherham is a researcher and author. His new book, ‘Land of the Superwoke: A Travel Guide to Corbyn’s Britain’, is available both in hard copy and e-book versions.
Fiction and politics mix. Jeffery Archer or House of Cards aside, my own earliest practical memory of the cocktail was when out canvassing during the 1997 General Election. Peter Lilley had just announced a visionary manifesto policy designed, over the steady course of decades, to shift the state pension system from running on hand-to-mouth taxation into one based on long term investment. The instant response from Alistair Campbell’s team was barefaced deceit, dishonestly marketing it as a wicked Tory plot to halt payments to existing pensioners.
It was shameful gutter politics, proterozoic Fake News, and genuinely frightened vulnerable people. The lie proved an ominous electoral undercoat to what might follow in Downing Street under New Labour.
Satire, though, has a nobler pedigree. It works because there is a hunk of truth contained within, even if exaggerated, though it need not be by too much.
No doubt I will be accused of all manner of exaggerations and injustices with my new book. In Land of the Superwoke, I have put together a tourist guide book to what the future shape of this country could look like of Jeremy Corbyn gets into power.
It is, of course, satirical. I do not genuinely expect there to be in Bradford, for example, an Owen Jones School conducting pioneering work into ESP. Nor that there would necessarily be a cull of the statues in Trafalgar Square in favour of old East German cast-offs; organised tours of the thriving Morning Star offices; or a Belarus guard of honour stationed at Highgate cemetery. Mentioning such whimsical prospects merely adds a level of ornament and frippery to the far more serious projections the book explores.
Yet those are based on actual precedent. Embraced precedent at that.
I do not know Jeremy Corbyn, nor pretend to be able to fathom the brain waves of his advisors like an alumnus from Jones’ imagined academy. I can at most claim to have stood next to him on a couple of occasions in a Commons coffee queue, clutching my reusable TaxPayers’ Alliance beaker. I take their statements therefore at face value, since I cannot peer into their soul. And so I draw what lessons that can be extracted about a future Corbyn Government from a range of sources.
A reasonable starting point is from looking back into the age before the Thatcher reforms. One of the great appeals of Corbynism arises from the simple fact that many of its advocates simply were not around in the 1970s. They do not remember the Winter of Discontent, the unburied dead, and the epoch where irresponsible and unbridled union leaders drugged the economy. What happened in that age does though provide fair precedent, and as Thatcherite curbs are openly regretted and lamented by Corbyn’s people, we can legitimately draw upon its lessons. There are a very large number of known mistakes waiting to be idly repeated, and past errors to be rebranded.
Then there are the role models. If senior Labour figures cite governments and figures with admiration, particularly in Latin America, that too is a fair indicator as to what policies could be imported into new testing grounds (or alternatively, east of a line running from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, from old ones).
Next, the ideologies themselves. Here, it helps having a leader who has been so exceedingly time-generous in signing so many Early Day Motions; has shared so many platforms before flag-waving crowds; and been so openly unstinting in his admiration of various factions and groups, including armed ones.
Additionally, traditional Marxist revolutionary strategy itself comes into play. Whether the future Government leadership itself embraces its ideological proxies or denies responsibility for them, one is drawn into considering the implication of formerly fringe lobbies finding free rein; and the condition of society that must follow if vanguard groups can benefit from state collusion or at least inertia. Smashing the system is easier if those meant to be safeguarding it are hamstrung. As importantly, one can then reflect on how institutions, businesses, society, and exposed individuals would respond to such provocations – whether attacks on property, or wealth, or language, or job security, or reputation, or privacy, or sense of personal safety. Again, there are plenty of examples to draw from, and a hefty measure of traditional Marxist-Leninist doctrine openly setting out how to go about it.
The collective result obviously is an extreme scenario. An economy that has suffered capital flight. A demoralised administration, sidelined by social revolutionary activism and choked by fresh bureaucracy. A red tape machine in full flow. Queues, shortages, surliness, demoralisation, fear, decline.
In short, a bit like the 1970s.
As I say, tourist pastiches aside (like inventing a new jargon called “Jezzspeak”, or revealing who has gone on the new banknotes), the underlying picture is based on hard precedent. We would do well to bone up, for example, on the astonishing range of long-forgotten restrictive practices that once used to hamper productivity, while also reflecting on more recent post-liberal doctrinal developments such as those that are turning gender rights campaigners against one another.
Are we doomed to endure it? A Corbyn electoral victory is far from certain; and even with the trappings of power at his command, were it to happen it is quite possible that enough sensible people would stand up against the nonsenses as to mitigate or halt at least some of them. But that is a hope and not a prediction – and is especially dependent on the quality, ideology, and venality of ambition of the future Labour back benches.
There are many people on the political Left in this country, including some I know on the ‘Robust Left’, whom I personally greatly respect. We hold very different political views, but are all anchored in a profound attachment to our country and to our democracy. For all of his disastrous economics, Tony Benn was a Bennite because of the Levellers, not because of the Storming of the Winter Palace. But even without passing judgment on Corbyn as an individual, I am unconvinced as a national leader that he would keep the Tankies, Wild Left, Wokewangers and PC Stick-Pokers under control, unleashing naïve outriders with a fork lift truck in an egg warehouse. The economic circuitry in John Hoskyns’ celebrated wire diagram, that explained the UK’s spiral of post-war stagnation, has only needed to be marginally updated for the book, and remains both relevant to our age but also deeply vulnerable to Marxist vandals.
I hope my new book will end up firmly shelved in the Fiction section. I fear it will be housed in Politics, meaning we are all in deep trouble. Worryingly, it cannot yet go out under History.
Hasta la victoria siempre, comrades.