Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
Conservatives have got to stop calling Jeremy Corbyn a Marxist. Not because he isn’t from the most socialist part of the socialist wing of the Labour Party. Nor to appease the approach that the Opposition leader stands for.
But simply because that the term doesn’t resonate with the public – certainly not with the younger generation.
I don’t meet many people these days who have a strong predilection for or against Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky…or Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela for that matter. In the streets of Harlow, and elsewhere, voters will not be convinced of the ills of Corbyn by hearing, “Don’t vote for Labour because he is a Marxist”. Such terminology means very little to most ordinary folk.
With the same end, Tories fall into the trap of regularly describing Labour’s programme as “hard Left”. Again, as well as being unintelligible to most members of the public, what on earth does this actually mean? Outside the Westminster village, people who are not as politically engaged aren’t thinking in terms of ‘the hard Left’ or ‘Marxists’, if they even understand the origins of these labels, at all (though they may well think of Corbyn as more extreme than his predecessors).
During the 2017 election, the attack dogs at CCHQ focused on Corbyn’s “extremism” and the Labour leadership’s apparent close links with the IRA, Hamas and Hezbollah. Reams and reams of newspaper coverage (which still continues) emphasised the Labour leader’s alleged terrorist and neo-Communist tentacles.
The electorate’s indifference to all this was clear to see. Families were more worried about school funding, police on the streets, and whether their children could have free tuition at university – to all of which, of course, we had very little response.
Whilst Conservatives were branding Labour’s 2017 manifesto as one of the most left-wing since Michael Foot, the public were just hearing about an end to austerity, more money for health and education and better train services.
So our attack lines on Labour need to be reimagined.
First, we should describe what Labour in Government would mean for our country. Rather than putting Corbyn under an intellectual umbrella of Marxist/Communist philosophy, which has proven unrelatable, far better to set out how Labour would be damaging the economy, in turn damaging public services and damaging our country’s security? Our message is clear: Labour would damage Britain.
Second, Tories can make a virtue out of the fact that Corbyn’s Labour (unlike that of the Blair and Brown years) make no hard choices. In contrast, the Conservatives take difficult decisions when they need to be made; not because they want to, but for the sake of economy – a relatable stance for those millions of hardworking families worrying also making decisions about how to spend money wisely.
Third, greater emphasis must be placed on Corbyn’s threat to public services and the cost of living. Under a Labour Government, the country will run out of money or, as Margaret Thatcher more accurately described, “other people’s money”. No funds for our hospitals, schools and police and no finance to hand back the people their own money in the form of tax cuts makes for some uncomfortable reading.
People are afraid of economic upheaval and, as shown by some Conservatives in Canada, it is possible to make the case that strong public services depend upon a robust economy. Just imagine a Tory Party political broadcast of a hospital and NHS in crisis because the country has no money.
Fourth, the Conservatives need to focus on national security. Merely arguing Corbyn is a hard-Left Trotskyite who wants to get rid of our nuclear weapons does not work. People care deeply about security and seek confidence in a strong defence. A damaged economy means no money for proper funding of our armed forces, nor to protect our families against the evils of ISIS, Putin, Iran et al.
The anti-semitism crises that has infected the Labour body politic does hit home, and undermines Labour’s aim to be a values-based party. Whilst tragic, it is also poignant, leaving a nasty taste in the mouth of voters as to what the Labour Party stands for. But that is very different to proclaiming its anti-semitism as a means of shouting that Corbyn is a Marxist.
Of course, in the Conservative salons and think tanks, there should be continued reflection about Marxism, communism and the philosophical roots of Corbyn’s socialism. Perhaps even a Museum of Communism as a way of remembrance of all the horrors and many millions of deaths that the ideology has caused. This would be a good way of educating voters of the horrors that communism led to. Nevertheless, attacking Her Majesty’s Opposition Party simply won’t cut the mustard with voters.
So, please put the unreconstructed Marxist monikers to one side, focus on developing our own compassionate Conservative brand and develop a credible attack on Corbyn’s Labour – something that can really resonate with millions of our fellow countrymen and women.