Jeremy Corbyn is a man of the late 1940s. He holds to Nye Bevan’s belief that the Tories are “lower than vermin” and are intent on flogging off the NHS to a bunch of evil top-hatted capitalists who will deny treatment to anyone who is not a millionaire.
“It’s jackpot time for the privateers,” as the Labour leader put it today.
Theresa May responded to his taunts with an inglorious degree of caution. She reminded the House that the last Labour government increased the use of private providers, and so has Labour in Wales.
Perhaps she was right to avoid observing that NHS hospitals, as set up by Nye Bevan, contained pay beds, or even that, as John Campbell remarks in his biography of Bevan, whichever party won the election of 1945 would have set up some kind of NHS.
But she could have pointed out that it is ludicrous to harbour such blind, unthinking hostility to the word “private”, or indeed to the word “Tory”. For if the Tory Party, returned to office in 1951 and on a number of occasions since, really wanted to flog off the NHS, it would surely have managed to do so by now.
May did at length accuse Labour of wanting “to overthrow capitalism”. A number of Labour traditionalists – Ronnie Campbell, Dennis Skinner – cheered that notion.
For Corbyn’s admirers are delighted by his old-fashioned beliefs. They find that like a perfectly working steam locomotive of the 1940s, a perfectly working socialist of that period seems in many respects more genuine, and certainly more picturesque, than the modern, Blair-designed Labour Party which entered government in 1997.
Philip Davies spoke for many Tory backbenchers when he rose at the end of PMQs and drew on the words of the late Eric Forth: “I believe in the free market, I believe in individual freedoms and individual responsibility, and I’m suspicious of the nanny state. Am I still a Conservative?”
May simply replied, “Yes.” Now of all times, she does not wish to pick unnecessary fights with her own backbenchers. They can continue, if they wish, to think of themselves as Conservatives.