Daily archives: May 16, 2017

Corbyn Needs to Find His Inner Gladstone

I have never voted Labour, but were I in England I would vote for Corbyn’s Labour. There is so much that is very good in Labour’s manifesto, but they had me at renationalisation of the railways. Abolition of university tuition fees is also very near to my heart.

The key point is this. I strongly suspect that 90% of other SNP voters, were they in England, would vote for Corbyn’s Labour too. Scottish Labour is a very different thing to Corbyn’s Labour, and the longstanding mutual hatred of the SNP and central elements of Scottish Labour has real causes. The ease with which Scottish Labour voters are transferring direct to Tory, and the truly shameful Tory/Labour coalitions being cooked up now in town halls all round Scotland, show that a hard core of Scottish Labour has nothing to do with Corbyn’s Labour. It is rather a toxic brew of Blairism, institutional corruption and the Orange Order. Amazingly it manages to be still less attractive than that sounds.

There were once many thousand of genuine and decent people in Scottish Labour. Those people now constitute a very large proportion of the SNP. There are very few decent people in Scottish Labour left.

The truth is that the SNP and Corbyn believe in a very similar brand of Progressivism. The Scots simply wish to pursue it in their own country. Given Corbyn’s support for Irish unification and anti-colonial movements all round the world, his opposition to Scottish Independence is unnatural, and his initial welcome for a second referendum reflected his own instinct.

In 1886, Gladstone became convinced of both the justice and political expediency of Irish Home Rule. He decided to adopt it and thus quite deliberately split the Liberal Party. This was a massive split – those who left included the greatest grandees, the Dukes of Westminster, Devonshire, Bedford and Argyll, plus some of the protestant chapel faction like Joseph Chamberlain and John Bright. Those departing Liberal Unionists functioned as a separate political party, in effective coalition with the Tories, until eventually merging into the Conservative and Unionist party.

This loss of Dukes and their acolytes paved the way for the Liberal Party to become much more radical, leading to the Liberal governments of 1906-15 which introduced reforms including national insurance, abolition of the workhouse, old age pensions and free school meals. I would argue that, along with Attlee’s government, it was the greatest reforming government in British history. All done with the essential support of the Irish nationalists.

Corbyn should do the same. He should stop fighting Scottish Independence and embrace it. He should join forces with those who support the same kind of domestic reform and foreign policy he embraces. The loss of Alistair Darling, Kezia Dugdale, John McTernan and John Mann to Labour would be as nothing compared to the losses Gladstone was prepared to accept in embracing Irish nationalism.

The Liberal Unionists are only remembered today when The Importance of Being Earnest is performed. I have changed “Liberal Unionist” to “Blairite” in this excerpt to show how precisely the scenario fits with today’s situation:

Lady Bracknell (Sternly): What are your politics?
Jack: Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Blairite.
Lady Bracknell: Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening at any rate.

By throwing over the Scottish Labour dinosaurs and any Blairite shills who wish to go with them, Corbyn can remake the politics of the United Kingdom. And the SNP, just as the Irish Nationalists did in 1906, can help Corbyn to make the permanent transformational changes to the UK, even as they go through the process of leaving it. A future Labour/SNP administration could enact a manifesto as radical as the one that Labour have just unveiled, as the parting gift of the Scots to the UK. After this election, this must be the way forward for Corbyn. As May hits the car crash of Brexit, if May wins on 8 June I do not think her administration will last five years, and I am quite certain she, or the Tories, will not win the ensuing election.

There are other valid comparisons between Corbyn and Gladstone, particularly in foreign policy with regard to Gladstone’s principled and vigorous opposition to the Second Anglo-Afghan war. Gladstone as leader of the opposition argued directly that Afghans fighting invading British troops were justified in doing so: “We have destroyed their homes and driven their wives and children into the snows of winter”. Corbyn has a similar courage in taking on today’s media-driven jingoism and militarism.

Does Corbyn have similar courage in forcing the realignment that can make sense of UK politics, as Scotland leaves as Ireland once did? Can Jeremy embrace Scottish Independence, as I have no doubt is his natural instinct? That will be the measure of whether he makes a real mark on the future, or becomes a brief flash of radical failure.

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