Socialism, pure and unashamed socialism, is once again being championed by the Left in Britain. Toby Young implores Conservatives to beware complacency and focus on the battle ahead
Most Conservatives I know are as pleased by the victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election as his most devout followers. When we see tweets from Momentum activists saying it’s “squeaky bum time” for the Tories, the temptation is to laugh. The general consensus is that a Corbyn-led Labour Party will poll a lower percentage of the popular vote at the next general election than it did under Michael Foot in 1983, Labour’s loweset share of the vote since 1918.
As a Conservative who backed Corbyn in the first leadership election, I’m as guilty of this triumphalism the next Tory activist. But even though I still believe Labour are on course to a historic defeat in 2020, I would caution against complacency.
A lot can happen in four years. Brexit, or the prospect of Brexit, may yet plunge the economy into recession. The Labour Party might unite. Corbyn’s performance as leader could improve. The Lib Dems should recover. UKIP will probably fade. We can’t take victory in 2020 for granted.
To win the next election, we still have to persuade the British people that socialism is not the answer. And to do that, I think we have to reclaim the moral high ground on the issues of poverty and inequality.
First, let’s take the issue of poverty.
Socialism doesn’t lift people out of poverty; it impoverishes them. There are countless examples: Not just the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba, North Korea and Venuzuela, but Britain in the 1970s and France today.
Corbyn is right — being born poor shouldn’t mean you have to stay poor. But that should be a Conservative rallying cry, not a Labour one. We are the party of opportunity, not Labour. That’s why we’ve introduced a new living wage and taken the three million lowest earners out of tax altogether.
Globally, free market capitalism has done far more to lift people out of poverty than state socialism.
The number of people living in extreme poverty across the globe fell by 80% between 1970 and 2006.
Why? Because of the spread of the free enterprise system to regions like China, Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East.
Capitalism is the best system the world has yet devised for eliminating poverty, not socialism. Globalisation and free trade have done more to help the world’s poor than anything that has ever been dreamt of in Jeremy Corbyn’s philosophy.
What about inequality?
I think we need to position ourselves as the champions of equality — not equality of outcome, obviously, which cannot be achieved without constant state intervention and riding roughshod over people’s liberties. But other, more important forms of equality, such as equality of opportunity.
Let’s shout about our education reforms from the rooftops — about the success of free schools like Harris Westminster Academy, which got 10 students into Oxford and Cambridge last year.
Above all, let’s become champions of equal rights and civil liberties. That means championing the rights of Christians as well as Muslims, the rights of Israelis as well as Palestinians, the rights of people who are pro-life as well as pro-choice… the right of people with unfashionable views to speak freely without fear of persecution by politically correct lobby groups or, worse, the police.
This is territory that the Left has completely vacated in the last 25 years or so and it’s territory we should occupy.
It’s also Corbyn’s biggest Achilles heel.
He’s quick to defend the enemies of Britain and the West, including groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, but ominously silent when it comes to the rights of women and homosexuals in ISIS-controlled Iraq and Syria; quick to defend Putin’s attacks on NATO, but not the people of Georgia or Ukraine; quick to speak out about Islamophobia, but can’t even bring himself to say the word “Israel”, let alone defend the rights of the Jewish people to a homeland.
Corbyn claims to be a champion of equality, but like the animals in George Orwell’s satire of the Russian revolution, some groups are more equal than others.
In Animal Farm, Orwell put his finger on the nub of the problem with utopian socialism — in the eyes of the true believers, the end of creating a socialist paradise always justifies the means.
It’s no coincidence that wherever state socialism has been tried, it has led to the curtailment of free speech, the imprisonment of political dissidents, mass starvation and, in some cases, state-sanctioned mass murder.
Corbyn may look like a retired Geography teacher, but beneath that modest, “principled” facade lurks the same poisonous ideology that, to date, has been responsible for the deaths of 120 million people.
Make no mistake: Just defeating Corbyn’s Labour Party in a general election won’t be enough to debunk this ideology, any more than defeating Miliband’s Labour was. To really win, we have to defeat the Corbynites intellectually as well as politically.
This was the great achievement of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and their intellectual outriders, people like Irving Kristol, William Buckley, Robert Conquest, Alfred Sherman and John O’Sullivan.
The New Right didn’t just win elections, it won the argument. Now that argument has to be won again.
As Reagan said, the battle for Liberty has to be fought afresh by each new generation. That duty now falls to us. Let the battle commence.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty