Matthew Parris

It’s not the Corbynites who are in denial – it’s the Labour moderates

In vain do the neo-Blairites and neo-Brownites beat their fists against the new ascendency in their party

19 March 2016

9:00 AM

19 March 2016

9:00 AM

It has become commonplace to remark that there exists in Britain a mainstream political grouping that seems to be dwelling on another planet. Lost in fantasy, harking back to days long-gone, it lives on illusion. Time and the modern world have passed it by. Fleet Street and fashionable opinion rage against these mulish daydreamers for turning their backs on the voters and depriving Britain of an effective opposition.

And all this is true. In only one detail are Fleet Street and fashionable opinion mistaken. They’ve got the wrong grouping in their sights. It is not Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and their crew who fit this picture: it is the Labour moderates.

Neo-Blairites and neo-Brownites are in cloud cuckoo land — and in control of the parliamentary Labour party. In vain do they beat their fists against the new ascendency in their party. In vain do they prove, by opinion poll after opinion poll, that old-fashioned socialism will never win the next general election. They’re missing the point.

So are their friends in the newspapers. Media fury tends not unnaturally to be led by wonderfully eloquent writers — such as Dan Hodges, or my own newspaper’s David Aaron-ovitch and Philip Collins — who are well-grounded in Labour’s politics and have at least one foot in the party’s recent past. Too angry with their new enemies to take a cooler look at their old friends, they seem to miss what drives the left and its appeal.

Perhaps a convinced and rooted Conservative like me can understand better why an ideology — a clear, strong theory about what drives human history — is proof against the wisdoms of marketing and the headlines about opinion polls. You see, we Tories have such an ideology.

Suppose, reader, that you were a rank Conservative and a convinced believer in free-market economics. And suppose that Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher had never lived and that after the 1970s Britain had continued its slow slide towards a command economy; and that lunacies like Shirley Williams’s scheme for controlling prices in shops had bedded in, and wages and incomes too had come under central control. It’s imaginable, isn’t it?

And suppose we Conservatives all feared, as we did fear, that a supine British electorate was growing passive and acquiescent in the swaddling clothes of the cradle-to-grave nanny state. Suppose you feared, as we did fear, that our own Conservative party, judging further resistance futile, was becoming dangerously compromised in its embrace of the ‘mixed economy’.

Suppose, finally, that despite these lean years for our own political faith, you and I refused to give up the fight. Though sneered at as renegades unwilling to accept that times had changed, suppose we bid to change our party’s direction. Mainstream opinion, and swaths of Labour and Tory MPs would have laughed at us. ‘Look at the opinion polls,’ they might jeer, ‘can’t you see that the voters out there have grown reliant on the comfort-blanket of the welfare state? All the evidence is that the British don’t like isms and distrust your free-market dogma. Sure, you poll a steady 15–20 per cent, but how are you going to break out of that core vote and win over the floating voters unless you “triangulate” and strike a middle position between the right and reality?’

‘Ideologues! You wait for the next local/mayoral/regional elections! The voters will dump on your antique certainties. Move on, dinosaurs, or you’ll drag your party down.’

Reader, can you see how, to you, this barrage of incredulity misses the point? Unlike your detractors, you have a belief. As well deride market forces as deride gravity: you know that history will prove you right. You understand the mainsprings that drive human behaviour. You understand the clockwork. The theory you hold about what motivates individuals and families, and what drives successful national economies, teaches you that in the end socialism must fail.

But when? Your theory doesn’t tell you, of course. Your mission is to proselytise. The early Christians were hardly an overnight success in Rome. It may be years — it may be a decade — before the nation wakes from welfarist slumber. You’re patient. Secretly you accept that your faction will take a beating in a string of proximate elections, and maybe even the next general election. But Kipling’s Gods of the Copybook Headings will finally visit their revenges on the smug political establishment now dancing before its socialist golden calf.

So you would stick to your guns. Your doctrine gives you an explanation for the world: one that cannot be gainsaid. The product is fundamentally sound, whatever the marketing people may tell you about the most recent customer surveys.

So it is with the Corbynites. I don’t (and nor perhaps do you) believe that their theory of politics and economics is correct; and I doubt Mr Corbyn is the man to take his movement forward for many years longer. He’s an enabler, a prophet in the wilderness. Not for him arrival at the Promised Land. He lacks the political skills that his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, showed on the Marr programme last week. He’ll probably hand on the torch before the next election.

But don’t imagine the torch will be extinguished, or that (latest madness of the ‘moderates’) the flame can be hidden by stopping anyone who carries it from even standing for the party leadership. The worst thing the parliamentary Labour party could now do would be to try to triangulate between the hard and the soft left. Dan Jarvis and Hilary Benn, defined by what they are not, will never say anything interesting.

And Corbynites are right about this: the Labour moderates are indeed latent Tories. They’ve accepted, as did Tony Blair, the broadly Conservative ruling spirit of the age. Their judgments are safe, but safe to the extent that they are Conservative judgments. They have no religion of their own. Corbyn does. We Tories do. It is Labour’s moderates who are in denial.

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Show comments
  • Rik

    Ha,ha ha Matthew, a party bumping along on 15/20% but who have a clear vision,who will never be cowed by the smug political elite,whose time will come when the sleeping masses awake.Thank you for the ringing endorsement for UKIP.You are quite right our time WILL come.

  • He’s right, whether he’s being sarcastic or not, and Corbynites aren’t evil. They are just old school Labour, who – if you are not blinded by right wing ideology – have done many good things for this country. Back Corbyn and McDonnell.

    • pancakewizard

      technically, given the young vote, it’s ‘new school labour’, Old ideas, but a fresh face. There’s literally generational divide on this as you’ve got younger voters who are passionate and idealistic enough to believe a change can happen vs older voters who are jaded and convinced that something tried is not worth trying again.

      This generational divide is somewhat masked by the old-school socialist hardliners you speak of one side, and the careerist Blairites on the other.

    • Freddythreepwood

      Sorry, I’m blinded by right wing ideology. Wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole.

    • PaD

      And get another Rotherham

      • There are probably more paedos in Ukip and the Tories than in Labour. There are probably more non-Muslin paedos than Muslim paedos. There are probably as many paedo grooming gangs in non Labour council areas as in Labour. I believe in karma – today’s smear yelling yobbos suddenly find, eventually, that their feet are made of clay.

        • The Patriarchy

          Labour is the party of pedophiles and child r@pists par excellence.

          Whether one is thinking about the extraordinary career of Lord Janner, or the behaviour of Rotherham Council, or of prominent Labourite and facilitator of child abuse, Joyce Thacker (O.B.E.), or the islamo-fascist flotsam that now constitutes Labour’s core vote, the answer is always the same. You can’t trust Labour with the economy or your children. Unless you want them shafted of course.

        • Philsopinion

          The crime statistics get in the way of that ‘whataboutery’. One can very clearly see, reading these comments, how that abuse was allowed to go on for so long.

          And if you believe in karma, then some mysogynistic cultures have got a reckoning coming.

      • Dean Morrison

        Rotherham is down to the corrupt South Yorkshire Police – much admired and protected by Thatcher for their help in breaking the miners strike.

        They were also responsible for the deaths of 92 football fans at Hillsborough, something covered up by the Thatcherite establishment and their chums at the Sun.

        And since we’re on the subject of paedophiles from South Yorkshire, how about a mention for Thatcher’s chum Jimmy Saville?

    • The Patriarchy

      corbyn resembles the Pied Piper of Hamelin. He attracts vermin.

      An evil degenerate, who never met a terrorist he didn’t like, and who hates the West.

  • misomiso

    Belief is a dangerous thing.

    I know you’re a Remainer Matthew, but that same belief in historical inevitability that chains the Corbynistas is remarkably similar to the Pro Europeanism that bedevils the political elite currently in power….

  • trobrianders

    Congratulations to Parris for inadvertently identifying the sole cause of problems in the world: denial. And we’re all prone to it unless we teach ourselves not to be.

  • tracery

    On the BBC today, Jeremy Corbyn is quoted as saying that the benefits cuts outlined in the Budget are “morally reprehensible”. This is a term that could equally be applied to the decision to impose millions of immigrants, many from the third world, on the indigenous people of this country, and the strain which such a level of immigration has put on our public services. Given the level of deceit, and ignorance about how many are actually here, the associated cost of immigrant welfare is unknown, and no published figures can be authenticated. Moreover, those who support Britain’s continued membership of the EU need to be reminded that, as long as we remain in the EU, it will not be possible to reduce benefits to immigrants without applying the same reductions to indigenous claimants. So as long as mass immigration of largely unskilled people from the third-world continues the need to cut welfare benefits is likely to become more pressing, and indigenous people will suffer a double whammy- a reduced level of public services and a reduction in welfare benefits. Those who rely, or indeed are likely to rely on welfare to a variable extent, which includes most of us, should think very carefully about how they vote in the coming referendum. I, for one, will be voting to LEAVE THE EU..

    • pancakewizard

      Betrayed Labour voters that edged towards UKIP and aren’t convinced by Corbyn need a reality check: It doesn’t matter what Labour’s stance on the EU referendum is, they’ll be bound by the result and they aren’t up for election until 2020. Vote Brexit and vote Corbyn. There are no principles at stake if you do, only imagined ones and UKIP will have succeeded in their mission and be forgotten.

      Even the remainers, who like to bleat on about how they see the EU as keeping our Tory government ‘in check’ (a false assumption, but let’s run with it), will flock to Corbyn’s Labour if Brexit wins the vote. A progressive, independent Britain is a fine thing to strive for.

      • PaD

        corbyn and his cohorts are going nowhere…the majority of the rest of us are…OUT of EU.

    • keggsie

      Indigenous people were once immigrants. Something that appears to have passed you by.

      • PaD

        but they mostly didnt rape young girls and get involved in postal voting

      • The Patriarchy

        Idiotic remark.

      • Philsopinion

        So, there’s no such thing as indigenous people then. All is transient. The displacement of the indigenous in South America and Australia is but a detail of history, we need not care.

    • terryec

      This Government have overseen many immigrants entering the country, May even relaxed our border controls, what I want to say though is the Government know we have had an influx of immigrants and most are working and paying taxes, the fact the NHS and other bodies do not cope is down to Government incompetence or a deliberate policy to run them down and not the fault of the Immigrants themselves.
      Immigrants are not a drain on our system and they make a positive financial addition, whether you vote for in or out this Government will reduce public services because they don’t believe in them, you are being fooled to think there is any other reason,

      • Philsopinion

        Paying taxes but paying in more than they consume? You have to be earning over £18k at least for that, and the vast majority of Labour’s influx most certainly didn’t.

    • Dean Morrison

      A quarter of the doctors and a sixth of the nurses in the NHS are immigrants.

      The NHS is just about managing because of immigrants.

      When the Brexiters banish them and swap them for the million pensioners currently soaking up the sun in Spain and taking advantage of their health system – that’s when you’ll see it suffer…

      • The Patriarchy

        We shouldn’t need so many doctors and nurses if we hadn’t imported so many third world peasants.

      • Yorkieeye

        And that’s a disgrace. They were trained at great expense by their own countries to cater for those populations. Then the NHS turns up offering more money than they could ever earn at home. How is this colonial style asset stripping fair?

      • Philsopinion

        “A quarter of the doctors and a sixth of the nurses in the NHS are immigrants. The NHS is just about managing because of immigrants.”

        Precisely because a) this country has failed to make the most of the talents of the people already here [the TUC estimates there are 6.4 million people unemployed or underemployed] and b) because the ever rising population, which is solely because of mass immigration, necessitates ever more health workers.

        And what is moral about taking the health care staff from other countries, particularly from the developing world?

        No one will suffer once we start making the most of our people; reinstitute things like the State Enrolled Nurse; and invest in stem cell technology to enable the elderly to live healthy lives for longer.

  • Ian K. Iles

    Dear Matthew
    The ‘Corbynites’ are the moderates. That is, they’re the ones arguing for a mixed economy, democratic control over the education of our children, a fair deal for working people, a wholly public NHS, and decent support for those unable to find work, or indeed unable to work because of impairment/disability. The mainstream of the party, because that’s what those of us supporting Corbyn are, want freedom, fairness and equality to trump privilege and injustice. None of that is anything other than moderate. Those MPs opposing the democratic will of the party membership, are the immoderate ones. None of them have put forward a coherent set of policy proposals that could rally the membership behind them. No one other than John McDonnell, has demonstrated any leadership quality, by taking a shadow cabinet brief and running with it. All we’ve had is a few malcontents whinging and whining and doing the Tories’ job for them, pandering to the neoliberal agenda of the mainstream media.
    Maybe you could start a trend, by no longer referring to these people as ‘moderates’. Call them what they are; Blairites with their noses seriously out of joint, upset because their corporate-friendly agenda has lost out. I can think of a number of terms that would capture that more succinctly, but you might not want them spelled out here. I’m sure you could come up with something suitable for a family audience. In the meantime, keep up the good work.
    Love & Kisses
    Us moderates

    • carl jacobs

      You forgot unicorns. Everyone is supposed to get a free unicorn.

      • Ian K. Iles

        Wow. Insightful analysis. Thanks.

        • carl jacobs

          Oh, you are quite welcome. I wouldn’t the full scope of Socialist thought to go unreported.

          • keggsie

            And you would know what that is would you? No, I didn’t think so.

          • carl jacobs

            Well, it’s true. I didn’t mention the Theory and Application of Socialist Persuasion using the Nagant M-1895. A significant oversight on my part.

      • stuartMilan

        Supposed to?!?!? it’s their inalienable right!!!!!!!!

    • keggsie

      Very, very well said.

    • PaD

      forget economics..until you moderates get your selves up to Rotherham and bring the scum that were in charge in handcuffs to a court of law…you will forever seen as rape enablers.

      • Ian K. Iles

        Are you calling me a rape enabler? Feel free to front up & call me that to my face.

        F***ing plantlife.

        • PaD

          I apologise.My mistake ..should have been THEY as in Labour in Rotherham and for that matter ANY Labour person with knowledge of those crimes and who did nothing..of course Im not umplicating Denis Mc Shane who was Labour MP for Rotherham for the whole period..his only self-confessed mistake was of being a ‘liberal minded Guardian reader and possibly,only possibly felt ‘community cohesion’ may,just may, have been affected in the event of publicity

          • Ian K. Iles

            They should be hung out to dry, but the actions of lack thereof, of a few people in one place, doesn’t constitute the whole of the party

          • Philsopinion

            Their ideology of politically correct authoritarianism was what enabled it.

        • stuartMilan

          so what would you say Labour were doing in Rotherham when they spent more than a decade carefully looking the other way? puff up your chest tough guy all you like

          • Ian K. Iles

            Dear idiot
            I don’t live in Rotherham, have no relationship to anyone that does, and bear no responsibility for what went on there. If you’re struggling to understand that, get a seven year old to help explain it

  • jennybloggs

    Thatcher was a neo liberal – she described herself as a Manchester Liberal. The Conservative Party is no longer conservative – it shows no desire to conserve anything.

  • Yorkieeye

    Very clever Matthew and an interesting theory

  • Conwyn

    Perhaps political parties have never been well defined but held together by a leadership. Consider the Conservatives anti EU stance. Never quite dominate but reflective of the Empire of Yesterday and the Labour Party with the mixture of Social-Christianity. Political Parties have power therefore will always attract those who see it as personal advantage or protection from the Law. Consider social mobility both Labour and Conservatives encouraged free University education to maximise the potential of the nation. I was talking to Sir Keith Joseph many years ago and he believe that the market would provision education to satisfy the needs of business. Both of these views encouraged social mobility but the Wilsonian White Heat of Technology had created a demand for technologists that the middle class were unable to fill. New Labour were a set of opportunist who did not believe in a fairer society but thought they could jump on the neo-liberal thinking of Thacher and the tricks of the marketeers. The result was the rise of UKIP and the re-emergence of traditional Labour. Free marketeers have stood by without comment on the scandals of the banking industry because they have no construct for human greed and corruption in their model. The far left have no construct for individual thinking and so although imperfect our political system bounces around and any snapshot can be misleading.

  • Sean L

    I haven’t read so much drivel since – your last column.

  • Philsopinion

    Who is this berk?

  • Bertie

    Parris isn’t a proper Conservative. never read so much drivel in my life. The constant references to “We Conservatives, etc etc”

    What utter tosh.

    Begone to the Libdem benches where you belong Parris.

    • Leon Wolfeson

      No True Scotsman.