Will: Britain is infected with political folly
LONDON — Misery loves company, so refugees from America's Republican Party should understand that theirs is not the only party that has chosen a leader who confirms caricatures of it while repudiating its purposes. Jeremy Corbyn, the silliest leader in the British Labour Party's 116-year history, might kill satire as well as whatever remains of socialism.
Labour was founded in 1900 to demonstrate that a 19th-century political prophet was mistaken. Karl Marx had proclaimed that meaningful amelioration of working-class conditions could not be achieved by non-revolutionary, parliamentary means. Labour helped make modern Britain into a mostly middle-class, generally temperate nation impervious to exotic politics.
In the 1983 election, the last time Labour flirted with serious socialism, its manifesto (platform) was described as "the longest suicide note in history," and a party activist advocated "no compromise with the electorate." The electorate was not amused, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher continued residing at 10 Downing Street.
That year, Corbyn was elected to the House of Commons. He spent his next 32 years opposing the monarchy; writing columns for a Communist newspaper; expressing admiration for Hugo Chavez, whose socialism propelled Venezuela toward today's chaos; proposing that taxpayers should be permitted to opt out of paying for Britain's army; advocating that Britain leave NATO and unilaterally scrap its nuclear deterrent; blaming NATO, meaning the United States, for Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine; calling the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah "friends"; appearing with and funding Holocaust deniers and other anti-Semites; criticizing China's Communist regime for deviationism in accepting some free markets; demanding that Tony Blair, the only Labour leader since 1976 to win a general election (three of them), be tried as a war criminal (for supporting the Iraq War); praising Iraqi insurgents killing Americans; and calling the killing of Osama bin Laden a "tragedy." Along the way, Corbyn got divorced because his wife insisted on sending their eldest son to a selective school whose admissions policy recognized merit.
Last September, in a Labour Party process in which an intense fraction of 1 percent of the British electorate participated — a cohort intensely interested in things other than winning the next election — Corbyn was elected party leader with 59.5 percent of the vote in a four-way contest. He promptly named as shadow chancellor of the exchequer a former union official who lists in "Who's Who" his hobby as "fomenting the overthrow of capitalism," who says he was joking when he said that if he could relive the 1980s he would have assassinated Thatcher but who was serious when he praised IRA terrorist bombers. Corbyn's shadow farming minister, a vegan, says, "Meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco, with public campaigns to stop people eating it." Corbyn, appearing with unmatched jacket and trousers and with his tie loosened at a St. Paul's Cathedral service commemorating the Royal Air Force's heroism in the Battle of Britain, refused to sing the national anthem.
In 1937, George Orwell, a socialist disgusted with many socialists, published "The Road to Wigan Pier," half of which consisted of reportage about working-class privations in England's industrial north. In the other half, which the publisher of the Left Book Club wanted to omit from the club's edition, Orwell decried the socialist movement's "smell of crankishness," "the sandals and the pistachio-colored shirts" of "every vegetarian, teetotaler" and other exemplars of "priggishness" and "half-baked 'progressivism.'"
Corbyn is an apple that did not fall far from the tree: His parents met at a rally advocating peace in the Spanish Civil War. They got their wish. Peace came. When Gen. Francisco Franco came to Madrid. Corbyn is a vegetarian who does not own a car. He does own — perhaps Al Gore knows why; Gore went through an earth tones phase — many beige clothes bought from street vendors.
With his Greek fisherman's cap, Corbyn is a reactionary dressed as a revolutionary whose slogan could be "Onward to 1945!" Nostalgic for Labour's commitment (long dead when interred by Blair in 1995) to "common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange," Corbyn favors re-nationalizing the railroads and some energy companies.
Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh sees Corbyn as a symptom of broad social contentment. Corbynism is the persuasion "of people who can afford to treat politics as a source of gaiety and affirmation. ... They are in politics for the dopamine squirt that comes with total belief and immersion in like-minded company." So, they are not unlike America's Sandernistas and Trumpkins.
George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post.