Each party has come to see the other as not merely its opposition, but its enemy. That has implications for the way our politics will work in the years aheadby Tom Clark / November 14, 2019 / Leave a comment
If the only choice this winter is between Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, quite a slice of the country will be in no mood to make it. Other parties are, of course, available. And yet despite the interminable shambles of Conservative expulsions and Labour defections, the logic of Britain’s electoral system is such that the bookmakers rate the only realistic outcomes as being the Tory incumbent’s return to No 10, or some sort of administration led by his radical socialist rival.
There is a vast and self-evident difference between the pair in some areas: on foreign policy, Johnson is set on hugging Donald Trump close whereas Corbyn has always wanted Britain to keep its distance from the US; on Brexit, where Johnson is determined to see through a pretty hard departure from Europe, Corbyn now promises a fresh referendum instead; and on taxation, where (as I show) Johnson plans further giveaways for companies while Corbyn plots a serious raid on their riches.
Less appreciated are certain things the pair have in common. Today’s Labour Party is—as Jack Shenker elucidates in his inside analysis of the Corbyn movement and its ideas—not merely attempting to boot out one Tory government. It is instead very consciously challenging certain basic assumptions about economics and public policy that have reigned unchallenged since Margaret Thatcher was in No 10.
While Johnson has no truck with the Corbynite challenge to wealth and property rights, he too is beating a retreat from “hands-off” economics. Turning the spending taps back on is in part electioneering, of course, but Johnson also trumpets big infrastructure schemes and a proactive industrial policy, and is virtually silent on the whole Thatcher/Blair/Cameron agenda of applying commercial logic to the public services. In these pages this summer, Tim Montgomerie sketched out a detailed new Tory agenda that championed small businesses over large, and community ties over market forces. Immediately afterwards, he was appointed as the prime minister’s policy brain.
Some will suspect that the moment Johnson has the election out of the way, he will revert to type, and double-down on red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism. Perhaps. He certainly seems an unlikely figure to lead his party away from Thatcherism. But then again, in 1945…