Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Well, at least he has principles"

Mostly what I want is for the Labour Party leadership election to be over. I no longer care who wins and by how much, I just want it to be over. Of course, there is some amusement to be derived from the Labour Party, once the proud purveyor of the "white heat of technology" and before that of what seemed like the most advanced democratic ideas marching back into the stone age of state owned economy and women only carriages on trains.

Ah but at least Jeremy Corbyn has principles, I hear from many sides as if that was somehow a good thing. Lenin had principles, I responded to one person who does not like Corbyn's principles but feels the need to acknowledge that he has them. Hitler had principles, said someone else in the discussion. We need to agree, said the first person, that Corbyn does not resemble any of history's great monsters. Ahem, I said, what makes you think that Corbyn would agree with that description of Lenin. He would probably be very proud to hear that people were comparing him to the founder of the monstrous Soviet regime.

Of course, if his principles are those you agree with: renationalization of the economy (hardly possible now), impossibly high taxation, cessation of all educational reforms and support for some of the nastiest oppressive and terrorist regimes, then you are obviously going to be rather glad that he has those principles and will very likely be in a position to do something about them. I notice that people who rejoice in Corbyn's principled stand often refuse to discuss it in any detail and, more to the point, still speak with loathing of Margaret Thatcher, generally regarded as a principled political leader.

So principles one agrees with seem a good thing. Let me just add for the benefit of eurosceptic readers of this blog that Edward Heath had principles, too. They were just entirely the wrong ones but they were genuine, nonetheless. For the benefit of the many Blair-haters I may add that he, too, had principles and his participation in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq was based on his belief in liberal transnationalism. The man without too many principles, Harold Wilson, kept the UK out of the Vietnam war.

The question is whether that is the first thing to look for in a politician. Myself, I prefer to look at his or her political ideas and what I see in the case of Corbyn fill me with horror (on domestic matters) and complete disgust (on foreign ones). A man who habitually shares a platform with known terrorists, anti-Western fanatics, anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers (even if his memory sometimes plays tricks on him) is not one whose principles I admire or want anywhere near the top of our political tree.

Nor am I particularly impressed by the principles of a man who, disregarding the tragic experience of the twentieth century, still mouths outdated economic and political principles that have been proved wrong over and over again and have led to economic stagnation at best and poverty, slavery and labour camps at worst. Principles like that we can do without.

Turning to more general matters, let us ask again: are principles and a staunch adherence to them is what we want in a political leader? Some principles, of course, but a complete disregard for anything else produces a politician who disregards the possibility that events and developments will change reality and imposing outdated principles will end in disaster. Such a politician has no interest in the fact that in a complex society different people will want different things and even members of his own party will see things differently. To some extent, of course, a leader has to impose his (and in one exceptional case her) ideas on the party and try to push them through in the country because that seems to be the best thing to do but there is also a need to trim sails and open up to other ideas. Thatcher did rather a lot of that and that is why she was successful on many fronts but, alas, not on all.

When does a principled politician become a narrow-minded fanatic who will push through what he knows is best for everyone at whatever cost? Some people say that Thatcher did that (they are the ones who are rejoicing in the appearance of a "principled" politician) but no serious study of Britain before, during and after her premiership can do anything but agree that by 1979 there was no alternative to serious reforms and that the country, by and large, has benefited from them. There is no need to ask ourselves whether we would benefit from a government run on Corbynite principles - we can look at past experience and know what happened.

And now let me turn the subject around by just a few degrees: Jeremy Corbyn has principles and his politics is based on that. It is also true that his career has not been stellar and all he has done so far is shouted his principles from the back benches, in TV studios (largely RT until a few months ago) and on various platforms, which he shared with highly undesirable characters. Until recently few people knew anything about him beyond a general impression of someone from the loony left. Even now his pronouncements on such matters as the refugee crisis or Britain's membership of the EU (both important issues) consist of little more than predictable platitudes. What will happen to those principles if he does find himself leading Her Majesty's Opposition, having to keep together a fractious party and having to put together policies that can be offered to the electorate? Will the principles survive or shall we see many people weeping over the fall of their temporary idol?


  1. The favorable attitude to Corbyn and his principals is quite understandable .
    I share that attitude even though I would never vote for the Liebour Party or the other dinosaur Party . Cameron has only two principals that I can see the first ensuring he stays in the top job and other ensuring we remain in the EU Empire . He has to lie about these because he wants to remain "popular" . Miliband was also a principal free zone maundering on about equality and " progressive " policies for hard working people . Corbyn means what he says and that comes like a breath of fresh air . If he starts calling for the death of FPTP and the introduction of a PR system he will become my hero !

    1. "If he starts calling for the death of FPTP and the introduction of a PR system he will become my hero !"

      Why? However flawed FPTP is, PR is even worse. It results in even more power for the central offices of the big parties and more power for the small single-issue parties if they can make a deal with a big party. The result is less power for the electorate as well as breaking the link between the politicians and the regions they represent.

      I agree that our democracy is broken for a variety of reasons, but PR isn't the solution. It would not only fail to fix the problems, it would make things even worse.

    2. Firstly, adams, it's principles I was talking about, not principals. I have no idea who Corbyn's principal is. Secondly, you obviously did not bother to read my posting. It is precisely that kind of attitude that is so ridiculous in my opinion. You do not even know what those principles are but you are for them because they exist. Well, you know what? Lenin had principles, Dzerzhinsky had principles, Robespierre had principles. As to PR, that is a system that benefits only party leaders and their minions.

  2. All this talk about ‘vertebrate’ politicians compels me to quote Marx, Groucho Marx: ‘Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.’

  3. If he is elected he becomes a member of the Privy Council. This would give him access presumably to some very sensitive information. Might that have some serious practical implications.

    1. Not sure how much sensitive information the Privy Council gets these days but the leader of the Opposition does as a matter of courtesy from the Government. Either way there will be serious implications.