Thank goodness Corbyn wasn’t in charge in 1939
When Corbynistas are worried about looking wimpy or unpatriotic, they like to cite the war against Hitler. Not long before the RAF joined the US and France in air strikes against Syria, Diane Abbott was asked whether there were any circumstances in which Labour would back such intervention. Somewhat irrelevantly, she blurted: “There’s the Second World War.”
Jeremy Corbyn has previously called the Second World War Britain’s last just war. Sure enough, in every subsequent conflict, Corbynistas overlooked the abominations of any armed gang provided it was sufficiently anti-British – the Mau Mau, the PLO, the IRA. Just listen to Diane Abbott in 1984, the year of the Brighton bomb: Ireland “is our struggle – every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us”. That may sound odd coming from a British politician but, as she explained, “though I was born here in London, I couldn’t identify as British”.
You might argue that backing Leftist paramilitaries is not the same as backing Nazis. Yes, fascism had socialist origins, but by 1939 Hitler had banned trade unions and locked up Left-wing activists. Would that have made a difference to Corbyn had he been around at the time?
To answer, consider a fascist dictator from Jezza’s own lifetime who banned trade unions and locked up Left-wing activists: Argentina’s Leopoldo Galtieri. When he seized a peaceful neighbour, how did Corbyn respond? By sneering at “this waste of unemployed men who are being sent to the Falklands to die for Thatcher”, and calling the war “a Tory plot to keep their moneymaking friends in business”.
I think we can fairly infer that, in September 1939, Corbo would have been one of those Leftists for whom dislike of British military deployment trumped concerns about human rights, famously denounced by John Maynard Kenyes in the New Statesman: “The intelligentsia of the Left were the loudest in demanding that the Nazi aggression should be resisted at all costs … scarce four weeks have passed before they remember that they are pacifists and write defeatist letters to your columns.”
Corbyn would surely have been demanding an investigation into “alleged German and Polish atrocities”, and a League of Nations ceasefire “to halt the killing on all sides”. Perhaps – borrowing his current phrases about the Syrian strikes – he’d have called Neville Chamberlain’s ultimatum a “legally questionable action” which “risks escalating further”.
Some British Left-wingers at the time actively sympathised with the enemy in obedience to the Nazi-Soviet pact. The Daily Worker (now the Morning Star, in which Corbyn had a column) denounced “the Anglo-French imperialist war machine”. The first Briton to be convicted of espionage was a Communist called George Armstrong who had obeyed Molotov’s call to sabotage the Allied war effort.
Armstrong lived just long enough to see Hitler invade the USSR before he was hanged in July 1941. That invasion finally pushed Britain’s hard Left into support for the war. Let’s not pretend there was anything patriotic about it.
We all tend to think of ourselves as more middle of the road than we really are. A solipsistic fallacy makes us believe that our tastes, values and habits are normal, and that the people who don’t share them are a minority. In politics, this fallacy can lead people badly astray. For months, disgruntled public figures have called for the creation of a new centrist political party that would – of course – stand for all the things that they happen to want.
They are right to say that there is an under-represented strand of opinion in Parliament. But it is not what they think it is. A truly centrist party – in the sense of being close to the centre of public opinion – would be Left-wing on economics, Right-wing on cultural issues and pro-Brexit.
It’s theoretically possible, I suppose, that we’d get the party that Nick Clegg, Peter Mandelson and Anna Soubry dream of, a British version of Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche. But isn’t it rather more likely that we’d get a Nationalise-The-Railways, CharityBegins-At-Home, Hands-Off-Our-NHS, Hang-The-Paedos, Tax-The-Rich, Stop-Banging-On-About-The-Gays, Secure-Our-Borders, Stop-CheapImports party? Be careful what you wish for, my friends. FOLLOW Daniel Hannan on Twitter @DanielJHannan; at telegraph.co.uk/opinion
Russian soldiers in Moscow last year mark their fight against the Nazi invasion in 1941, when Britain’s hard Left finally backed the war