This is a guest post by Harry Clynch, an English undergraduate at Cambridge University, and an officer of the Cambridge University Conservative Association.
The general election was a complete travesty for the Conservative Party. Through a grossly incompetent campaign, the Prime Minister managed to squander a twenty-point lead to put the most dangerous Labour leader in the party’s history within inches of Downing Street.
Of course, identity politics was a factor in this. Mrs May’s rather robotic approach to the election, and the symbolic damage done by such things as her refusal to partake in the televised debates, and her U-turn on what was already a flawed policy regarding social care (only exacerbated by her refusal to admit it even was a U-turn), always created the sense and atmosphere that the Conservatives were constantly trying to repair damage rather than guiding effortlessly towards a majority government, let along the huge Commons majority that some initially predicted.
However, Mrs May’s failures cannot be the only factor at play here. After all, Jeremy Corbyn’s own record should have been enough in itself – ignoring the Conservative campaign for one moment – to disqualify him from assuming the office of Prime Minister.
His open support for terrorist organisations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the IRA, the disgusting nature of the anti-Semitism now rife in the modern left, alongside his tendency to justify and celebrate failed socialist regimes, such as the tragedy that is Venezuela, would, in normal circumstances, have rendered any general election a near formality.
But despite all that – and much more – Labour nonetheless experienced something of a resurgence, gaining thirty seats and increasing their overall vote share by 9.6% compared to that achieved by Ed Miliband (who would ever have thought that we would reminisce over Labour’s Miliband Days?). Could it therefore be the case that, after a 40-year break, Britain is once again tempted by socialism?
I watched with concern as an extremely worrying narrative developed during the campaign. That is, for all of Jeremy Corbyn’s personal faults, he nonetheless had an excellent manifesto. People were voting for policies, not the individuals. Yet his manifesto was an absolute disgrace.
The overall tone was unashamedly socialist, not seen since the 1970s, when proto-Corbynite policies resulted in almost incomprehensibly high rates of inflation, a massive surge in unemployment, and Britain being humiliated on the world stage with a bail-out from the IMF in 1976. Indeed, it actively promoted various policies which should have been fatally discredited with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The defining ethic of the manifesto was the type of state-planning which Hayek so powerfully warned against. And yet, when offered the golden opportunity to discredit socialism for another generation, the Tories seemed to run away from the true ideological battles, preferring to focus on Corbyn’s personal failures – necessary, of course, but not sufficient. This not only allowed a narrative to be established whereby Corbyn appeared to be a noble, decent man, resisting ‘Tory smears’ – and what does the British public love more than an underdog? – but, more fundamentally, it meant the Conservatives appeared to cede the moral argument to the Left.
Indeed, Mrs May tried to placate the socialists by including in the Conservative manifesto a number of clearly centre-left policies, like the energy price cap, and running away from core Conservative ideas – condemning Libertarians as a “cult of selfish individualism,” whilst rejecting the laissez-faireism which, ever since the Industrial Revolution, has been the basis of the prosperity enjoyed by any developed nation: “We do not believe in untrammelled free markets.” Given the continued and explicit condemnation of Liberty throughout the campaign, is it therefore so surprising that the electorate’s response was to (almost) turn to socialism?
Those of us who believe in capitalism and Liberty have become too complacent in recent years. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the continued failure of socialist regimes around the world; from Venezuela to North Korea, has – to us at least – made our case almost so obvious that it does not need to be made. Almost immediately after those East Berliners forced their way into the West, the case for free markets – understandably – ceased to be put forward; we believed we had won.
Yet, both within parties themselves, and the wider electorate, we clearly have a need to remind people which policies create wealth and the freest societies. This – in theory – should be simple: our approach has a proven track-record of prosperity, of freedom, whereas the socialists only have failure after failure and catastrophes unprecedented in the history of human civilisation. And, though our economic case is clearly overwhelming, the political rewards could be great, too.
What better way to counter the appeal of Corbyn’s socialist utopia than to emphasise the positive case for Liberty, that precious concept which is a fundamental desire of each and every one of us? How can the idea of small government, allowing people’s ingenuity and entrepreneurship to flourish, free from rule by bureaucracy, do anything other than excite and inspire people – and ultimately mobilise them at elections? The idea of Liberty, of our ancient freedoms, is even the type of idea that the young people, who flocked to Corbyn in their millions, could be inspired by – if only a party dare make it.
In the aftermath of this year's election, it is only natural that we will feel somewhat demoralised and pessimistic – even though, remember, the socialists still lost. Though that does not stop many of us having nightmares about the red flags being raised over Downing Street as Prime Minister Corbyn and his comrades assume office. But the re-emergence of socialism, and a Corbyn administration, is not inevitable. Though, at this stage, socialism seems an unavoidable outcome to many, if only we are bold in our convictions, confident in our case, and unashamedly in favour of Liberty, it can – and will – be defeated once again.
All views expressed in contributions by named authors are their own and may not reflect the views of The Freedom Association.