Jeremy Corbyn, no principled saviour
It is widely accepted as fact that Jeremy Corbyn is a man of principles. Not merely by his disciples within Momentum but even amongst his most stalwart opponents within Labour. Nor is this belief confined to the opposition benches. Even Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new darling of social media, described him as an ‘amazingly honest and straight forward politician’. Yet, the reality is quite different. It cannot be disputed that Corbyn has been a dedicated activist who has campaigned passionately on issues regardless of whether they have been in fashion for decades. But this was as a backbencher with no power and of no great significance. The true test of whether a man has principles is whether he sticks to them when he acquires power. On this count the disparity between Corbyn’s principled reputation and his recent record is stark.
Corbyn hadn’t quite hit the top before he began discarding principled positions. Before even his unexpected and decisive victory as Labour leader, his rhetoric on leaving Nato was discarded, his calls for leaving the capitalist EU muted, his emphasis on unilateral disarmament softened. For a principled man, Corbyn abandoned long held beliefs alarmingly fast. These are examples of how Corbyn does in fact bow to the conventional wisdom of the party and ruling elite he rails against and proclaims himself independent of. In the most recent election he campaigned literally on platform to renew the nuclear deterrent, despite having declared quite lucidly that he is ‘opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons’. This shows the extent to which he will compromise on even his most strongly held beliefs.
The most shocking and deplorable betrayal of his principle though, was his complete U-turn on his position regarding the EU. Despite having spent decades condemning the EU as capitalist club inconsistent with genuine socialism, Corbyn campaigned for Remain. Regardless of which way you voted in the referendum, no-one can deny it is the most important vote that will occur in our lifetimes, and for Corbyn to have campaigned (though not necessarily voted) against something he believed to be in the national interest, is patently dishonest. As is the fact that while publicly backing remain, Corbyn’s office were criticised by Alan Johnson for ‘working against the rest of the party’. In doing so he betrayed both Remainers by slyly trying to undermine their campaign, and Leave voters by placing party interests above those of the nation and his own beliefs.
These were not the actions of a principled man, but a man compromising his beliefs. It was a desperate attempt to keep his party unified while retaining the support of their Remain-backing, middle class supporters who now make up two thirds of its voters. The vote was tight and could easily have gone either way. The fact that, for the sake of party unity, Corbyn surrendered his opportunity to achieve something he had supported for decades, demonstrates the stark reality of his ‘principles’. Considering the extent to which he has compromised these principles merely as leader of the opposition, no one can predict the potential compromises he will make as Prime Minister, with the considerable pressures the position applies.
If his principles were unable to survive the pressure of the Labour party elite, it is naive to believe they will resist the international and domestic gravity which a Prime Minister experiences, not only from politicians, but corporations and others. The defence offered for Corbyn’s actions is the behaviour of other politicians, such as Clegg’s coalition compromises and Cameron’s waiving of collective cabinet responsibility in the EU referendum. But this only highlights the truth. Claims that Corbyn is unique and fundamentally different to his rival’s ring hollow. He is no principled saviour, but a self-interested politician, underservant of his principled reputation.