The general election is principally about leadership. It has been a while since Labour and the Conservatives were defined so completely by their leaders – a development that crystallises the choice on offer but also eclipses some of the necessary policy detail. Neither party really has clear positions on generating wealth and cutting the deficit. But they do offer a stark, historic choice between two different visions of Britain.
Men such as Mr Corbyn made dreadful, unethical choices that the voters must reject all over again.
Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are unexpected leaders, but while Mrs May’s role now fits her like a glove, Mr Corbyn’s rise remains baffling. He is inexperienced. He is far-Left. He has supported extremist causes. Perhaps there are some mainstream socialists who think he’s so unlikely to win on June 8 that they can risk casting their vote for him. Today we provide more evidence of why that gamble is wrong.
A source has told The Daily Telegraph that MI5 opened a file on Mr Corbyn in the early Nineties, when he was known to associate with Irish republicans. His supporters like to claim that Mr Corbyn was playing a part in the peace process, as if he personally brought about the Good Friday Agreement. This is ridiculous. Mr Corbyn’s role in the Troubles was to pick a side and speak for it. He supported a united Ireland. According to our report today, he once shared a platform with an IRA killer who was on the run. He took Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fein leaders to the House of Commons just weeks after the Brighton bomb. He put petitions to No 10 on behalf of republican murderers.
That the British state eventually negotiated with such people, or that it all happened a long time ago, makes no difference whatsoever. At the very height of the Troubles – when republicans were slaughtering their opponents and bystanders – Mr Corbyn, a self-described man of peace, acted as a lobbyist for violent nationalists. This ought to disqualify him from any kind of office at all. It is shocking to think of him getting half a dozen votes, let alone several million.
Yet Labour chose him to lead them not once but twice – and now the entire country has to reconcile itself to that decision. The consequence is a Labour manifesto that reads as a laundry list of long-held grievances, demands and economic fantasies that might be summarised as “your taxes will be raised to pay for nationalised utilities run by the unions”. It sits in stark contrast to the economic logic that most voters have come to accept – that the best way to grow is to reduce the state and to liberate wealth creators. Labour when in office tanked the economy. Today, there are still serious problems with pay and productivity. But under the Tories, manufacturing has strengthened and there has been a huge shift in employment from public to private sector that, far from losing the economy jobs, saw unemployment fall to its lowest level since 1975.
Conservative economics works. So it’s a pity there isn’t more of it in the Tory manifesto. Yes, there is a pledge to raise the income tax personal allowance and reduce corporation tax. But there is so much more that the manifesto could say about business. There is a case to be made for tearing up regulations, for cutting or abolishing taxes such as stamp duty, which hurts the housing market, for greater competition in public sector services, encouraging savings and investment, and expanding the number of energy providers rather than curtailing them with price caps. Mrs May’s sympathies are with the hard-pressed living outside the metropolitan bubble – and heaven knows that they need someone in Westminster on their side. But the Government needs to draw the link between their needs and the Britain that must emerge from Brexit. Central to this will be free trade. It is competition in global markets that will transform Halifax or Sunderland, not regulation from Whitehall.
If Labour was led by a centrist, perhaps this is the debate that Britain would be having. Instead, the contest is between an inept radical and a highly competent prime minister who speaks to the mainstream of British opinion. It is a choice not just between the past and the future, but a past in which men such as Mr Corbyn made dreadful, unethical choices that the voters must reject all over again. It is time for the country to move on.