Every election is important, but some elections are indisputably more important than others. In the British context, the clearest examples of the past century have been 1945 and 1979.
In both cases, the electorate decisively rejected the pre-election consensus that had held sway for an entire epoch.
In 1945, Labour’s New Jerusalem and capture of the commanding heights of the economy caught British imaginations. In 1979, the then “sick man of Europe” decided that only the dramatic rupture of the economic norms offered by the Conservatives could save the country from financial ruin.
What was similar in these two elections was that one major party advocated seismic change, while the other offered essentially continuation with what had gone before. Those content with society as it had hitherto been construed knew who to vote for, as did the discontented who yearned for a new direction.
Today’s election is an entirely different proposition. The outcome will provoke a policy shift of the magnitude of 1945 and 1979, but neither of the two main parties is offering the status quo.
The Conservatives are promising Brexit and a break with 46 years of British membership of the European Union, to complete the work of the 2016 referendum. Labour is advocating a tax, spend and nationalisation manifesto, red in tooth and claw, the likes of which would take us back half a century.
Just as with elections themselves, some policy changes are more definitive than others.
With all due respect to minor parties — none of whom will furnish the Prime Minister come tomorrow — there is a straight choice to be made between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in this regard. One will deliver transformation of a nature yet to be determined, the other of a kind only too obvious.
Much has been written about the potential financial impact of Brexit, but economics remains the only field of study where a practitioner can be more wrong than right in pronouncements and yet still be considered an expert. Businesses and individuals do not stand still in the face of change, but adapt their economic behaviour to suit new circumstances, while broader global trends can disrupt the most finely honed local predictions.
Whether Brexit will be a drag or a boon on the UK economy is therefore unknown, particularly as what might first appear damaging could prove to be our longer-term salvation, given the economic decline of Europe and rise in importance of other markets open to trade deals.
The same cannot be said of Labour’s offering. The UK has been down the road of high tax, high spend, and a controlled economy before. It ended with stagflation, mass industrial strife, and the country begging for an IMF bailout.
There has never been a successful socialist economy in the world that has lasted the test of time. The fundamental failure of theoretical socialist principles to survive contact with practical reality is not a script yet to be written, as Brexit is, but something that has already been tested to destruction worldwide.
That said, Corbyn’s economic policies will at least be reversible by a future government. But there is a more sinister part of his political agenda that will be harder to unwind.
Corbyn’s past embrace of Islamist extremists, terrorists of many stripes, and authoritarian regimes across the world have led to his being labelled a threat by not just the security policy community, but even by members of his own party. Jew hatred has flourished on his watch, with the party of equality descending into institutional antisemitism with its appalling response to the seemingly endless cases exposed.
In his attitudes to these issues, he represents an approach that is fundamentally at odds with the tolerant country Britain has always been.
Johnson may not be universally popular, but he can be located as a John Bull figure in the British political continuum. In contrast, there is something peculiar — and, dare it be said, un-British — about Corbyn’s obsession with turning society on its head, while consorting with those with contempt for our liberal democratic values.
British Prime Ministers do not need majorities to enact change. Foreign policy can be revised by prime ministerial fiat, state grants doled out at a flick of the pen, and government qangocracy transformed unilaterally. As evidence for the latter, Labour has already threatened to “reform” the Equalities and Human Rights Commission after the election, a body due to rule on the party’s problem with antisemitism next year.
There is no doubt that Brexit will cause transient change. But we will still be the same country after it, even if shorn of our European trappings. Corbyn’s programme promises an entirely different outcome, with the organs of civil society facing the brunt of the assault.
The UK therefore faces a clear choice today. Perhaps it is in the mood to gamble that the certainty of Corbyn is preferable to the uncertainty of Brexit.
But if it does, let it be aware what it is signing up to. For there will be no turning back, or half measures, should the revolution Corbyn has spent his entire political life campaigning for come to pass.
The views expressed here are Alan Mendoza’s personally.
Main image credit: Getty