A recent observation about Jeremy Corbyn’s election slogan, “For the many, not the few”, is that it was expropriated from Tony Blair’s 1997 campaign. In fact, as my Times colleague Phil Collins likes to point out, it actually originates a little earlier: Pericles’ funeral oration in 431BC.
It’s highly doubtful that Pericles — eminent Athenian statesman and celebrated warrior — would have felt at all enthused by being associated with the modern Labour party or, for that matter, this election in general.
Earlier this month, I spent two working days poring through Corbyn’s election manifesto, and found a document that in some ways has more in common with Trump than Blair. Not the political philosophy, of course, but the belief in easy solutions to complex problems, the lack of anything resembling a costing or methodology, and the constant attempts to play on people’s prejudices (in Corbyn’s case about “the fatcats”, “the elite” or “the rich” in general). The Tory manifesto, a week later, largely avoided the policies of economic fantasy, but instead plumped for a marquee social care revolution that unravelled ludicrously after four days.
Corbyn’s revolutionary politics surprises no one, of course. But I was genuinely flabbergasted to see Jeremy Newmark — the sensible, centre-left, head of the Jewish Labour Movement — standing for Labour in my constituency of Finchley and Golders Green.
You can see what’s in it for Corbyn, given the demographics of suburban north London. But why is Newmark playing along? He has made it clear in the past, repeatedly, that Labour’s leadership is deluded about modern antisemitism.
I emailed Newmark to ask. His answer? “People must make up their own minds on whether or not this is the kind of election in which we will see a change in Prime Minister and factor that into their voting intention.” In other words: “Vote for me, my leader will lose.”
Just for good measure, he then went on to attack his leadership again. Corbyn, he said, had frustrated him with a “weak and lacklustre” campaign during the EU referendum. And he had had “failed to demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of modern antisemitism and that rhetoric of zero tolerance needs to match with action”.
From a political perspective, then, Newmark finds himself unable to campaign for his leader (or, by extension, his manifesto) so he is effectively flying solo, representing his own imaginary party. He also can’t credibly promise better representation for local Jewish voters because his main opponent, Mike Freer, has an excellent record on this.
So, if not for leader, political philosophy or community, what platform is Newmark actually standing on? He describes himself to me as a “moderate pro-European candidate”, committed to a confirmatory Brexit referendum. But then what?
I suspect (and I’d imagine Newmark secretly suspects) that Freer will win comfortably. Yet the Tory candidate has his own obvious philosophical shortcomings, too, being staunchly pro-Remain and socially liberal in a style more in keeping with David Cameron than the current leadership. Not to even begin to mention how the Conservatives’ credibility, as a whole, has been damaged by its manifesto fiasco.
Yet it is Newmark’s position that is the most absurd. Pericles declared: “Having knowledge but lacking the power to express it clearly is no better than never having any ideas at all.” Corbyn has chosen an ideology so uncompromising he has almost certainly renounced the opportunity to gain power. By standing under his banner, Newmark and other moderates are giving him electoral credibility he doesn’t deserve.
David Byers is assistant editor (property and personal finance) at The Times.